With so many businesses now adopting a more flexible way of working, business leaders and HR functions are having to revisit their companies’ work policies’ to reflect this new norm.
What is a flexible work policy?
A flexible work policy sets out clear guidelines on how teams are expected to work, communicate and collaborate. Of course, policies will vary between companies and no two will look the same—but it helps to cover the following areas:
- Who can work remotely
- Remote working from abroad
- Working hours
- Office working
- Financial contributions and expenses
- Employee wellbeing
Often, a good flexible work policy doesn’t dictate specific rules; it empowers employees to work in a way that’s best for them to increase their productivity and wellbeing.
Below, we look at each of these areas of work life, and discuss what you may need to consider to implement a successful flexible workplace strategy. We also look at companies who are either remote-first or have transitioned to working from home successfully for inspiration.
Who can work remotely
For the time being, working from home is the new norm for many, and the pandemic has certainly changed views towards which job roles can work remotely.
But there are still many employees who need to work from the office, and some say that the most significant employee engagement happens when people work remotely 60% of the time. So it’s worth considering who can work remotely and for how many days per week when considering your flexible work policy.
Employers, it’s crucial to respond to government guidance and communicate any changes in your policy with your employees.
It’s also worth considering where people can work. Should remote working only happen from home? Or is it ok for people to work in a shared workspace, a coffee shop, or even abroad? The answer to this question will often be influenced by matters of security and confidentiality.
Remote working from abroad
The digital revolution and the recent period of working from home have proven that many employees can do their office job from home or anywhere there’s a WiFi connection and a charging socket.
So, if you decide to include the ability to work from abroad in your policy, then you need to bear in mind the operational impact that this might have.
From a legal point of view, it’s important to take into account matters such as visas and taxation—as well as other key considerations, such as expectations around working hours and in-person meetings. Are you happy for team members to adjust their hours depending on their timezone? Do requirements differ for each role?
One of the best things about flexible working is flexibility around life. But if an organisation can’t manage flexibility, it can become counter-productive, with employees working too many hours or not being available when their colleagues or clients need them to be.
Setting out clear processes in advance can save a lot of headaches down the line. Are your work hours prescribed? Do you have “core hours” in which meetings and social events are organised? Or do you rely on asynchronous communication?
Communication can be one of the most significant challenges for managers and employees when working remotely. Our survey revealed that respondents found miscommunication to be one of the most frustrating aspects of working with a remote team.
Miscommunication can lead to poor performance and isolation, so it’s crucial to set out clear communication guidelines in your flexible work policy.
Explain how and when your meetings will take place. And think about what type of communication you will prioritise—synchronous or asynchronous?
Put simply, asynchronous communication is when you send a message and don’t expect an immediate response. This can be beneficial for remote workers because they might feel like they have to be available at all times, which can lead to burnout.
To improve communication, you might also want to encourage employees to give visibility on their location. For example, you could suggest that employees update Slack statuses when they’re in meetings, AFK, or on leave, or you could encourage daily standups with your team.
Flexible working policies used to outline who can work remotely and when. But in a crazy twist of fate, we now need systems to outline how and when employees can work from the office.
If you’re a remote-first company, you may not have an office space. But for many, working from home full-time doesn’t provide a healthy and productive work environment. So, the majority of businesses will still need some form of physical office presence in the future.
There are loads of flexible workplace options, from taking a smaller space and getting extra access cards for your team members to using on-demand space—where your team is fully-remote by default, but you have access to meeting rooms or coworking passes to local spaces.
What’s important is that you communicate what is available to employees. If you have a smaller office space and a finite number of passes per day, also think about how to distribute them fairly.
Home working provisions
Don’t forget to consider any employees who don’t want to use the office—are their needs being met too? You might want to consider running a DSE assessment to ensure they are safe and comfortable in their home environment and make adaptations to their workspace accordingly.
Companies need to ensure that employees have the tools they need to do their job effectively whilst working remotely. We recommend clarifying what work equipment (like laptops, WiFi, phones etc.) will be provided. And maybe detail any rules around using the equipment—can employees use their work laptops in their own time? And crucially what should they do if something goes wrong?
As well as providing the essentials, many companies are offering their employees budgets so they can purchase items to improve their workspace. Others are increasing employees salaries to cover the rising costs of working from home (electrical bills, food, coffee etc).
Employers are also legally obliged to make reasonable adjustments for any employees who have a disability. And whilst it’s not yet a legal requirement, it would be good practice to give all employees a full DSE (Display Screen Equipment) assessment and a home working risk assessment.
If you’re interested, we can make the whole process quick and hassle-free via the HubbleHQ Home Working Assessment.
Our “Should We Ditch the Office” Survey revealed that 31% of employees felt that working from home had a significant impact on their mental health. For some, the effect is positive, but for others, the isolation and blurred boundaries between work and life can have a negative impact.
So, business leaders need to consider different employees’ experiences and prioritise documenting processes around mental health. Policies could include regular mental health check-ins or subsidised therapy for all employees, amongst other things.
It’s important to remember that remote team members may feel less comfortable reaching out to a person when experiencing stress or mental illness, so it’s crucial to ensure that resources are easily discoverable within the flexible work policy.
Companies whose remote work policies we can learn from
Below, you’ll find a selection of remote-first companies that are doing an awesome job with their flexible working strategies. As we mentioned, every company has different needs and processes, but these examples may provide inspiration when you’re putting together a policy for your team:
The team at GitLab have created a remote team handbook which contains super valuable resources about the way they operate over 1200 remote employees, from onboarding to communication policies (thanks GitLab!).
We found their approach to combatting anxiety and isolation incredibly helpful. They create clarity through documentation and foster a safe atmosphere to talk about mental health in 1:1 meetings. They even have a Slack channel dedicated to surfacing and discussing topics related to mental health.
Learnerbly, a progressive workplace learning platform, have chosen to be fully distributed in light of COVID. And they’ve since shared their experience and flexible work policies, so that other companies looking to make the switch to remote-first can learn from them.
We love their policy on availability visibility—they encourage team members to set their time zone and working hours directly in Google Calendar, so people are notified if they try and schedule something outside your availability. They also encourage employees to block out personal time; whether it’s for sorting through emails or looking after kids, they empower their employees with the tools to make their time work for them.
Buffer is another remote company with employees in more than 50 cities. They place a high priority on asynchronous communication and the use of Slack. But they also recognise how noisy Slack can be—so they have created “10 Slack Agreements” and best practices in an attempt to establish common usage behaviour that will help the team get the most out of Slack while also setting boundaries between work and home-life.
Find out what your team would value most
Before you dive in and create your flexible work policy, find out how your employees want to work. To help you do exactly that, we’ve created the free-to-use Workplace Strategy Tool, designed to give you instant actionable insights on which workplace solutions are right for your business.
With the tool, you’re able to easily survey your own team using our curated questionnaire, access the data immediately via your own personalised results dashboard, and get free, professional advice on the best next steps from our team of experts. Head to the link below to get started!