If you are a project manager for a remote team, you have numerous challenges on your hands. That’s where a remote work policy and procedures come into the picture.
Traditional teams require diligence to meet project and organizational goals. This multiplies tenfold when team members work from different locations.
To ensure that your employees or contractors stay engaged, productive, and available, you need to enact an effective set of rules. Otherwise, you risk throwing time and money away.
To help you boost your company’s bottom line, here are ten aspects of an effective remote work policy that you should implement.
The renowned management guru Peter Drucker once said that “the productivity of work is not the responsibility of the worker but of the manager.” To that effect, you can’t expect your team to deliver great results unless you do the hard work of defining them in the first place.
Here are some key principles to keep in mind for your remote work policy:
Assign Individual Responsibility
For each and every deliverable on a project, you should specify who is responsible for making it happen. Avoid assigning the responsibility to broader teams or sub-teams if possible.
If there is no specific person tasked with completing a part of the project, it is difficult to hold your team members accountable for their work.
Define Exactly What Needs to Be Done
You can’t hit a target that you can’t see. If you can’t communicate precisely what the end result or goal is, then don’t expect your team members to fill in the blanks on their own. Specificity is power in the world of remote work.
Some types of creative work, such as writing or design, may require review because of their subjective nature. But by writing out specific guidelines and providing examples of what equates to success, you set your team up for better productivity and success
Project managers tend to be relatively ambitious and effective. That’s why you were put in charge of others in the first place. But being a good leader means avoiding the temptation to be involved in every small aspect of a project.
Micromanaging has numerous downsides. It can degrade the feeling of trust between you and your team members. It also bogs down the project if they need you to sign off on every step along the way.
Instead, free up time and energy by effectively delegating and reviewing work only at critical milestones along the way.
You can’t expect your team to deliver great results unless you do the hard work of defining them in the first place.
Oftentimes, your projects need to be completed on time, not just for internal reasons, but because your clients require it. You don’t want your company to have a reputation for delivering late work, as this can lose future business.
As part of your remote work policy, define typical deadlines in writing. Consider including suspensions or other punishments for late work to incentivize timely delivery.
With team members distributed around the globe, you will face the logistical problem of having different time zones. Therefore, ensure that your deadlines have specific dates and times to avoid any confusion.
For instance, use a due date such as Friday, September 12th, at 5 pm CST instead of simply saying “Friday.” What is 5 pm for one person might be 2 am for another, so this helps you keep everyone on the same page. The shorter and more specific the deadline, the faster it will get done.
When everyone is working in the same office, it is not as important to require certain times for communication. If something needs to be said, you can lean over to your coworker or walk around the corner to see them.
Remote teams bring numerous benefits such as lower overhead costs from a lack of typical office settings, utilities, and other expenses.
But one area where remote teams have a disadvantage is the ease of communication. So this should be a central component of your remote work policy.
If you can’t glance over at an employee every so often, you have no idea what they’re working on or how productive they are.
As a part of your company’s remote policy, include a section specifying your communication expectations. How often should your team members check-in? Whether it’s once per week, once per day, or anything in between, this is crucial.
Knowing exactly when you can expect communications from team members means you don’t have to wonder if you’re going to hear from them.
It also gives you peace of mind that they haven’t disappeared and are still committed to your projects.
Even if it’s just the occasional email, you will establish a cadence that keeps the entire team in rhythm.
It also means that you, as a manager, can plan your days and weeks better without worrying about missing important communications.
Live Chat Availability
The advice above about establishing how often employees should communicate with you or each other works for a wide array of projects. However, sometimes a simple one-way message is not enough. Get more specific about chat availability in your remote work policy.
Depending on the project you are managing, there could be tight deadlines. This could be the case for the project in general or a particular step of it. In these cases, you should have a policy in place to remedy this issue.
There are myriad live chat applications for desktop, mobile, and tablet devices today. Many of them are free. Of those that are not, they provide reasonable pricing for businesses and teams. Therefore, there is no excuse not to leverage the power of live chat for your remote team.
Having live chat can mimic the environment of working in the same office. Your team can get alerts if their name is mentioned in order to respond to issues or questions. Plus, it creates a culture of “water cooler chat” that forms stronger bonds between team members.
The most important benefit of such a remote work policy is that you can quickly communicate with different team members — designers, programmers, writers, and more — to finish projects on a tight deadline. This allows you to serve your clients at a higher level and grow your business more profitably.
Include Video Calls in Your Remote Work Policy
According to research, 93% of communication is non-verbal. That means if you’re only relying on voice or text communication, you miss a troubling amount of nuances.
People rely on subtle body language and facial expressions to understand what someone else is communicating. In business, your team needs to be in sync and understand exactly what others are truly saying.
For instance, if you are clarifying a company objective with your team on a video call, you can detect if they don’t quite understand you even if they claim to. This is simply impossible on a chat app or audio call. So implement a remote work policy on video calls that mitigates this.
Another benefit is that it can create that vital sense of community that makes organizations great. It also applies a certain amount of social pressure to dress professionally and keep their workspace clean since they’ll be on camera.
Now more than ever, security is of the utmost importance for any organization. A series of high profile cyber-attacks have put consumers’ minds on the protection of their data.
From credit card information to personally identifying credentials, their data is at higher risk than ever before due to the increasing sophistication of cybercriminals.
Being able to tell your clients that you take their data seriously will set you apart from the competitors. Of course, there is also your internal data to be concerned about: customer databases, vendor details, and more.
If your proprietary information falls into the wrong hands, it could destroy your business overnight through a bad reputation, theft of your financial assets, or leaked “secret sauce” documents that give you your competitive advantage.
Now that you understand the importance of security, it’s time to put a solid remote work policy in place that prevents these security breaches. Because of the digital nature of remote work, this is even more important.
Your team members will be sending sensitive information back and forth between their apps and devices. Do not assume they understand proper digital hygiene.
If you yourself are unaware of digital security best practices, then hire a professional to advise you on this portion of your remote work policy. If this seems expensive, imagine the cost of a data breach.
That being said, here are some examples of security policies to include:
Verify Email Senders
It’s not always through sheer force or complicated programs that hackers breach your security. Many times, it comes in the form of social engineering. They will send a spoofed email to one of your employees claiming to be a banking or vendor contact, requesting that you click on a link to verify some information.
Upon clicking the link, a piece of malicious malware will be downloaded to your device. This allows the hacker to access information and sometimes even take control of the device.
To counteract this, require in your remote work policy that your workers first verify the authenticity of the email with a phone call.
Encrypt Sensitive Documents
From financial copies to customer information, there is certain information that is vital to your organization.
Your team should not treat these documents lightly. Enact a policy to encrypt sensitive documents with one of the many free, open-source, and easy-to-use programs available on the market today.
Compartmentalize Device Usage
One of the upsides of remote teams is that you can save money on physical buildings and the hardware that comes along with it. However, if you can, use this as an opportunity to invest in work devices for your team.
Ideally, they will only use work devices for their work projects. This helps prevent data sharing between different applications and maintains the integrity of your data security. At a minimum, include a point in your remote work policy that requires team members to use firewalls to avoid cyber breaches.
Align Compensation with Their Role
It takes various skill sets to successfully deliver solutions to your clients. Each team member has a unique role, and they should be paid accordingly.
For instance, remote sales reps are primarily responsible for winning new business and boosting revenue directly. That means you should tie their compensation as closely as possible to actual results: closed sales.
On the other hand, customer service agents and administrative staff have a variety of tasks throughout the day. While they are necessary to your business’ success, it is more difficult to tie their compensation directly to revenue.
In these cases, consider salaries or hourly compensation packages that are codified in the remote work policy. This is especially important if they need to be on call. They might not always be fielding requests, but the value is in having them available when you need them.
The last thing you want is to be out of contact with vital team members just when you need them most. They could be halfway around the world. So set clear schedules and payment policies that ensure your team runs like a well-oiled machine.
Breaks and Time Tracking
When a worker knows that their manager could be peering over their shoulder, it creates a certain sense of urgency. However, when working at home from their computer, there isn’t an equivalent source of pressure to maintain productivity.
In a perfect world, employees would give 100% effort and stay productive at all times throughout the day, aside from breaks. But research shows that the average worker is only productive for about 3 hours in an 8 hour day.
As a project manager, you are in charge of creating a remote work policy to minimize this inefficiency.
That’s why you need to know when your team members are working and when they are not. It allows you to evaluate their performance and commitment to excellence.
Time tracking is one way to accomplish this. You can review screenshots or recordings of your employees’ devices to see if they are working on work-related tasks.
Maybe you will encounter employee resistance at first, so you should implement a system that doesn’t overwhelm them and adds more work to their schedule. The procedure should be easy, fast, and simple.
Talk to your employees about the benefits of time tracking, both for their productivity as well as the company bottom line.
Include a section in your remote work policy about how often employees should submit their timesheets, what activities should be tracked, and who will be in charge of reviewing them.
Have a Remote Work Policy for Updates
As a remote project manager, you must rely on clear communication because you can’t be there with your team in person. In any given project, there will be various milestones along the way.
You may find it useful to map out which moving pieces are reliant on each other and which ones can be performed individually without waiting on someone else.
Either way, you will need to receive project updates along the way from your team members.
When it comes to updates, address this area in your remote work policy in such a way that removes confusion. Simple updates like “the new website logo is coming along nicely” is not sufficient. In business, time is of the essence.
You need to know exactly what portions of the project are complete at specific times.
Sit down to create a document that outlines which criteria need to be met for a proper update. This could include screenshots, textual descriptions, statistics, or simply “yes” and “no” answers regarding whether a task has been finished.
If you don’t already, consider requiring the use of a task management application. It streamlines the process of uploading various assets like images for a project. It also makes it easy to approve or request revisions for tasks.
As mentioned before, you don’t want to become a bottleneck for your projects. But to achieve this, you must have confidence that you know where everyone is in their progress.
By designing your remote work policy with this in mind, you can review the final product, make necessary changes, and send new tasks to various team members, so they aren’t sitting around with empty hands.
Traditional companies benefit from proximity — they can simply lean over and chat with one another in real-time. This helps with speeding up communication, clarifying issues, and brainstorming ideas for greater innovation.
However, this is not the case in the remote world. Even with video, phone, and text chats, you are still going to have a lack of connection in some form. Your workers might not feel that there is a “company culture” either.
Your new remote work policy should also set the stage for live meetups from time to time. When team members can bond, they will feel more proud of and loyal to your organization. Also, this could increase team chemistry to allow for faster collaboration.
Being a project manager means you must take responsibility for implementing the best remote work policy possible. Without your direction and guidance, your team members can fall victim to the downsides of human nature — laziness, vagueness, and, unfortunately, dishonesty.
In the last few years, remote work has increased tremendously. This can be a source of financial arbitrage for companies who take advantage of it. Yet, it can also be a huge liability if you don’t have the proper policies in place as a project manager.
To keep your company moving in the right direction, evaluate the ten remote work policy recommendations above. Consider which ones resonate the most with you for your current goals and put them into effect as soon as possible.
That way, your business will be poised to benefit from increased productivity and the profit that comes as a result.