woman working from home
PHOTO: Tran Mau Tri Tam

A Twitter post recently declared “if you’re a company that allows remote work but requires your employees to work in specific time zones, you’re contradicting yourselves.” 

This got me thinking: is there a right or wrong way to develop or trial remote worker policies? The comment also made me wince because the assumption seemed to be that all remote workers should be able to dictate their working hours. If you are an independent contractor, stating your available hours is perfectly acceptable, the company is made aware of your availability and can plan accordingly. But what about remote workers who are full-time employees?

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Flexibility Is Key to Making it Work 

Time zone changes further complicate the issue. As a full-time employee who works from home for a global company, I interact with colleagues in Europe, Asia and the US. The need for speed in a business environment can be significant and my role requires interaction with colleagues, suppliers and reporters. I make myself available for important calls outside of my time zone and work my hours accordingly. Being flexible is key.

Some might argue that collaboration tools alleviate the need for remote workers to join a call. People keep online notes which are available for remote workers to read and comment on them, allowing work to continue. While collaboration tools have evolved in very useful ways to help us stay connected on projects, we all know that urgent issues arise, and calls may be needed to quickly make decisions, put out fires or avoid misunderstandings that may have a significant impact down the road.

Let’s take a step back and think about this from the company’s viewpoint. A company is in business to serve its customers. To do this, the company needs to be agile and quick to respond to its customers’ needs. If responding to customers takes too long, the company may lose them and may not survive. If remote workers — independent or full-time employees — become blockers to a company’s ability to survive and thrive in the market, then everyone is harmed.

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Set Clear Expectations for Remote Workers

I’m an advocate for remote work for full-time employees. I also realize companies are trying to balance remote work with business needs. I spoke with Peg Bucheroth, senior vice president of human resources for Addison Group, a professional services firm that offers executive search, staffing and consultancy, about how companies can set remote work policies for full-time employees.

“We are in a tight employment environment and offering remote work opportunities makes employers more attractive for recruitment and retention. However, it’s important to have boundaries and clear expectations set ahead of time,” Bucheroth noted. She stressed that performance results matter and working from home should be viewed as a privilege — for full-time employees — and might need to be reconsidered if performance suffers.

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One Policy Will Almost Never Fit All 

Some roles are more conducive for remote work. Some individuals can thrive in a remote work scenario while others may need the discipline of in-office work to be productive. This suggests that remote work policies cannot be applied across the board. They need to be flexible and worked out between individuals and their managers.

Most companies are willing to test the remote working waters. With summer approaching, Bucheroth suggested companies develop an internal campaign to trial working from home one or two days a week. As a summer campaign, employees know it is a limited-time trial and that results will be communicated.

When requesting a remote work trial, it is useful to outline what will be achieved, how managers will be kept up to date and establish guidelines for communication. Just as every employee is different, every manager is different, and expectations should be set on both sides of the equation. This includes the hours remote workers need to be available for calls or delivering work or services, and may mean a remote worker is required to be available during certain business hours.

Independent contractors may turn down gigs from companies who set specific work hour requirements — and that's OK. The company will find someone who can meet its requirements or adjust.

In this tight employment environment, full-time employees may have some leverage to request remote work flexibility. My hope is we use this time to work out the kinks so that remote work is a win-win for individuals and companies. Unemployment rates tend to cycle, so remote work should be the norm, not just a perk during periods when employees are scarce. For this to happen, employers need to see the benefit and feel that remote work is a shared and flexible option.

Just remember: there is no wrong or right way to handle remote work — it depends — on the role, on the individual and on company needs.