How to Create An Inclusive Remote-Work Policy

No matter your reason for embracing remote workers, a remote-work policy is an important step to set your team up for success.

by RC Victorino May 11, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic forced companies to embrace a remote-friendly culture, but remote work was already growing in popularity before the COVID-19 outbreak.

In other words, it’s inevitable that most companies will be remote-friendly, to some degree, eventually.

No matter your reason for embracing remote workers, creating a remote-work policy is an important step to set your team up for success.

What is a remote-work policy

A remote-work policy isn’t just a set of rules and expectations. It’s also a guideline your company uses to help your remote team feel empowered to do their best work.

The granular details of a remote-work policy will depend on a variety of factors. For example, a company that hires international employees will have different communication challenges than companies that hire local remote workers only.

But regardless of the makeup of your team, it's important that you consider the social and cultural challenges of managing remote employees. You can do this by including the following in your remote-work policy:

  1. Communication standard
  2. Equivalency code
  3. Social strategy

Communication standard

How your remote team communicates can offset the negative consequences of isolation.

For the sake of clarity, let’s discern between isolation and loneliness.

Loneliness is an emotional response to a lack of connection. Your local employees can feel just as lonely as your remote employees — although loneliness is far more prevalent with remote workers. We discuss ways to overcome loneliness in the social strategy section further down.

Isolation, on the other hand, is related to a lack of access. Employees feel isolated when they can’t get materials or information they need to do their job well. The result is they feel ignored, under-appreciated, and dispensable. While all employees can experience this — it’s far more common with remote employees.

Creating a clear communication standard can ensure that your remote team has equal access to critical information and conversations. As part of your communication standard, you should answer the following three questions:

  • What are the normal working hours? This sets the expectation of when employees should be available for calls and meetings.
  • What is the expected response time for each communication channel? For example, should your team respond to Slack messages within 4 hours, and emails within 24 hours?
  • What happens when someone is unavailable during normal working hours (on vacation or out sick, for example). Who should be contacted instead, and how?

Your communication standard should also include your cadence of communication between managers and their remote employees.

While scheduled meetings aren’t unique to remote teams, sometimes these planned events are the only communication remote employees have with managers. It’s important to establish a cadence to keep your remote team connected.

One approach is:

  • Weekly one-on-one meetings. Managers schedule 30-minute weekly meetings with their remote workers. Remote employees should dictate the agenda based on their needs (such as to review priorities, ask questions, or discuss frustrations). This is a great time for managers to check in on the happiness of their workers.
  • Daily standups. At the start or end of each day, every team member shares a list of things they completed since the previous standup. At Slab, we use a dedicated Slack channel for this. We created a Geekbot alert that reminds team members to submit their daily standup. We find that sharing our standups asynchronously is the best use of our time.

Equivalency code

The equivalency code is pretty simple: If you offer perks to local employees, you should find an equivalent perk to offer remote employees. This prevents remote employees from feeling like second-class citizens.

Even if you’re entirely remote, the equivalency code applies. Your fully remote team shouldn’t miss out on the perks typically given to teams that work in an office. Ask yourself: If I had an office, what perks and benefits would I offer my employees? Or, think back to when you worked in an office. What perks did you have? How can you offer the same to your remote team?

The perks you offer your remote employees depend on many factors (budget, logistics, etc.). Below we list three standard perks local employees receive — and how you might apply them to remote workers.

Commuting expenses

Many companies reimburse local employees for their commute. They pay for parking, public transit, or even reimburse some mileage. Some offer access to the company rideshare account.

Remote employees don’t have to commute — so on the surface, there seems no reason for them to need a commuting perk. However, to ensure inclusivity, you can offer remote employees one or two paid trips to HQ every year, or reimburse their travel expenses when they work at a coworking space.

Office setup

If employees at HQ have access to top-of-the-line desks, chairs, monitors, and other equipment, your remote employees should also have the opportunity to upgrade their workspace. Offer remote workers an office-setup stipend. This gives them autonomy over how best to outfit their home office.

This also applies to network security. If your office has a secure network, that same level of security should be provided to your remote employees.

Lunch

Some companies pay for employee lunches, either daily or on special occasions. If this applies to you, consider giving each employee a monthly lunch credit.

Or, find out their favorite lunch spot and send them a gift card each month. Despite being more limiting than a credit, this personalized approach can help your remote workers feel like they’re appreciated — and noticed.

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Social strategy

Loneliness is the second biggest struggle remote workers experience, according to Buffer’s 2019 State of Remote Work report. Plus, loneliness is reaching epidemic levels, particularly in young adults (a segment of the population more likely to work remotely).

So, how do you combat the loneliness your remote workers might experience?

1. Get to know your remote employees

First, not all remote employees feel lonely. Some prefer their solitary workspace. Some are better workers because of it. You shouldn’t force social gatherings based on the assumption that your remote employees must feel lonely.

Secondly, combatting remote-work loneliness is not as easy as, for example, hosting a monthly Zoom mixer. Not everyone is an extrovert. These large (albeit virtual) social gatherings could make some team members uncomfortable.

An important part of building an inclusive remote-work culture is understanding your remote employees. Ideally, this is done on the managerial level. Each manager or team lead should take the following steps to understand the dynamics of their remote employees better:

  1. Identify your remote workers’ strengths and talents. This helps you understand who they are and how they work best.
  2. Study their work patterns. When and how do they collaborate with their peers? Who do they reach out to most frequently? Which of their partnerships delivers the best results? This helps you identify their social circle.
  3. Get feedback from remote employees after the completion of every project or task. This will help you understand when they prefer to collaborate with the team, and when they prefer to self-isolate.

2. Create opportunities for face-to-face meetups

As empowering as asynchronous communication is, face-to-face time is important for building trust and relationships.

If your remote employees are local, encourage them to come in for one day every week. The happiest workers spend about one day a week in the office, according to a Gallup poll of 9,917 employed US adults.

These “mostly” remote workers were also more likely than full-remote or full-office workers to say they had a best friend at work.

Have remote employees who are unable to come to the office regularly? Invest in bringing them to the office monthly or quarterly.

Of course, in-person meetups are not always realistic or viable. You can use communication tools, like Zoom and Skype, to compensate.

3. Create opportunities for casual conversations

All too often, remote workers are only called upon when something is needed. Imagine if that were the dynamic in an office — where the only time colleagues communicated was when they needed something. Morale would take a hit. Your rate of attrition would likely increase.

Of course, in a typical office setting, casual conversations tend to occur more naturally. You walk by someone’s desk, notice they’re wearing a Dave Matthews T-shirt, and start up a discussion around the best DMB songs ever written (for the record, it’s “Crash Into Me.”)

These casual conversations are not as easy to come by for remote employees. But they’re not impossible.

Slack channels help. So do small, voluntary video meetups. Whatever approach you take, the important takeaway is to find ways to engage your remote employees with their colleagues in a casual setting.

But also keep in mind — some remote employees prefer to avoid these types of social gatherings. Give your team autonomy over how they socially interact with one another.

In summary

Most companies understand the importance of a remote-work policy. But far too many policies cover the basic rules and expectations only, like who can work remotely, and what tools they should use. Most policies fail to consider the social and cultural challenges of managing remote employees.

But without considering how you’ll address these challenges, your remote employees are likely to feel isolated, lonely, and, consequently, unhappy.

You can address these challenges by creating a remote-work policy that includes:

  • Communication standard
  • Equivalency code
  • Social strategy

It doesn’t matter if you plan to be 100% remote or a hybrid company — an inclusive remote-work policy is the most effective way to set your entire team up for success.

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