How to Create an Emergency Work-From-Home Policy for Your Business
Sometimes working from home isn’t just a nice to have—it’s absolutely necessary for the safety of your team. In an emergency situation like COVID-19 it can mean the difference between the safety of your team and community and unconfined spread of the virus.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s guidance for employers instructs businesses to actively encourage sick employees to stay home and keep leave policies flexible so your team feels empowered to take time off if needed. Massive companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Shopify are leading the wave of transition to remote work.
What does remote work do during a public health emergency? It can help:
- Reduce touchpoints for communication of the virus
- Contain spread from employees who do contract the virus
- Protect your business against liability
Steps to create a good emergency work-from-home policy
Ideally, your remote work journey would start by documenting workflows, processes, and standard protocols.
In an emergency, like the one presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, you may not have time to think through every possible challenge. You just have to get your team up and running fast.
With that in mind, here’s what you should absolutely include in your emergency remote work policy.
1. Tools and equipment
To start, make sure your team has the basic equipment (laptop and headphones with a good mic) and tools (software and a stable internet connection) that they need to do their work.
In your work-from-home (WFH) policy, note whether you’re providing the equipment or if you’ll have a BYO approach to devices. If you’re providing a laptop, outline your expectations for how it should be used.
When it’s an emergency, some businesses choose to cover costs like internet or phone bills to help ease the transition.
For software, describe what you’re using as a team and make sure everyone is running the latest versions.
A sample of your work-from-home policy might sound something like this:
- For immediate communication during work hours, use Slack.
- For client-facing communication, use email.
- All files should be stored in Google Drive (bonus points for specifying which folders contain what).
- When you have a call scheduled, default to video chat whenever possible using Zoom or Slack—especially if you’re used to meeting face-to-face.
Here are a few other questions to ask yourself as you develop your WFH plan:
- What will you use for tracking time?
- How will you report on updates?
- Does your project management tool lend itself for co-located work, or do you need to consider a different tool?
Continue to list all possible tools your team should use so that everyone follows the same protocol.
2. Online hours
It’s helpful to have set online hours for your team so there’s at least one part of the day where everyone is reachable.
Some teams start the workday with a stand-up meeting, or a 15-minute gathering where everyone says what’s on their plate for the day. Others schedule weekly sprint calls where they plan what everyone will work on for the next week or so.
Putting online hours in your remote work policy helps guarantee overlap while still providing flexibility.
Kind of boring but super important: documents.
Think contact lists, chain of command for big issues, workflows, and—if you don’t have it—org charts.
Creating this documentation accomplishes a few things:
- Helps you clarify ideas and makes sure you know how you want your team to operate
- Builds confidence by helping your team get immediate answers and clarity
- Encourages team communication and collaboration by outlining who to contact when
4. Security and IT
Does your team need a VPN? Or two-factor authentication to access work software?
If you have IT support, it’s a good idea to have them help you through the transition. If you don’t, now’s a good time to look into it.
Consider how you can best protect business data, and outline that in your remote work policy.
Best practices for communicating your plan
Almost as important as creating your remote work plan is thinking through how you’re going to roll it out.
Some practices can feel questionable or more strict than when your team is in-office, but they’re important in order to build trust and accountability across the team.
Reiterate that the whole team is following this plan, and that it’ll help colleagues communicate and work together even when they’re apart. Here are a few other tips for your approach:
It’s hard to find the time in an emergency, but hopefully you’ve been able to think through the ideal remote work setup and write it all down.
When you gather your team together, try to be calm and confident when you tell them the plan. Reassure them that it’s going to work, and that they’ll have what they need.
One of remote work’s greatest benefits is the ability to work flexibly and outside the confines of the regular 9-to-5 day.
This is even more important to remember in an emergency situation. Expect people to be working odd hours, as the demands of a new normal can cross over into their regular work hours.
As offices, schools, and daycares close, you might have parents who are handling child care responsibilities during the workday. Your team members who have kids at home during this crisis might start working a split shift.
With all of this in mind, remember to ask yourself: Is the work getting done? If it is, keeping a flexible schedule or hours can go a long way in providing certainty and helping your team focus.
Be clear but understanding
Establish your expectations upfront. If you need someone available at certain hours, be specific about the schedule.
The clearer and more direct you can be at the beginning, the easier it will be to check in and adjust later on.
At the same time, this is new for everyone. And your team is probably a little preoccupied with keeping their family safe during a pandemic.
Reiterate your support and show that you understand as you’re rolling out your remote work policy for the best chance at success.
Finally, welcome to WFH life. It can be productive, enlightening, messy, chaotic, and amazing all at once. Maybe that’s the opening line of your work-from-home policy.