Remote working is an increasingly common practice, but one that is difficult to get right. In this post, we explain how Charlie took on some of the challenges we faced when managing the work-from-home process — and how we addressed them in our work-from-home policy.
At Charlie, we strongly believe in the importance of flexible working, including working from home. By giving our team the flexibility over where they work and how they get their work done, we’re striving to create an environment where everyone can and wants to do their best work.
Why your business needs a work-from-home policy
Working from home is no longer a wished-for perk — it's the new norm.
Charlie’s Small Business Benchmarking Report polled more than 200 small companies and found that 82% offered work from home for their teams.
It’s clear that team members now expect to be able to work from home, or at least have access to flexible hours. And it is their legal right to do so: in the UK, all employees can request to work from home.
At Charlie, we think that respect for the balance in our team’s life is at the base of everything. By trusting people to choose where and how they work, we wish to enable them to be as productive as possible, whatever their work environment.
Our work-from-home policy is there to tackle the challenges that come with working from home — to make it work for both our team and our business.
Challenge 1: Setting a work from home allowance
Some companies are fully remote, some offer an unlimited work-from-home allowance, others restrict remote working. How can you work out what’s best for your business?
Solution: Offer a specific remote-working allowance
A few years ago, we used to offer unlimited working from home. At first, we thought that would help us build the culture of trust and transparency we wanted for us at Charlie. But the truth was that we were failing on a few fronts:
- Team members felt anxious about requesting work-from-home days because they didn’t know what was considered acceptable.
- Line managers didn’t have any standards to refer to when approving or denying work-from-home requests.
Similarly to what happened with our unlimited holiday policy, we learnt that team members feel more comfortable to work flexibly if there are clear parameters around how they can use remote days. If they are given a set amount of days, those are theirs to take and they are subconsciously motivated to use them.
So we decided to move away from our unlimited allowance. After surveying the team we decided on a maximum allowance of 25 work-from-home days per year.
Challenge 2: Vague booking rules cause confusion and inconsistencies
If you don’t circulate clear instructions on how the remote-working approval process works, this may accidentally cause frictions within your team.
People who’ve been in the company for a long time are likely to be more comfortable requesting to work from home than new joiners, for example. On the other hand, without clear guidelines, different managers may handle requests in different ways. These inconsistencies cause irritations. They're easy to eradicate with good process.
The solution: Make it clear, make it fair
When we created our work-from-home policy, we made sure it included a clear process on the request and approval process for remote days. This way, everybody at Charlie now knows what they can expect from others and what is expected of them.
Here is our process outlined in Charlie’s policy:
- Team members should book a remote day in Charlie with at least 24 hours’ notice.
- If team members want to do consecutive remote days, this should be discussed with their line manager.
- Everyone is encouraged to spread work-from-home days evenly throughout the year.
- People should avoid booking their remote days when we have our weekly team meetings.
- Remote days are best used when blocking time out for bigger pieces of deep work.
The (other) solution: Use a system to manage the process
In addition to having a clear and comprehensive policy, you should use a dedicated system to implement it. It's the best way to keep the process smooth and consistent.
Manual spreadsheets and email just take up too much to justify the rewards. You need something that's going to automate that routine. In this sense, one of the features we've found our team benefits from internally is Charlie's time-off booking tool.
People can book a working-from-home day from their Charlie account, selecting if it is for the whole day or just half a day. They can also add notes if they wish to give their manager more information.
As an admin in Charlie, I can make sure that each remote-working request goes through the same approval process. Our line managers receive an automated email notification each time a team member requests a work-from-home day, which they can approve or deny directly in Charlie. This way, we can easily keep the process efficient, consistent and transparent.
I also use the Working from Home Report in Charlie to check remote working is used consistently across the team. This view includes a breakdown of the number of remote days each team member has taken in the past year, making it easy for me to spot if anyone is taking too many work-from-home days or too few.
Challenge 3: Allowing your team to work from home - without introducing any unnecessary friction into the business
Our team needs to know (in advance, if possible) who is going to work remotely every day in order to plan meetings and adjust the way they communicate across the company.
As basic as this may seem, recording work-from-home days requires a fair bit of admin and can be very time-consuming. These are just some of the tasks it entails:
- Chasing team members every week for their remote-working days
- Keeping a spreadsheet and/or calendar up to date with holidays and remote days for the whole company
- Sending out company-wide reminders about who is working from home each day
I find that the challenge is not only about doing all of these things manually, but most importantly about remembering to do them! Inevitably someone is going to forget one week.
The solution: Get complete visibility on your team’s whereabouts
Knowing when team members are going to be away really helps with scoping new projects. Swift communication about someone calling in sick allows the rest of the team to adjust expectations and re-prioritise their workload. Similarly, finding out who is going to work from home and when can be of huge help in planning for a productive working week.
At Charlie, we make sure everyone knows who’s in every day. We also give visibility on who is going to work remotely in the upcoming weeks, to allow teams to plan ahead.
I always check Charlie’s Homepage when I need to get an overview of who is currently off sick, who is on holiday and who is working from home.
We also use Roll Call to check the exact status of the company every time we need.
For the members of the team who tend not to log into Charlie every day, we use Charlie's integration with Slack. This sends an automated message to the #general channel every morning to let everybody know who is not coming into the office that day.
I love this integration - it’s a simple and efficient way to stay up to date with our team’s whereabouts!
As for forward planning, we ask people to block their work-from-home days in their calendar, so that it’s easy for others to see when they are going to be out of the office. A company-wide version of that is Charlie’s Calendar, where we can get a clear picture of the remote days our team members have booked so far, all in one place.
I use this quite often to find the best time for a meeting, or to spot any clashes between remote working days and upcoming events.
Challenge 4: Ensuring consistent performance away from the office
Everybody is different and works at their best in different conditions - so how can you ensure consistent performance across the team when some people are in the office and others are working remotely?
Solution: Set clear expectations around productivity and communication
At Charlie, we use our policy to set clear expectations about our team’s performance when they are working from home:
- We expect the same level of performance as in the office.
- Charlie’s team should be contactable throughout their working day when working remotely.
- Team members with children should not be the primary carer at home on work-from-home days.
If you have similar expectations for your team members, it’s important that you provide them with everything they need to fulfill them. And this includes giving them clear and complete information on how to communicate while working remotely.
First, you should make sure your team is familiar with the communication tools they need and the expectations around their use.
State clearly what the best mode of communication is for different circumstances.
For example, at Charlie we often remind teams that:
- Slack is best for quick questions that need quick answers
- Email should be for longer or more complex messages and for record-keeping purposes
- Video calls are ideal for checking-in with someone or receiving / giving feedback
However, we find that there are some situations in which remote communication simply doesn’t work. In our policy, we clarify that people shouldn’t book a work-from-home day if they already have a meeting in their diary that wouldn’t work as a call.
1-1s are a good example of meetings that are best done in-person. At Charlie, these are monthly sessions in which team members can discuss career development with their manager. We believe face-to-face contact and body language are essential for people to be more open and sympathetic when giving and receiving feedback during this type of meeting.
When drafting your own policy, you can adjust these details around the way your company works. You could for example ask your team not to work from home on a specific day of the week when you have a recurring meeting.
Identify what works best for you, and make sure your team members are all on the same page.
Challenge 5: People don’t see or pay attention to the policy
Ask anyone who has thought carefully about a policy and given it good attention what the biggest problem to getting it implemented is. They’ll say it's the lack of attention to the policy, and it getting lost at the bottom of people’s inbox.
Solution: Put it front and centre and refer to it as often as possible
We used to save our policies as Google Docs in our team’s shared Drive, with the result that nobody really knew where they were.
We now store them directly in Charlie using the Handbook feature, so that they are easy to find for all team members, including new joiners. The structure and design of the handbook make it also much more pleasant to browse. Charlie’s team members actually enjoy reading our policies - or at least that’s what they tell me!
Every solution that we found had to deal with:
- Setting crystal-clear standards
- Communicating them to the team
- Implementing them consistently
Our policy helped us to create a solid process and the structure to make it easy to implement. In this sense, all the time we spent working on it was absolutely worth it.
The main problems involved in remote working are linked to vagueness, ambiguity and the lack of process. You can solve them all with a thorough policy that takes into account the needs of your team and of your business.