teleconference on laptop screen

As the coronavirus incites fear and anxiety across the nation, major companies such as Google, Apple and Microsoft are making headlines for encouraging employees to work from home due to concerns about the virus spreading. With the number of coronavirus cases on the rise, it’s wise for businesses of all sizes to consider creating an emergency work-from-home policy to ensure that workers can still get their jobs done if telecommuting becomes the safest option.

CO— recently spoke to a handful of HR experts about how to create a telecommuting policy for unexpected events such as the current outbreak. Here’s what they had to say.

Ask for input

When drafting an emergency work-from-home policy, start by discussing the details with your managers. “It’s a good idea to draw input from the managers in all the different departments in your business, since they know the job best,” said Adam Calli, founder and principal consultant for Arc Human Capital, LLC in Vienna, Virginia. “Never underestimate the value of collaboration.”

Once you’ve spoken to your managers, you can then consider taking suggestions from your other employees. “There might be something that a specific employee does in their job that you’re not thinking about, or you haven’t considered that they need a specific tool,” said Patti Dunham, director of HR solutions for strategic HR Cincinnati. “It can be helpful to get input from everybody.”

Check equipment

For business operations to run as smoothly as possible off-site, you’ll need to make sure your employees have the right equipment, such as laptops, chargers, headsets, monitors, phones and possibly even fax machines and printers.

“If they don’t have what they need, ask yourself if you’re willing to purchase it and how much you’re willing to spend,” said Dunham. “Or if you have a storage closet in the office with extra equipment, you might want to consider pulling from that.”

Offer remote working tools

Will your employees be able to access shared drives and shared files from home? If not, it’s time to have a chat with your IT person to make sure everyone is set up with that capability. It’s also smart to give employees access to group communication tools with video conferencing capabilities, such as Google Hangouts, GoToMeeting, Slack, Zoom and Microsoft Teams. Consider offering training so that everyone is comfortable using whichever tool you choose.

If you normally have mandatory core working hours, be sure to include those in your telecommuting policy.

Adam Calli, founder and principal consultant, Arc Human Capital, LLC

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Define expectations

Although working from home might offer an exciting dose of freedom for your employees, it shouldn’t be a free-for-all. “If you normally have mandatory core working hours, be sure to include those in your telecommuting policy,” said Calli. “The same goes for any cloud-based timekeeping system you may already use.” If you don’t have a formal timekeeping system in place, you might consider asking employees to log their time in a spreadsheet, or you can ask managers to schedule calls with employees to make sure they are staying productive.

Prioritize security

Be sure to let employees know how you expect them to keep information secure when working off-site. “It’s critical to set clear expectations for private and public internet connections, the storage of both hard copy and digital files, privacy when speaking about confidential matters on the phone, and any issue that could expose the company to undue risk,” said Jaime Klein, CEO of Inspire Human Resources in New York.

It’s also a good idea to make sure employees have up-to-date anti-virus software. You might also consider providing multi-factor authentication (MFA), which makes it more difficult for hackers to access employees’ computers by requiring additional verification for logging in.

Do a trial run

Instead of waiting until telecommuting becomes a necessity to discover potential problems, try asking your employees to work from home for a day or two to test things out. “Have your employees flag issues like difficulty accessing documents due to network or security issues, internet disruption and communications challenges,” said Klein. “Tackle these issues immediately so you’re ready in case of an emergency.”

Don’t forget about “non-employees”

When you roll out your message, such as through company email or an internal company site, don’t forget to find a way to reach the people who might not automatically receive official work communications from you, such as volunteers, independent contractors, vendors, clients, interns and recruits (who might have an upcoming interview scheduled). “Think broadly about who is part of your team, even if they’re not getting a W-2,” said Calli. “They need to know what’s going on.”

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