2020 has been defined by some key changes in how we conduct our personal and professional lives. One of the biggest has no doubt been the shift from working in the office to working from home. After all, work as we know it has been turned on its head. During this time, companies have been faced with tough and unprecedented questions regarding remote work.
Companies developing work from home policies need to account for everything from employees’ working hours to strategies for boosting employee satisfaction. Needless to say, not every company has gotten this right, and there’s been no shortage of mistakes made as companies navigate the waters of remote work. As these mistakes ultimately end up adversely affecting employees’ productivity and overall well-being, it’s vital to not only be cognizant of them, but to also steer clear of them.
To help you avoid the most common mistakes companies make when developing work from home policies, we reached out to a panel of 30 human resources professionals and business leaders and asked them to answer this question:
“What’s the single biggest mistake companies make when trying to develop work from home policies?”
Meet Our Panel of HR Professionals & Business Leaders:
Keep reading to learn more about what our experts had to say about the most common/biggest mistakes companies make when developing work from home policies.
Foster Mendez is the founder of Spear Mortgage.
“The single biggest mistake companies make when setting work from home policies is not setting expectations about availability and responsiveness when working from home…”
Many companies do not define these expectations in their policies. But they can be a key source of misunderstandings regarding remote work.
Some employees may think that working from home is a green light for flexible hours, while managers may in fact require them to still be very responsive from 9 AM to 6 PM.
It can also cause frustration if one employee is on a flexible schedule while another is working the full 9 AM to 6 PM. Another example of a misunderstanding that can happen is when an employee who is working hard but isn’t so responsive is perceived to be less productive.
Companies generally understand the need for security protocols, tech support, and equipment in work from home policies, but availability and responsiveness are still missing.
Robert Patin is the Managing Partner of Patin & Associates and the author of the international bestseller, The Agency Blueprint. He works with marketing agencies as a fractional CFO and business coach and consults with them to solve their efficiency, operational, and cash flow issues.
“The biggest mistake that I have seen company leaders make while implementing their work from home policies is instilling mistrust in their culture through micromanagement…”
I have seen companies require their employees to be on video all day, have many check-ins, or have screen monitoring systems in place. With the move to a remote working environment, company leaders need to shift their thinking.
The primary benefit of a remote working policy is that the rigid 9 to 5 working hours are no longer necessary. A remote working policy should provide fluidity to companies. In the end, if a company does not trust its employees to prioritize their work appropriately or deliver on deadline, why are these employees even working for them in the first place?
Ethan Taub is the CEO of Loanry. He has more than 20 years of experience in C-level management, sales, marketing, and product development across companies ranging from billion-dollar brands to innovative technology start-ups.
“Many companies fall into the problem of not adapting their internal communication channels to remote working…”With in-person conversations no longer possible, internal communications need to be streamlined. If they aren’t, they can become a mess with endless notifications from different channels.
Before large-scale work from home initiatives can be rolled out, existing communications channels need to be audited and designated a primary purpose. For example, Slack is only for quick and informal communications, while email is for longer-form announcements.
Neal Taparia founded Imagine Easy Solutions, a software company that he grew to $20M in revenue and sold. He also served as an executive at Chegg, an NYSE public company. Neil is currently incubating a new company, Solitaired, which ties classic games to brain training.
“I’ve managed many remote teams over the years, and the biggest mistake I’ve seen companies make is setting specific work hours that their employees must work within…”
Working from home isn’t like working at the office. You’re also balancing home life and even family responsibilities.
This need for balance means that you need to give your team some flexibility and autonomy around how they spend their time. Instead of expecting your team to work 9 to 5 every day, you should provide guidance on when they should be available generally and give flexibility around that.
For example, we have employees who specifically take a 1-hour lunch break to spend time with their family, but then end their day at 6 PM.
If you dictate how your team should spend your time, you’ll invariably find conflicts. Create expectations that align with meeting your employees’ needs at home.
Harshil Bhatnagar is the founder of Staiir Social Media Marketing, a social media marketing and digital marketing company based in India.“The biggest mistake that companies make when trying to develop work from home policies is not providing work from home training for managers and leaders…”
Many organizations assume that leaders will be able to handle staff working from home easily, but this isn’t necessarily the case. Managers and leaders should be trained separately to manage employees who are working from home.
There are many cases where leaders expect too much from employees, such as instant replies to emails, picking up the phone quickly, real-time task completion, and so on.
This micromanagement decreases productivity and decreases employees’ trust in the organization. There is a substantial difference between working from home and working in the office. Managers should also be trained on sensitive issues regarding employees, rewards and recognition, and virtual team activities.
Wayne Turmel is the co-founder of the Remote Leadership Institute and co-author of The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership.
“One of the biggest mistakes organizations make is to put processes in place that measure activity, rather than productivity…”
For example, mandating someone to be in a chair in front of their computer at certain times of the day does not guarantee that good work is being done.
This is especially true at a time when people are dealing with all kinds of work from home circumstances, such as kids, spouses, health issues, and less-than-ideal workspaces. Companies should therefore be measuring whether work is done at an acceptable quality and on schedule, rather than log-in time.
While there are legitimate reasons to measure attendance, a focus on such details often looks like micromanaging. Agreeing on expectations, such as the amount of work, quality, and delivery dates, along with how the team will work together, keeps the focus where it should be. That is, on the work itself, and not on activities that are easier (and more soul-crushing) to measure.
Kayleigh Duggan is a Senior Marketing Client Manager at ThoughtLab, a web design and digital experience agency. The agency works with forward-thinking clients on branding, user experience, design, development, and marketing campaigns to create intelligent brands, websites, mobile apps, and custom software.
“I think the biggest mistake companies can make when trying to develop work from home policies is being too intrusive while tracking employees’ hours/tasks…”
While it is understandable that employees will be required to prove that they are doing what they are supposed to be doing, there is a thin line between maintaining productivity and being creeped out by excessive surveillance. You want your employees to feel comfortable with the level of supervision without feeling like big brother is watching their every move.
It is also important to remember that when working from home, some people might not be able to follow a strict 8 hours on, 16 hours off schedule. Work may need to be broken up into shorter blocks of time, often beginning earlier than 8 AM and ending later than 5 PM. If it permits, try to be flexible with employees’ schedules, so long as they are getting the work done.
There should also be a quick and easy way to log time. If it takes too long to log every single task, employee productivity will greatly decrease. In my opinion, installing software on employees’ laptops that track every hour of every day is far too intrusive and should be saved for those who have already proven that they are not getting the work done that they have agreed to do.
In summary, the number one thing to remember is that as long as the work is getting done, try to be flexible with your employees while everyone is going through this unprecedented time.
Ben Walker is the CEO and Founder of Transcription Outsourcing, LLC.
“The single biggest mistake we’ve found with setting and developing work from home policies is a rigid time schedule…”
Due to the fact that employees are at home with a lot more going on these days, it has become almost impossible to ask them to commit to a set-in-stone time schedule every day. After all, kids, dogs, parents, neighbors, and household duties have all become crammed together under one roof, so to say.
Before the pandemic, it was much easier to be ready and available. Setting strict schedules now is challenging, so I tell people trying to set up those types of schedules to think of alternatives, because it simply won’t work right now.
Chris Wilson is the CEO of Smart Furniture.
“Many leaders fail to grasp how they can support their employees to establish a productive working from home (WFH) environment…”
Over the past couple of months, we’ve heard from numerous business leaders interested in helping their new work from home teams establish the best at-home working environments as possible. When the COVID-19-inspired WFH migration initially began, many employers simply threw stipends, typically for office chairs, at their employees so that they could be a bit more comfortable working from their makeshift home offices.
Now that the trend is looking to be more long term, many leaders are learning that there is much more to creating and maintaining a high-quality working space, and some are even crafting policy around equipment needs. While I’m sure each business has unique matters to address, I typically endorse the following considerations:
- Periodical stipend disbursements, so employees can continuously improve their WFH environments.
- Consider employees who need alternative working solutions, whether it’s flexible hours or periodic in-office working visits.
- Include exercise-from-home subscription packages, such as Peloton, with traditional wellness benefits.
I find it encouraging that more management professionals are exploring creative policy maneuvers to make the most of this new WFH landscape. I am also aware that there is an opportunity for more leaders to ponder new concepts.
Michael Alexis is the CEO of TeamBuilding.
“The biggest mistake has been that companies choose one of two main models of remote working…”
Many companies new to working remotely tend to over-emphasize either the ‘trust model’ or the ‘verify model.’ For example, in the trust model, you essentially allow a free-for-all, and in the verify model you have strong systems for tracking and monitoring productivity.
The best system is to trust and verify. This system involves supporting your people to do their best work on their own schedule and having some system in place to sustain it. For example, we use four-week cycles that set the main priorities for each month. In the four weeks, our team members have a ton of flexibility to pursue these goals as they see fit. The main expectation is that at the end of each of the cycles, everything is completed to the expected standard.
Jennifer Kalita is a Washington, DC-based consultant and author of The Home Office Parent: How to Raise Kids & Profits Under One Roof.
“The most common mistake I have observed in the development of work from home policies is a lack of consistency and clarity across business units…”
While different roles may require unique hours or special equipment, such as corporate sales or IT support, there should be internal agreement among senior leadership regarding expectations before employees are addressed as a whole.
Say that a CEO’s talking points during a company’s webinar present a respect for and commitment to supporting you to achieve your work while honoring the needs of your children or aging parents during a pandemic. However, your supervisor expects an answer to an 8 PM text because ‘you’re at home.’ This is an example of where there’s a disconnect that leaves employees feeling cheated and disrespected.
Guidelines for both employees and management should ideally be:
Specific: The onus is on management to be painstakingly clear about its demands. Use clear and defining language such as, ‘Your expected eight-hour workday should run on average from 9 AM to 5 PM; replies to a phone call, email, or chat are expected within 60 minutes during those hours,’ or, ‘If you must step away for a doctor’s appointment or childcare need, alert your team that you will be offline for a specified amount of time and note this on the group calendar.’ Remember that if staff don’t understand such expectations, they won’t have any clarity on how to execute them.
Balanced: While it is important for employees to honor their work responsibilities, it’s also important for supervisors to understand that telecommuting is not a 24/7 assignment. Documented boundaries like, ‘While we expect you to be responsive to company needs during normal business hours, you are not obligated to respond to any questions outside of those business hours,’ will keep employees feeling clear and overzealous supervisors in check.
Transparent: Policies should be emailed to all staff and housed on the company’s intranet. Supervisors should be compelled to meet with their teams with an HR representative present to go through the guidelines and provide a Q & A opportunity.
Collaborative: Working from home is a two-way street. While it’s the company’s obligation to provide you with the tools you need to work from home, such as a chat platform or web conferencing system, it’s your responsibility to maintain a stable internet connection and carve out a workspace where you can conduct business. Likewise, it’s your supervisor’s responsibility to respect that you may have unavoidable home or family-related distractions from time to time, but it’s your role to maintain a reliable and professional presence on a regular basis.
Jessica Wise is a customer experience and business blogger and working from home advocate at Help Squad.
“One of the biggest missteps companies make is leaving behind their work culture…”
I know it’s difficult to cultivate an ‘office culture’ remotely, but it’s extremely important to do so in order to keep employees engaged and make them feel recognized. So, schedule weekly one-on-one check-ins between management and their respective teams and make an effort to get your staff together every few months for a group outing or team-building activity.
Brian Robben is the CEO and founder of Robben Media.
“Forcing employees to choose between their parenting responsibilities and work is a massive mistake…”
If faced with the choice, almost every employee will choose their family, as they most likely should. By forcing them to choose, you’ll lose their commitment. You should therefore expect them to mentally check out or leave for other opportunities due to your strict policies.
Instead, always keep in mind that you’re dealing with individuals who have families and are doing their best to make it through the stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, manage employees by what they get done, not by what time of the day they get it done. This approach measures effectiveness, not random requirements that don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. Help your employees with their home life, and they’ll give you everything they’ve got at work.
Joel is the Founder of The Vested Group, a culture, employee, and community-focused company that happens to work with the highest-rated cloud business management system on the market today – Oracle and NetSuite.
“The biggest mistake is assuming that everyone prefers to work from home…”
I see and hear about companies already shutting down physical offices and making the assumption that all of their employees will be happier avoiding the daily commute and getting to spend their day in pajamas.
There is clearly a subset of those that will love those options, but what about the people who derive their energy from being with others? The extroverts that need in-person interaction to generate ideas? Or those that simply don’t have a proper setup at home to be productive?
It seems that we have swung really far in the direction of working from home, and parts of it will surely stick. But forgetting about the importance of a culture that bonds people together through personal interaction seems short-sighted.
Chris Gadek is an early-stage startup growth and marketing leader who has a strong focus on ROI and efficient tracking of marketing programs and growth experiments at Adquick. For the last 10 years, Chris has focused on helping build and grow B2B software companies – operating at the intersection of product, engineering, sales, operations, and finance teams.
“One of the worst mistakes that a company can make when trying to establish work from home policies and procedures is to not realize that a project management app is absolutely essential…”
Whether you opt for Asana, Trello, Podio, Teamwork, or another software, it’s important to have one in place so that everyone can always stay on the same page – literally.
You can assign tasks, work on projects solo or as a team, upload and download documents, and a variety of other things. Plus, looking at your week at a glance can help you to see how much time you’re spending on each client and customer.
Max Harland is the CEO of Dentaly.
“The lack of a defined work schedule or employee availability hours is a crucial mistake companies make…”
Even if your company values flexibility, employees need to have a set time frame during which their coworkers can reach out to them to address concerns. The lack of predefined consulting or reaching out hours makes it difficult to collaborate.
Companies should set at least one hour of open communication for all employees. Although employees can answer or address concerns outside of the open hour, the existence of such a period reassures them that their message recipient will immediately receive their concern and take the necessary actions to solve the problem.
Agnieszka Kasperek is the CMO of Taskeo, a copywriter, and remote worker.
“The biggest mistake when developing WFH policies is attempting to copy the way things worked when everybody was in the office…”
You might be looking for software that allows you to recreate face-to-face contact, or you may be demanding that people log in and out the same way they do when entering and leaving your company building.
However, your business and your team will benefit most when you step away from these standard habits. You need to build new ones that are a better fit for this new work at home setting. Higher flexibility, focusing on results, and using technology are just a few ideas to consider. All in all, it comes down to grasping that WFH is something entirely else – so old standards are unlikely to fit
Branka Vuleta is the Founder of LegalJobSite.
“The single biggest mistake companies make when trying to develop work from home policies is failing to be clear about their expectations and not being strict enough with working hours…”
Setting clear expectations is crucial for a business’ success, as it can reduce workplace confusion and increase the chances of success while managing tasks. Furthermore, setting clear expectations and goals can increase employee engagement.
After all, truly engaged employees feel confident about their role within the company and know what’s expected of them through every step of the process. For companies that have recently gone remote, I suggest using task-tracking software, such as Asana, to track the work progress in the initial period.
It’s important to keep in mind that going remote may mean switching to flexible hours, which can end catastrophically. For example, some employees might work evening shifts and be unavailable to the rest of the team who work in the morning. Companies that have employees in different time zones should particularly ensure these employees have overlapping hours with the majority of their coworkers to avoid lags in communication.
Phil Strazzulla is the CEO and Founder of Select Software Reviews.
“The biggest thing employers need to understand – and the thing that is most commonly misunderstood – is that working from home is not the same as working from the office but in a different place…”
Many employers are realizing that their temporary work from home solution may be a bit more permanent than they originally thought.
When employees work from home, one of the benefits that employers often enjoy is that when there’s no commute to and from the office, employees tend to let their tasks dictate when they stop working, rather than rush hour. If employers stay strict on start times and offer no flexibility, however, employees may stick to the clock just for spite.
Employers need to understand that one of the benefits of working from home is the flexibility that it offers. So, they should make sure to not infringe on that with their remote employees.
Stefan Smulders is the CEO and founder of Expandi.
“One area where most companies go wrong is thinking that they can control their employees’ time and how they spend it…”
When an employee is at the office for 8 hours, you can more or less see if they’re working or not. In remote settings, some managers just can’t cope with the fact that their employees may not be working at all. I’ve seen some managers go as far as saying that those employees are stealing from the company if they’re not behind their laptops!
Instead of stressing yourself over this and using intrusive tactics, like tracking time and recording screens, focus on the other side of the story. Make sure that your employees work for goals and not for time spent at work. Set goals, track them, and make sure they get done – that’s how you can check if someone’s working or not. You need to say goodbye to knowing where your employees are all the time and whether they are working at all. Instead, start focusing on the results.
Jenna Carson is the HR Manager of Music Grotto.
“The biggest – and most frequent – mistake I have seen companies make when developing work from home policies is not adjusting their hiring processes to fit in with the world of remote work…”
This is a particular problem for companies that have never really implemented remote work before, as they are used to hiring office workers.
Not everyone is cut out for remote work, and it can be difficult to tell who will and won’t succeed in advance. That’s why it’s important to ask the right questions and do the right tests during the hiring process. Hiring managers need to establish how comfortable a candidate is with working on their own and motivating themselves. If they need too much external influence to motivate themselves, for example, they may struggle when working from home.
It’s equally important to establish if they have the correct home environment to work productively. That’s why it’s worth asking them whether they have a home office. If they don’t, ask them where they plan to work from.
Future hires also need to be excellent written communicators, as they will be relying heavily on email and chat functions to communicate with their colleagues.
Not doing these checks in advance may mean that you end up hiring a great candidate who would work very well in your office, but isn’t so successful at working remotely.
Brandon Monaghan is the Co-Founder of Miracle Brand.
“The single biggest mistake companies make when developing work from home policies is overcrowding their policies and not leaving room for self-accountability from the employees’ side…”
I think our main realization through COVID-19 has been that our employees are incredibly efficient working from home. Setting an excessive number of rules and policies would only hinder the productivity levels of more employees. Open communication within all levels of employees is critical. Collaboration should also be highly encouraged.
All that considered, leaving room for proactiveness and the ability to navigate freely will empower employees to manage their time effectively.
Justin Hawes is the CEO of K&N Sales, a high-end appliances showroom in Houston. He treats every customer as a friend and works every day to enhance their customer experience.
“Many companies develop work from home policies but don’t provide the right tools to their employees to work securely and productively…”
Cybersecurity concerns should always be top of mind. Big companies work on secure networks, but when information is taken out of the office, security isn’t guaranteed. As such, there must be reliable systems for storing and exchanging data, both conveniently and securely.
Without due care, companies will be more susceptible to cyberattacks. Keep in mind that hacking someone’s home Wi-Fi is much easier than hacking into a corporate network. A remote work policy thus needs to make people aware of the risks, give guidance on avoiding them, and provide instructions on what to do if security is compromised.
Hardeep Johar is a Cambridge MBA graduate and the President of Stone&Tile Shoppe, an online store of interior and exterior stone decoration.
“The biggest mistake when developing a work from home policy is not making it clear and specific enough…”
An effective remote work policy should go into detail about all aspects of remote work. This includes expectations of working hours, legal rights, and cybersecurity requirements.
Remote work shouldn’t be considered as just the essential freedom of every employee. It’s a regulated procedure. It’s necessary to clearly regulate such matters as who can work remotely, how often, for what reasons, and who must be notified if an employee wants to work from home, the policy should address whether the range of duties and working hours changes, etc. It’s essential to communicate and document what’s expected when employees work remotely.
Mason Culligan is the founder and CEO of the multimedia company, Mattress Battle. He has experience working with numerous Fortune 500 companies and managing many different businesses.
“The biggest mistake companies make when developing work from home policies is overlooking employees’ remote work capability…”
During these pressing times in which organizations have to act and pivot fast, it is inevitable that some aspects of these policies overlook concerns involving employees.
Aside from the security measures, setting goals and expectations, and other valuable factors to note in a policy, companies also need to gauge their employees’ capabilities to adapt to this new setup. It’s vital to understand that not every employee can thrive and adjust as quickly as others. Moreover, not all positions can be suitable for a remote work setup. Hence, a company needs to evaluate whether some employees may require further assistance when it comes to adjusting.
To streamline the process, be sure to coordinate with supervisors and team leads and cross-reference performance assessments. Doing so will ensure a smoother transition to remote work and a higher productivity rate.
Michael Dean is the Co-Founder of Pool Research.
“One huge mistake that many companies make when developing work from home policies is not taking into account mental health and showing empathy…”
Oftentimes, I see companies developing work from home policies and strategies that only focus on how to optimize employees’ work production, productivity, and efficiency while at home. While these are all important, I always see a lack of emphasis on one crucial detail: mental health.
Since working from home often means much larger periods of solitude for most employees, companies should take steps to ensure their workers are feeling motivated, connected, and appreciated during this time. They should ensure that employees have easy access to reach out to their coworkers, not just for business-related purposes, but also just to talk and enjoy conversing. Otherwise, work from home employees will begin to feel isolated and withdrawn from their coworkers and work friends.
You don’t have to be a mental health expert to include these considerations in your work-from-home policies. You simply need only show empathy and understanding towards employees and ensure they feel well connected and don’t lose their sense of community when working remotely.
Damien Bouvier is the co-founder and CEO of Zima Media. With more than 10 years of experience in digital marketing, he helps small businesses to accomplish their marketing goals.
“The biggest mistake companies make is trying to recreate the same work environment as when people were working in the office…”
There is now a big opportunity to reinvent the way people work together, create new workflows that bring results, and increase engagement and employee happiness.
We know how much more productive people can be when they can work their own hours. They can go to personal activities or attend to errands, such as shopping, taking care of their kids, events, and individual appointments, and work when they are fully active.
But many businesses don’t let their employees have more flexible schedules, instead forcing a typical 9 to 5 schedule. Doing so removes the freedom that remote work provides employees, as they are stuck in front of their computer for hours – as if they’re in an office.
Another big mistake companies make is setting up unnecessary meetings just for the sake of feeling that people are working together and are present. It would be preferable to develop new ways to work together effectively and create a decentralized, online, project management system in which everyone can be fully productive, pick up their tasks, and make moves on projects.
A final major mistake companies make is requiring an always-on policy, where people are expected to be present and responsive like they are in the office. For example, they need to answer right away to their mail, IM, phone, and/or Slack. This approach is a killer of productivity, focus, and creativity. So, it may be wise to push people to go on ‘do not disturb’ mode, work hard, and get the job done instead.
Eric Sachs is the CEO of Sachs Marketing Group.
“One huge mistake businesses make when developing a remote team setup is not planning a proper communication policy…”
In-house workers can easily stop a leader in the hallway when something important comes up or an immediate question needs to be answered. That’s not the case with remote workers, especially if there isn’t a clear communication plan set up from the beginning.
Let your employees know who they can contact, for what reasons, and how. Will someone be available during all work hours to respond within a few minutes at most? Doing so will not only make sure any issues that come up are taken care of promptly but will also alleviate a lot of stress for your team.
David Adler is the Founder and CEO of The Travel Secret. He is a seasoned entrepreneur who has had extensive experience in travel, e-commerce, telecom, hospitality,
and international business.
“Forgetting about the importance of rewards, recognition, and company culture is one of the biggest mistakes companies make when developing work from home policies…”
Rewards and Recognition
We might not realize how motivating it can be to get recognition from our team and some positive confirmation when we do a good job. So, there’s a chance a lot of employees are missing that while everyone is working remotely. Companies should keep finding ways to keep employees engaged and establish rewards systems for employees who excel.
Maintaining a sense of company culture and community as your company transitions to remote work can be challenging, especially for newer companies. But your culture is one of the best selling points for your company and motivators for your employees. So, make sure you have the right tools in place and include the values that drive your culture in more conversations.
Indra Books has 25 years of experience and a passion for working with organizations to effect meaningful, goal-oriented change that results in high-performing and inclusive team cultures. She is regularly invited to lead workshops and talks and continues to shift the focus from process concerns to investments in culture, people, and mindset.
“The list of mistakes that organizations make is long, and we have seen many of them during this pandemic. But at the top of it is assuming that working from home is just a different location but the same way of operating…”
Location-independent work exposes cracks in the facade of companies if it’s not done purposefully and intentionally. Team culture takes work to build, and everyone coming to the same office can mask team culture issues. The fact that these can then lead to policies that just shift the work location, but not the work culture, is something critical to be mindful of.