There are many differences between the working-from-home which is required during a health emergency and normal telecommuting. For most companies which are not virtual, the telecommuting policy is intended for folks who want (or at least expect) to work at home and who are presumably properly equipped to do so. Those policies are also underpinned by the notion that the telecommuter has an appropriate space to work in and can come to work if he or she wants to. Employees who don’t normally telecommute aren’t used to working at home, and may have a difficult time drawing the line between work and home life. They also aren’t necessarily thinking about the difference between their normal home activities and work. Finally, if you are making exceptions to your normal business rules and processes just to keep things up and running, your employees need to understand that those are exceptions rather than the rule.
With that in mind, you need to communicate your expectations for employees who are working for home clearly, using a temporary or emergency teleworking policy. Below are some of the most important considerations for such a policy.
- Wages and Hours. First, and perhaps most important, you need to set expectations with respect to hours worked. As noted above, some employees will work too little, but others may work too much, leading to unexpected overtime costs and possible ill will. Some employees will be expected to be at their desks during normal working hours but for many, with kids at home and other distractions, will require more flexibility than that. If your business needs permit, try to offer that flexibility, while reminding employees of any limitations. One compromise which can work well is the concept of “core time,” in which you provide a set of hours where everyone is expected to be available, but allow the employee to flex the remaining hours of the day accordingly. So, for example, you might ask all employees to be available and working every day from 10:00 am to 2:00 or 3:00 pm, but allow them to flex their time outside of that range so they can help with homework, cook, or whatever.
- Confidentiality. You’ll want to remind employees that company information should be kept confidential, and that documents and other confidential materials should be properly stored away from prying eyes at home. Most kids aren’t espionage agents for a foreign power, but kids can and will read stuff which is lying around, and if it’s interesting in any way they may well talk about it with friends.
- Expectation of Privacy. This probably deserves its own post, but this is probably a good time to remind employees that their use of company resources may be monitored, even if the laptop is on the dining room table at home. That’s particularly critical for employees who are using their own equipment, since they may not be thinking of “privacy” the same way they would at work.
- Cybersecurity. On a related note, employees using their own equipment should be reminded to use good security practices, including the use of encryption and virus protection as well as the use of any company-supplied network access or other tools. This is also a good place to remind employees about the proper use of any software you’ve allowed on a temporary basis, such as remote file storage or messaging or video apps. If you’ve set up company accounts with cloud providers for things like Dropbox or Google, remind employees that they are required to use the company-supplied accounts rather than their own accounts, and that all substantive discussion of work topics should be done using tools which ensure that they are preserved going forward.
- Office Supplies. The policy should also advise employees as to how they are to obtain or replenish any office supplies which are needed. Should they order directly and request reimbursement or use a company account? Will the company handle orders and deliver to the employees house? It’s better to address these issues before the $200 expense report for office supplies is on your desk for payment.
- Disclaimer of Liability. Finally, you’ll want to disclaim liability for anything which happens at the home outside of work hours. After all, worker’s compensation disputes get tricky when the workplace is the home, especially on a provisional basis, so it’s important to draw boundaries between the company’s responsibilities and the employee’s.
Finally, you should remind employees that all other conditions of work still apply. After all, work from home is still work, whether any of us like it or not.