How to Define Working Remotely at Your Company
It might seem like overkill to discuss the meaning of working remotely after a year and a half of work-from-home. But the truth is the definition of working remotely has evolved and can be open to interpretation.
Today’s work arrangements allow companies to hire talent no matter where that person lives and offer work-life balance for workers. Even though Karen from Finance might be pushing for a return to “the way things once were,” remote work might actually make more sense for the rest of your team. (Karen just misses the opportunity to glare judgmentally at her coworkers over the cubicle walls.)
To thrive working remotely, employees need to be on the same page about what “working remotely” means. You’ll need to define everything from what hours employees should be online to video call etiquette and how to set up a home office.
In this article, you’ll discover what remote work looks like and how to find the right remote work balance for your company.
Benefits of Working Remotely for Employees and Employers
Focusing so much on working remote policies might make you think this work arrangement is more trouble than it’s worth. But we’d be remiss if we didn’t also highlight the many benefits of working remotely.
The whole workforce can benefit from working from home, especially when leaders and team members can collaborate through video calls, task management systems, live chats, and other tools. Remote working offers benefits like:
- The ability to recruit and hire candidates from anywhere in the world
- Better productivity — studies have found company culture and leadership are the biggest drivers of this
- Cost savings (Employers, rejoice: no costly office rent! Employees: no fume-filled hours spent commuting or extra transportation expenses, either.)
- Less harm for the environment; employees travel less and use less electricity.
What Is Remote Work?
Before the coronavirus pandemic, some companies had already embraced remote work. But for most employees, working remotely meant telecommuting during snow days or other extreme circumstances.
When many companies were forced to go remote overnight, employers and workers had to come to terms with what the new meaning of working remotely might look like.
Some remote workers might work from home a few days a week. Others may work full-time from a remote home office, coworking space, or coffee shop.
But it’s not enough to say “We’re a remote team.” It could mean:
- You’re remote temporarily.
- Some people work in an office, some work at home.
- People report to a physical office on certain days.
- The team is open to working with employees in a few time zones but doesn’t accept global applicants.
For example, this remote work policy template asks you to specify the number of days of telecommuting you consider “remote work.”
Clarity attracts and confusion repels, so go into some detail in your employee handbook and hiring documents to make sure you’re all on the same page about your definition of remote work.
Why You Need a Remote Work Policy
For employers, a clear remote work policy attracts and keeps the right remote team. What feels like telecommuting for a digital nomad five time zones away might not work when your office has standing check-in meetings. A policy makes this much easier to communicate upfront. It’ll help you avoid awkward conversations like “I’m on my laptop at the beach today” or “working from a crowded coffee shop, can we talk later?”
Here’s an example — MIT specifies office phones should be forwarded to individual’s cell or home phones. They also ask meeting organizers to begin video or phone calls 15 minutes early to allow time to chat. With clear policies like these, they avoid missing business calls and keep their team connected.
How to Define Remote Work for Your Office
Whether employees are remote part-time, full-time, or working as freelancers, be intentional about how perks, water cooler conversations, and meeting agendas work remotely. This can help everyone feel like a part of the team and maintain a solid work-life balance.
Consider the following when defining what “working remotely” looks like for your team:
- Are team members required to be online during specific hours in a particular time zone (ex., 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Central U.S.)?
- Are team members required to “check in” about what they’ll be working on each day, or do they have autonomy to work on their own outside of planned meetings?
- Will you require anyone to work, even muted, in a video environment where everyone can see their coworkers?
- Will you have specific rules about typical email or other communication response times?
- Do you require a designated home office for employees? How does this change compensation?
Once you’ve answered these questions to help define your remote work policy, don’t forget to continue to build that culture and make the most of a digital environment on a regular basis, too.
Here are a few ways to highlight your team’s work remote definition for current and future employees:
- Plan an onboarding for new workers so they know the norms and get to meet the whole team.
- Make the digital environment fun. Schedule meetings for digital games, get-to-know you sessions, or even casual coffee chats where coworkers can share about their personal life.
- When hiring new employees, explain typical work hours and expectations for availability so everyone is on the same page about what it means to work out of the traditional office.
- Develop an atmosphere where leaders are comfortable speaking up when one employee’s “office environment” just isn’t cutting it. If you can see their neighbors arguing during video calls or their voice echoes in meetings, it may not be a great look.
Work from Home vs. a Coworking Space
Some employees focus better in a home office where they can close the door and focus, but others prefer an open coworking space, where they can mingle and enjoy perks like free coffee.
Company policy might require that employees have an office with a closed door if regular meetings could be disrupted by background noise from neighbors, pets, or kids. Another company might offer a stipend for employees to work from coworking spaces.
Some people prefer background noise and even feel more focused working around others in a shared environment, whereas others might prefer the silence of an at-home office.
When deciding between working from home and a coworking space, consider the following:
- Is the company or employee going to pay for the coworking space?
- Does the coworking space offer quiet areas for video calls?
- Does the coworking space’s hours match your work hours?
- Does the employee have a room or space at home that is conducive to remote work?
- Are there other perks like printing, faster WiFi, communal events, or mail delivery at the coworking space?
- What is the employee’s perception of what they need? Employees know themselves best and might be aware of what’s going to be more effective for them and their role.
Speaking of employees, just as company culture and leadership are critical for retaining talent, how you source talent remotely has an impact on your success.
Finding Remote Employees
When searching for new employees, it’s important to make sure their definition of “working remotely” matches yours and that they have the traits and know-how to work well remotely.
Build a job description that reflects the core values of the company and important traits for remote workers to have, such as great communication, productivity, video-conferencing familiarity, problem-solving, tech-savviness, and more. Include any remote working policies applicants should know about (such as a stipend for a co-working place, or specified availability hours).
While most job posting sites today let employers list their location as “remote,” some websites cater entirely to remote workers. For employers, this improves the chance you’ll find someone who already has a home office or coworking space as their digital work environment.
Here are some job boards that can help you reach a bigger pool of workers more familiar with remote work. A few places to share your remote-friendly job listing for diverse applicants familiar with the company definition of “working remotely” include:
- AngelList (perfect for startups)
- Freelance job boards
To make sure applicants can work well remotely, watch applicants from day one of their application. Do they know how to communicate professionally on video calls? Did they have tech issues in their video interview?
Best Tools for Working a Remote Job
Remote employees don’t have to miss out on many of the benefits of a traditional office when they use the right collaboration tools. Some of the best ones to leverage include:
- Slack for instant communication
- Gather.town for more engaged meetings and conversations with a face-to-face feel
- Project management software like Trello or Asana to keep all files centrally located and easily shared among your distributed team
Not all software is created equal — just because a tool can connect your team digitally doesn’t mean it’s the right fit. After all, the mass move to digital meetings created a lot of Zoom fatigue. So don’t skimp when something more engaging and collaborative is better suited to your team. They’ll thank you for it.
Adapting Your Meaning of Working Remotely
As time goes on, you’ll learn what works for your team. Keep asking how connected employees feel to their work, the company, and coworkers. This might help them feel happier at work and more loyal to the team. And, it can help you evolve your definition of what it looks like to work remotely.
- One company’s meaning of working remotely will be different from the next.
- Leadership creates a clear remote work policy to clarify expectations and procedures.
- Certain sites help attract talented remote employees.
- Specific tools can recreate an office-like atmosphere.
Ready to try your first virtual office? You can get one for free today. Don’t limit yourself to the basic requirements for a digital team — video calls aren’t enough to create a positive, productive work culture. That’s why we created Gather.