Work From Home Policy: Things to Consider & How to Write One
With advancements in technology, work from home is quickly gaining popularity in Singapore amongst both employers and employees.
As an employer, you may be wondering if you should implement a work from home policy for your employees. Read on to find out more about whether you should implement such a policy and how you may go about doing so.
What is a Work From Home Policy?
A work from home policy is a set of company guidelines allowing employees to work from home. These guidelines cover matters such as employees’ eligibility for working from home as well as the responsibilities and expectations of both employers and employees while working from home.
For avoidance of doubt, the terms “telecommuting” and “work from home” are generally used interchangeably.
However, strictly speaking, work from home is a form of telecommuting, which generally refers to a flexible work arrangement that allows one to work outside of the office (flexi-place). Hence, it is possible for employees to work from any remote area, other than their homes, under a work from home policy.
Your work from home arrangement also can either be stand-alone or part of a broader flexible work arrangement.
Is It Compulsory for You to Implement Work From Home Arrangements?
There are certain situations where employers are legally required to offer work from home arrangements.
During the COVID-19 pandemic for example, Singapore employers are required to implement work from home arrangements wherever possible, and unless exempted. If they fail to do so, they risk jail time or fines, or may have to close their office.
Should You Implement Work From Home Arrangements?
Even where work from home arrangements are not compulsory, the Ministry of Manpower still encourages their implementation due to the many benefits this can bring. These may include:
- Attraction and retention of employees: Offering the option to work from home may make you a more attractive employer as there may be employees who prefer working from home.
- Greater work-life balance for employees: Your employees may be able to enjoy a better work-life balance. The decrease in commute time means that employees will be able to spend more time on their own pursuits. Those with young children or elderly parents will be able to better perform their family responsibilities because they can be home more often.
- Increased productivity: For some employees, the elimination of office distractions, such as colleagues talking to each other, may also translate to greater productivity. The decrease in time spent on commuting also means that your employees will have more time to rest and recharge.
- Solution to manpower crunch: You will have access to a greater manpower base and talent pool. This is because you may have the option of employing those who are unable to commit to office-based work due to family responsibilities or other reasons.
- Better preparedness for emergency situations: Implementing work from home arrangements will allow your company to quickly commence business continuity plans during times of crisis. This could be where your employees cannot work from the office as it has been destroyed by fire, for example. This way, your company will already have the infrastructure and experience required to efficiently execute such plans.
How to Write a Work From Home Policy in Singapore
You may find certain challenges when it comes to implementing work from home arrangements.
For example, there may be risks of miscommunication or threats to company security. It is therefore important to draft and implement a well-considered work from home policy to minimise the occurrence of such problems from the outset.
Below are some key terms that you may consider including in your company’s work from home policy:
The policy should state which employees will be allowed to take advantage of such a policy. For example, it may be appropriate to include employees in charge of backend processes, but not employees in charge of office reception who need to manage visitors in person.
On this note, you may wish to list in the policy the factors that will be considered in deciding whether to grant an employee’s work from home request.
For example, one additional factor could be the suitability of the employee to work from home. Some employees may be better able to maintain good communication with their colleagues while working from home, while others may not.
The policy should also clearly state when and how often employees will be allowed to work from home. For example, you may offer certain fixed “work from home days” in the week. If you do so, you should state in the policy whether employees can request to work in the office on their work from home days.
Alternatively, you may allow your employees to request to work from home when they need to do so. If so, you should provide examples of when your employees may submit an ad hoc work from home request. For example, some acceptable reasons may include:
- Parenting/eldercare responsibilities
- Medical appointments
- Home emergencies
- Mental health requirements
You should make it clear whether providing one of the accepted reasons listed in the request will result in guaranteed approval, or whether the request will still be subject to approval (more below).
If you wish to exclude certain days or periods in the year in which working from home is not permissible, you should also state so explicitly in your policy to prevent any misunderstandings. For example, you may require your employees to be in office when there will be an all-hands meeting.
2. Request/approval process
The policy should clearly lay out the process of making requests to work from home. You should consider what sort of process would suit your company.
For instance, should employees make a formal request to HR, or do they have to obtain the approval of their supervisor? You may also wish to state whether employees must declare their place of work, or they may work at any location they like.
In this regard, the Ministry of Manpower has provided some guidelines as to how this approval process should be managed in the Tripartite Standard on Flexible Work Arrangements (TSFWA), where such flexible work arrangements (FWAs) include working from home.
According to the TSFWA, you should train supervisors to objectively evaluate employees’ applications for working from home. You should also aim to communicate the outcomes of work from home applications in a timely manner.
If you are unable to grant a work from home request, the TSFWA recommends that you explain to employees the reasons why and where possible, discuss suitable alternatives.
For example, if they requested for an arrangement to work from home, but are needed on-site on a particular day, you could grant them an extra day of work from home the following week.
3. Expectations and responsibilities
The work from home policy should include any standards that will be expected of the employee.
For example, if the employee will have to communicate with clients or business partners through video-conferencing tools while working from home, it may be helpful to include a term on the expected dress code for such meetings.
For jobs that require a high degree of confidentiality, it might make sense to include a term stating that the employee should work only at home, as opposed to external venues such as cafes and libraries.
This would help prevent breaches of confidentiality arising from, for example, others viewing the employee’s computer screen or overhearing confidential conversations, or the employee connecting to unsecure public Wi-Fi networks.
Another term that should be included is the expected response time of the employee. You should set out clearly whether the employee must always be contactable, or whether it would be sufficient for him or her to check his or her messages every hour or so.
You should also state the preferred mode of communication, be it through email, text or call. Lastly, you may also wish to state how frequently the employee will need to report his or her progress to the manager.
By laying out these expectations clearly, misunderstandings can be minimised and the employee can also be kept accountable.
4. Equipment and technical support
Proper equipment is crucial for your employees to work productively from home. Your policy should state whether the company will be providing the employee with necessary equipment such as laptops or mobile phones.
If that is not feasible, you may wish to provide your employee with remote desktop software so that he or she can access his or her work desktop from his or her home computer.
Additionally, the policy should outline the procedure in case the employee experiences technical difficulties while working from home. For example, how would the technical support team extend help to the employee, and how would the employee be expected to respond to work emergencies?
In this regard, you may also wish to invest in remote desktop sharing software so that technical support officers can provide timely help to the employee.
5. Expenses and reimbursement
You should outline clearly in the work from home policy whether employees will be eligible for reimbursement of broadband and other utility expenses. If the company will not be reimbursing the employee for such expenses, you may wish to remind your employees that they may be able to claim a personal income tax deduction against their employment income for charges such as electricity and telecommunication expenses that are not reimbursed by the company.
6. Security and confidentiality
One of the key challenges in implementing work from home is ensuring company security and data confidentiality.
To address this issue, the work from home policy should outline proper guidelines on the treatment of confidential information by the employee, such as ensuring appropriate forms of protection inclusive of password protection, and fingerprint/voice recognition for access to the corporate network and data.
The policy should also include reminders on basic security protocol, such as refraining from using public Wi-Fi networks and logging off from the computer when the employee is away.
If the company assumes responsibility for providing the employee with adequate firewall and virus protection on their work computers, this should also be clearly stated in the policy.
7. Performance evaluation
To ensure the productivity and accountability of your employees, you may consider including a section on performance evaluation.
In this section, you should clearly state key performance indicators on which the employee’s performance will be assessed. You may also wish to schedule regular reviews of job performance between supervisors and employees to ensure that everything is on track.
Employer Tips for Implementing a Work From Home Policy in Singapore
You should ensure that your employees fully understand the work from home policy and allow them to raise any questions they may have.
The terms of the policy should be on a digital portal (such as your company’s website) or drive that is easily accessible to employees, wherever they are working from. That way, both you and your employees will have a shared understanding of their responsibilities and expectations while working from home.
While drafting the work from home policy, you may find it helpful to ask some of your long-term employees for their input on what would be a fair and reasonable work from policy for your company.
As a starting point, you can use resources provided by the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices as references to draft your work from home policy. These include a Draft Policy for Telecommuting and a Sample Telecommuting Agreement, which contain sample terms which you may use. However, you should tailor your policy according to your company’s needs.
After implementing the policy, you should also review it regularly to ensure that it stays relevant to the changing needs of your company and your employees. In this regard, you should regularly obtain feedback from employees who have made use of the policy, their supervisors, as well as in-office employees.
We hope that the above has been useful in helping you understand whether you should implement a work from home policy for your company in Singapore and how you may go about doing so.
It is definitely possible to draft a work from home policy without assistance from a lawyer. However, if you have any legal queries, such as how to comply with your legal obligations as an employer while implementing work from home arrangements, you may find it helpful to engage an employment lawyer to help you with the drafting or the reviewing of the policy.
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