Many employers understand the benefits of allowing employees to work from home. By enabling remote work, companies can attract top talent regardless of location, increase worker productivity and improve employee retention. While the advantages of remote work are growing increasingly clear, many employers still aren't prepared to support flexible policies.

My company, Owl Labs, published the 2018 Global State of Remote Work report, based on a survey of 3,028 worldwide employees, which found that 64% of hiring managers say their company has the resources and processes in place to support a remote workforce, but the majority (57%) lack an official remote work policy. Instituting a formal and clear policy can help remote employees embrace their preferred work styles and help companies attract distributed talent, while making sure work still gets done.

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Here are the first steps to take and questions to ask to create a remote work policy that works for your business:

How to Build a Remote Work Policy for Your Team

1. Determine who can work remotely (and how)

While employees across many roles can benefit from working away from the office, not everyone can feasibly work from home all or even some of the time. For example, HR roles that coordinate in-person trainings, meetings and recruiting events might not fit as seamlessly into a remote work policy as a copywriter. When developing a remote work policy, first determine who is eligible to work remotely and in what capacity. Some employees might find success working remote full-time others might be able to work from home on an ad-hoc basis, and some might not be able to at all.

Questions to consider when building the policy include:

  • Will only certain teams or roles be able to work from home?
  • What considerations need to take place when identifying who will manage a remote employee? Will that person need additional training and resources?
  • Will the nature of a certain role impede success when performed remotely?
  • How will remote work affect the culture and collaboration among your teams?
  • Will remote work flexibility allow employees to work in different states or countries, or will they need to remain local?
  • Will remote work impact taxes or benefits for the company or employees in different states or countries?

Ask the right questions and determine the answers with your HR, legal, and finance teams before rolling out any working from home (WFH) policies to make sure the transition is smooth.

2. Provide the right tools for successful and secure work

When working away from the office, your employees need the right tools to work securely and productively. For many employees, a laptop and a Wi-Fi connection might not be enough. Remote employees need technology that makes them feel engaged and part of the team, not just an afterthought. Be sure to ask questions like:

  • How will remote employees communicate with the rest of the team?
  • Will you set them up with video conferencing software and hardware so they can virtually attend meetings and brainstorms?
  • Do you have meeting spaces and tools that allow remote employees to be clearly seen and heard?
  • Do your employees need separate technology or equipment to maintain an effective home workspace, like a second monitor or printer?

Additionally, cybersecurity concerns should be top-of-mind. Remote workers might need a VPN or another form of security to work on important company files or private customer data. And while some employees might be able to operate using public Wi-Fi networks, others might need to stay at home or in a more secure co-working space to ensure data privacy.

You'll also need policies and tools in place for remote team collaboration and communication. Use additional tools like live chat, synchronous screencast recording, live video conferencing and more to ensure technology doesn't get in the way of an effective and meaningful work relationship. For instance, Slack and Google Hangouts can act as a virtual watercooler, where employees can discuss the status of a project but also debrief on Game of Thrones, share cat GIFs and bond over their favorite music.

3. Establish clear rules about working from home

If employees can work from home sometimes but not always, clarify up front when and where employees can work remotely. Consider whether in-person or remote communication works best in situations like:

  • Manager 1:1s
  • Team all-hands meetings
  • Client kickoff meetings
  • Performance reviews
  • Employee learning and development activities

Clearly communicate and document what is expected when employees work remotely. Though most employees report being more productive working remotely, distractions abound when outside of the office. Set policies about when employees are expected to be available online, or if they can operate on a flexible schedule that's built around their personal lives -- for example, to accommodate a doctor's appointment or a delivery. Remind employees that WFH days are a privilege, and should not be abused for personal time like dependent care, running errands or catching up on your favorite TV show.

4. Plan time for in-person collaborating and socializing

If your remote work policy will enable employees to work remotely full-time, either from home or from a different state or country, make sure your policy has guidelines for building in time for teams to be together in person, too.

No matter what technologies you have at your disposal, human beings crave in-person connection, so build into your policy time every month, quarter, or year when you can gather all team members in the same location for brainstorming, planning, and having fun. Depending on your budget, plan an annual in-person retreat at a minimum to keep up team morale and camaraderie.

Remote work is a fundamental and beneficial aspect of the 21st century workplace. Enabling remote work shows your employees you care about their work-life balance and trust them to do what is best for their productivity. By establishing a clear policy about remote work, you ensure both your employees and your business reap the rewards.

To learn more, read our list of remote work statistics next. And download the remote work, flexible schedule, and working from home policy templates below.

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