We want to create a partly remote policy - meaning that we expect at about 50% of the working time to be spent in the office and the other 50% can be done remotely.
But so far, our efforts to create such a remote policy have failed. Employees started to expect unlimited flexibility in terms of if, when, and how much remote they can schedule. Simple guidelines such as "don't schedule remote shifts right before your vacation" or "inform the team at least 18 hours ahead of time about remote shifts" are questioned and are a cause for frustration.
Has anybody here successfully implemented a remote policy where colleagues were still expected to be in the office partly? Do you have a list of simple rules that are easy to understand and easy to communicate?
This simple remote policy should accomplish the following four goals:
- It should outline easy to follow rules to all colleagues
- It should give managers and stakeholders an easy way of knowing when a person or team is available for a personal meeting and team discussion in the office
- It should prevent discussions and arguments between colleagues and managers about this remote policy
- It should give colleagues as much flexibility as possible
Additional information about our company
I hope that my question and the answers here can be independent of the individual circumstances of a company, but I want to still give additional information, if you think this is necessary.
We still expect 50% of the time spent in the office so that personal meetings, personal communication, and collaboration with managers and stakeholders can still easily be done without complicated scheduling. When we hired our current team members, remote was explicitly ruled out. So the fact that we are willing to offer a partly remote policy should be a positive change for our colleagues, but it seems that they are unhappier than ever and especially our managers are frustrated.
We basically tried four different approaches which all failed:
- No clear rules: We tried to just give a reference such as "at least 50% in the office". However, we ran into the issue that colleagues were unavailable in the office for several weeks in a row or several weeks before their holiday. And if a manager wanted to schedule an important meeting in person, then the colleague questioned and discussed the necessity of this meeting, which caused additional friction and overhead to everybody. Some traveled and were completely unavailable for personal meetings.
- Clearly written rules with exceptions: We tried to clearly define rules for if, how, and when remote is possible. We also stated that exceptions could be granted for important reasons. The problem here is, that from an employees point of view, any reason whatsoever could be valid for an exception. This basically morphed to "No clear rules" since it is tedious for managers to endlessly argue with employees whether or not something is a valid exception or not.
- Clearly written rules without exceptions: We tried the same as above, but this time with the additional caveat that we ruled out any kind of exceptions. Here we ran into the issue that some colleagues could validly argue that in their specific circumstance at this specific time a certain rule did not make sense.
- Fixed remote slots: We discussed fixed remote slots such as the first half of a day has to be spent in the office and the second half can be remote. This caused the issue that many colleagues found it very inflexible. They wanted to be able to have full remote days and to schedule their remote shifts more flexible around and change them from week to week.
We could start a 100% remote policy. However, in this case, we expect higher communication overhead and higher overhead overall for managers and stakeholders. So this is something we want to prevent. Some people might argue that 100% remote policy would allow to access a bigger talent pool and therefore a better ratio of salary cost vs. employee performance and this could offset any additional overhead. We do see this argument, but we want to work with our current team and current salary structure without any additional overhead caused by remote.
Note about trusting employees
I believe some comments and answers imply that we are not trusting employees. So let me clarify:
- I do trust my colleagues that they work productively during remote shifts. We don't check if someone is really working during remote shifts.
- Disallowing remote shifts right before vacation is not because we think colleagues will use remote to prolong their vacation. Instead we want to ensure that stakeholders and managers can schedule necessary meetings and discussions right before the vacation instead of having to wait until the colleague is back from holiday.
- Expecting employees to announce remote shifts 18 hours ahead of time is not meant as a way to control or micromanage anybody. Instead, we just want to ensure that managers and stakeholders can plan meetings and discussions at least 18 hours ahead of time
This questions is really not about if and how a company should trust their employees during remote work. What a colleague is doing or not doing during their remote shift does not matter for the sake of my question and the answers here.
First of all thank you so much for the amount of input I already got.
But I like to address common criticism and clarify some recurring topics that appear in the answers and comments here:
- Just do 100% remote and all meetings digital: Many people suggest that I should drop my requirements of mandatory office time and just allow 100% remote and allow all meetings to be digital. However this is not what I am looking. I am looking for a partly remote policy where some office time is still required.
- Questioning my assumptions: Connected to 1., there seems to be a recurring theme here, that I should question my assumptions and requirements in general. This might be a common side effect of working in IT, which I assume is a common background here. For example every time a user requests a feature, my first response is also "What problem are they really trying to solve, are these requirements really mandatory, etc.?". However please give me the benefit of the doubt that I thought about these requirements and my problem for a long time and I tried to summarise it in this question as good as possible. I will not downvote an answers, that questions my assumptions and basically answers a different question. But I would like to focus on the requirements that I specifically listed in my remote policy.
- 50% remote: I was hesitant to list "about 50% office time" as a requirement. My main goal is not some arbitrary number, but to be able to have meetings, discussions and collaboration in the office. If you have a meeting policy with a little less or more office time, then this is fine. However this "about 50%" should be an anchor for what I am looking for. I currently cannot imagine a remote policy with for example only 10 to 15% office time, that could suit my needs. If you propose such a policy I might still upvote your answer and value your input, but this is probably not what I am looking for.
- Remote vs. Flexibility: Some people here believe that Flexibility (such as doing personal errants during typical working hours) is completely independent of remote work. Others seem to link them and believe that a "true" remote policy also gives employees the right to choose when they work. I personally made the experience, that remote work & flexibility are technical different subjects, but in reality they seem to be linked. Since once you allow remote work, your colleagues seem to automatically expect more freedom in their working schedule. Everything else, such as ensuring colleagues really work during their fixed remote shifts, would be considered too controlling. So by default I will assume that any remote policy implies, that employees can work very flexible during their remote times. At the same time I assume, that office times are somewhat "more inflexible" - if someone scheduled to work the office I assume that these fixed hours probably won't change. But feel free to state that your policy requires strict working hours even during remote time, this is a valid opinion as well.
- Losing employees to competitors: Several people here painted a very black & white picture of either allowing 100% remote or alternatively not allowing unlimited remote and therefore losing your colleagues to other companies who offer such a thing. I do admit that for a sizeable group a 100% remote option might be a hard requirement. And I also admit that for an even bigger group a very generous remote option is one of several important factors when deciding for or against a job. But I think as a business manager, I have to compare the perceived benefits of being a more attractive employer to the perceived drawback of not being able to effectively schedule in person meetings, when considering a remote policy. This is why I find extreme comments such as "that's irrelevant if your competitors are offering a true remote working policy", "Remember that people will jump ship over this policy if some other employer is willing to offer it" or "if you don't keep your employees happy, you don't keep your employees" counter productive in this discussion.
- Rhetorical Questions: It may be a cultural thing, but where I'm coming from rhetorical questions are usually considered to be rude. And it seems that this post attracts very many of these, such as "What sort of work is impossible for employees to do remotely?", "What is your competition doing?", "Is this really what your company wants?". If you for example believe that my opinion of required in person meetings has many drawbacks, then feel free to list your opposing opinion and even list your perceived drawbacks. But please don't ask whether it would be impossible for me to allow remote work. I believe being explicit is more productive in this context.
I hope this is my last update to this question. Again I want to thank everybody so much for their input. It seems that many people here have a very different opinion on what a good remote policy should look like and how (much) remote work should be enabled. But I still value your input a lot. So thanks again.