Work From Home Implementation: Policy Considerations for Small Business

August 7, 2020

In the last several years, the concept of Work From Home (WFH), also known as Telecommuting, has become increasingly more popular. Though some still remain skeptical, it has been gaining in popularity and become more widely accepted among management circles. That said, the pandemic event in 2020 essentially set the debate entirely aside, at least for the time being, because WFH became the only choice between working and shutting down.

WFH is a fairly general term that encompasses a range of workplace policies. Most generally, it refers to a policy permitting an employee to work from home (or any other approved remote location–the range of acceptable locations will differ depending on the organization’s policies). Once a business has determined that it wishes to explore a WFH policy, plans need to be put in place to roll out a new workplace telecommuting strategy.

WFH Policy Considerations

A typical policy would go beyond that WFH may or not be restrictive regarding working hours, breaks, equipment used, etc. For example, some WFH policies may require that an employee work within the standard corporate-approved workday. Other policies may simply require tasks to be completed when required. In short, it is important to understand that WFH, at its core, refers to working from a remote location. More broadly, it will likely also incorporate additional policies and restraints on how the remote work is completed.

1. What jobs are eligible:

The first step is identifying which jobs are eligible to be completed from home. Some jobs clearly require a full time presence in the workplace. Others, with some ingenuity, may be able to be partially handled on-site. Other jobs may clearly be eligible. (Note: we refer to “jobs” here, not “employees.” There is a difference.)

2. Which employees are eligible:

Once it has been determined which jobs are eligible for partial- or full-time WFH, then the decision must be made about which employees are the best candidates to successfully adopt WFH. For instance, employees may be eligible for WFH only after they have completed a probationary or training period. Or longer, if that seems appropriate. A second criteria may be a good performance record. Employees with performance or disciplinary issues may be not eligible for WFH.

3. A slow, incremental rollout:

Adopting a WFH policy may represent a serious shift in company culture, management style, and operational processes. Doing it all at once is likely asking for trouble. Every project needs a beta stage, and WFH is no exception. Try adopting it with a few employees from one unit. Then do the same in another area. Then review and identify issues and concerns by talking with all involved.

4. Set Parameters and Expectations: Policies you may wish to consider

a) Availability window – Will it be necessary for them to be completely available during certain periods? For example, must they conduct their WFH within standard working hours, e.g. 9-5. Or will there be a flex-time approach, where availability is only required within a smaller window, e.g. 10-2.
b) Responsiveness – How responsive must they be to emails, phone calls, text, etc? One of the risks of the modern workplace is the feeling employees have that they must be available 24/7. Because WFH may have less structure, this perception may be exacerbated.
c) It is only about deadlines-just get your work done on time. The rest is up to you.

5. Cancellation

If the plan is partially or fully repealed, will employees be given sufficient notice to make plans to cover for child care, etc?

6. Equipment

It should be outlined what equipment and utilities employers and employees are responsible for providing and maintaining. Will bandwidth be a reimbursable expense? Will laptops, phones, etc. be provided by the business or will this be a BYOD project.

7. Equipment maintenance

If technology is provided by the employer, what is the employee’s responsibility to keep it maintained, upgrades installed, etc. Even if you have a BYOD policy, are employees required to bring their devices in for upgrades and security checks?

8. Fair Labor Standards Act

Just because an employee works from home, it doesn’t mean overtime laws go out the window. The FLSA creates a framework for paying wages above the law’s definition of a 40 hour work week that includes overtime pay for work performed beyond that threshold. Under FLSA, two basic classes of workers are defined: those employees who must be paid overtime when working in excess of forty hours (non-exempt employees), and those who are not required to be compensated for work done beyond the 40 hour limit (exempt employees). The problem FLSA presents is that non-exempt employees must be paid for all work, including any work activity outside regular working hours. An example of the liability that is created for an employer are employees who respond to texts and emails from home outside “office hours.” This is compensable work and needs to be counted under the 40 hour threshold. Policies that protect you from any violation of FLSA should be articulated clearly in writing. Because they are not physically in the building, it becomes trickier to observe and limit their work activity.

9. No Silos

When developing a WFH policy, the above issue of FLSA points out that effective WFH planning and implementation requires collaboration, and not just between individual managers and employees. It is an IT issue-who is supporting all of this off-site technology and maintaining data security? It is a human resource issue-will performance measurements need to be tweaked? What about FLSA and similar laws? It is a legal issue-how is data governed by federal and state laws such as HIPAA and FERPA being handled? Is Wi-Fi permitted?

In summary, WFH is surely here to stay. Whether it succeeds depends on a careful and well-planned rollout. Additionally, because WFH depends very heavily on a solid IT infrastructure, it is important that your IT department and your Managed Service Provider are closely involved with the entire planning process.
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