With the COVID-19 pandemic having upended office work as we know it, pushing many people to work from home, employers that aim to make this change permanent have to make sure they can effectively manage their offsite staff.

If you have remote staff or are implementing remote work for your employees, it’s important that you have rules in place for them to protect your company as well hold your workforce accountable. If you don’t have these policies, you are opening yourself up to potential litigation and other risks.

Step 1: Create a policy for remote work

You should already have in place a written workplace policy, but if you are now allowing remote work, your employees will need to know the rules of the road.

Your policy should outline in detail the guidelines for working remotely, including:

  • Which employees and positions are eligible for remote work. Identify key positions and determine if those jobs can be done while telecommuting.
  • If they are eligible, is it mandatory or each employee’s choice? Decide if they would be required to work remotely full-time or if they can have a hybrid schedule.
  • If you plan to allow hybrid schedules, institute policies for how that will work. Decide if management or the employee sets the schedule. If it’s the employee, put in place procedures for how they can set their schedule.
  • Set performance standards and expectations.
  • The policy should include your expectations for taking care of company equipment and materials.

Step 2: Set rules for reimbursing expenses

Invariably, your remote staff will need to purchase items that they need to do their jobs, be that a new chair, or office items like paper for the copier, and more. Employers should reimburse their workers for these types of business-related expenses.

Ten states have laws on the books requiring that employers reimburse remote workers for business expenses.

One other issue that may come up is that if full-time remote workers are sometimes required to travel to the office for meetings, they may be entitled compensation for their travel time as well as fuel reimbursement.

Decide if you will require that any expenses employees incur must be authorized first. If you deny a reimbursement request, document the reasons for doing so.

Step 3: Institute a system for tracking time worked

There are a number of computer and app-based timekeeping programs available to employers who have remote workers or employees who work in the field.

Also establish what you expect in terms of how long and when they work. Be especially careful with non-exempt employees, as you don’t want to fall afoul of wage and hour as well as meal and rest break laws. Staff working from home are entitled to the same breaks as those at a workplace.

It’s easy for the line between work and personal time to blur when someone works from home, but it’s vital to protect your business against wage and hour lawsuits. You must have strict policies barring your staff from working after they have clocked out.

Data and network security

Businesses are already at heightened risk of cyber attacks as criminals get more sophisticated, but when an employee is accessing your networks from outside your offices, or is using cloud services to share files, the risks grow exponentially.

To reduce the chances of a data breach, you should require protected secure apps or work e-mail for work-related communications.

Require them to use unique and complex passwords for their accounts, and that they update the passwords every 90 days.

Implement a VPN for your employees to use to log in to your database remotely. This adds a higher level of security.

Provide your staff with a company-owned computer that is secure and loaded with the anti-virus and firewall software you have installed in your workplace computers. Consider barring your staff from using their personal computers or devices to conduct work.

Use encrypted teleconferencing software only. Require all employees to use the same software for these types of communications.

Bar employees from downloading any unauthorized software or apps on their work computers or devices.

The takeaway

Remote work can be an effective arrangement for a business, but it’s also fraught with pitfalls if you don’t plan it out properly and have rules dictating how the arrangement works.

Take the time to pen out thoughtful rules that ensure you are complying with workplace laws, while also protecting your firm against the risks that can accompany remote work.