Prior to 2020, the number of employees working remotely or in a “hybrid” manner — a combination of in-office and remote work — was steadily on the rise. But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit full-force in spring 2020, the number of remote workers exploded. It’s been a long road since then, and with face covering and workplace safety rules relaxing, many companies may finally be bringing their employees back to the workplace — whether full time or hybrid — while some may keep remote work in place. Either way, for many employers — especially in certain industries — the chances are that remote/hybrid work is here to stay in some form or fashion.
When remote work ramped up in 2020, employers should have adapted to this new reality by distributing a remote work policy to employees. (If employers don’t already have a remote work policy but have employees working remotely, there’s no time like the present to implement such a policy.) And for those whose existing policy hasn’t been revised in a while, now is also the time.
A good remote work policy contains:
- The criteria for assessing whether an employee can work remotely;
- How to handle home office expenses and other telecommuting expenses and logistics;
- How managers can expect to manage productivity and adherence to company policies;
- How to handle off-the-clock issues if the employee is nonexempt;
- Confidentiality and privacy policies, including how the employee is monitored; and
- A statement that remote work policies and practices may be revised at any time as the pandemic situation evolves.
A remote work agreement should describe the expectations your company has for employees who work remotely. As many employers begin to welcome their employees back into the office, employers should revise this policy and distribute the revisions accordingly.
A remote work policy should also cover employee use of computer equipment, software and employer-provided telephones, with a strong emphasis on data security issues. It’s wise to prohibit any access to company servers and confidential documents on employee-owned or public devices — instruct employees to be especially weary of security threats in public places like coffee shops or parks.
If your company doesn’t already have one, work with your IT department to establish a virtual private network (VPN). Think of a VPN as your company’s own private road through the internet — your data is shielded from prying eyes via layers of encryption. In fact, VPN use has skyrocketed — with 52 percent of remote workers now using a VPN — due to the surge in remote workers. In your remote work policy, inform employees that they must use the company VPN when accessing company data and systems.
While many employers will steadily bring their employees back into the office full-time following the worst of the pandemic, others will undoubtedly see benefits from having employees work remotely or in a hybrid fashion, and want them to continue doing so. Those employers must implement or maintain a remote work policy that protects employer information, promotes productivity, encourages engagement and is easily adaptable to the ever-changing employment landscape.
Mike McCluskey, Senior Technical Editor, CalChamber