A guide to creating an effective work from home policy

Understanding remote work policies, how to design them, and metrics for success

As organizations adopt different models for remote work in the coming years, they are building structures to support distributed and hybrid workforces over the long term, including, importantly, a work from home (WFH) policy. Many companies will be creating WFH plans for the first time; for those that already had such policies, now is the time to review and update.

A work from home policy governs the when, who, why, how, and what-ifs of hybrid work (i.e., a mix of home and office work) and work from home arrangements. It should include procedures, best practices, and rules. It is typically developed and managed by human resources departments with input from managers throughout the company.

Companies need WFH policies for similar reasons that policies are needed for in-office work, such as keeping data secure and tracking hours worked. But WFH introduces new situations and challenges that existing guidance may not cover, such as security, made more complex when employees are working in environments not owned or controlled by the organization. There are also concerns about productivity and check-ins with managers. By spelling out the organization’s requirements, leaders can offer guidance and reduce conflicts.

An effective WFH policy protects the company, supports employees, and contributes to the company’s overall success. Every WFH policy should be tailored to each organization, but they commonly comprise these areas:

  • IT security. One of the most important subjects in a work from home policy, IT security policies should include guidance for securing home networks; software to be used to secure access and data, such as VPNs (virtual private networks) or remote-sign-in tools; and training requirements for online safety, such as identifying emails with malware links.
  • Time tracking. What mechanisms, if any, will the organization employ to verify time spent working? Transparency about time-tracking monitoring or passive verification will show respect for employees’ privacy.
2021 work from home
  • Eligibility. Some positions are better suited to remote work than others. Prepare to specify which jobs are eligible or not eligible for working from home, along with possible appeal policies for employees who want different accommodations.
  • Policies for meetings. Aligning people to “do and don’t” goals will likely need rules, such as expected dress codes and use of virtual backgrounds. 
  • Equipment policies. Can employees use their own computers for work, or must they use devices supplied by the organization? Requirements should be spelled out. 

A work from home policy can be an elaborate document or a one-pager that captures the key concerns. Whatever approach a company takes, use these steps to get started.

1) Ask questions

In the early days of the pandemic, many work from home decisions were made on the fly as organizations struggled to adapt. Now that there’s time to think, leaders should gather opinions on questions such as:

  • What’s the goal of a work from home culture for the organization?
  • Does the organization want to encourage working from home, or limit remote work?
  • Should a work from home policy be used to attract talent?
  • Can a work from home policy help improve performance?
2) Define goals

For most organizations, there are multiple goals for a work from home policy—for example, creating resilience in case of events that force full-time remote work. Another goal might be to provide employees with flexibility to work from home, such as to care for children or family members.

3) Consider the impact on productivity

Forty percent of workers reported they were more productive at home during the pandemic, and only 15% said they’d been more productive when in the office, according to a survey from the Mexico Autonomous Institute of Technology and University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Every organization needs to decide how to set policy for tracking time, meeting project milestones, or checking in with managers in order to maintain productivity.

4) Manage work/life balance

With so many employees working remotely—often with children or parents at home as well—employers need to consider worker wellbeing, and whether work from home policies should address the resources available to manage this challenging balancing act.

5) Offer options for new hires

If an organization has or is contemplating a hybrid approach to work (that is, both office and remote-work options), leaders should consider whether candidates should be offered remote-work opportunities. Candidates will likely ask about work from home policies; such options might be a primary factor in a candidate deciding whether to take a job. According to Thrive HR Consulting, organizations that don’t offer options for remote work may be ignored by 70% of job seekers.

6) Embrace change

One thing organizations have learned in recent years is that change is a given. Expect best practices and prevailing wisdom to change over time, and be prepared to update your work from home policy accordingly. Make it easy for workers to weigh in on what’s working and what’s not.

7) Publicize the policy

Work from home policies should become part of recruiting, onboarding, and training, and should be easily accessible to everyone.

While every work from home policy will be unique, it’s helpful to start out with an existing template. Check out these templates to kick off a work from home policy project:

 Workflow Guide

Hybrid work : The new normal