Five Questions to Consider For Your Nonprofit’s Remote Work Policy

By: Sheela Nimishakavi, MA, MPH

Allowing employees to work from home can be a win-win for employees and employers. It can be a great money-saver for organizations that choose not to rent office space either for cash flow issues or just given the nature of their work. Moreover, flexible schedules allow nonprofits to offer a non-monetary benefit that many employees value. While more organizations are offering this benefit, not all have remote work policies and are vulnerable not only to lawsuits but also lost information and security breaches. This policy does not have be complicated, but it should lay out specific guidelines and expectations for employees working from home. When drafting your remote work policy, consider the following questions:

  1. What are the availability expectations of staff working from home?
    For organizations that allow staff to work from home a set day of the week, the expectation is likely to be available for phone calls and emails during office hours. However, for nonprofits that allow staff to schedule work from home days as needed, employees typically do so because there are personal tasks that need to be tended to during office hours. For instance, an employee is getting furniture delivered and is asked to be home during a four-hour block of time. Other staff may use work from home time for travel. In these cases, a remote work policy should specifically indicate when staff need to be available to answer emails and phone calls, and when paid time off should be used.
  2. Are employees required to request work from home days in advance?
    I would argue that employees should request work from home days in advance, and indicate work from home time on a shared calendar, if there is one. While exceptions to this will inevitably arise, (i.e. an employee’s child is sick and they need to stay home) scheduling work from home days ahead of time allows other staff to plan meetings and team work. No one works in isolation so this courtesy to other staff should be included in a remote work policy.
  3. What equipment will employees use?
    If the organization only purchases desktop computers, the employee will need to use their own computers to work from home. In this case, who pays for maintaining the equipment? How will the organization ensure that the employee’s home computer meets security standards? This may seem like minutiae; however, the last thing any nonprofit wants is a cybersecurity breach that leaks client or donor data. Again, this does not have be complicated and could be as simple as the employee bringing their home laptop into the office and the nonprofit’s IT contractor installing the appropriate software. Or, the employee is asked to download specific software before their first work from home day.
  4. What is the procedure for turning over all property- equipment, files, intellectual property- over to the nonprofit?
    Clarifying this procedure is particularly important when employees use their own computers to work from home.
  5. Who covers injuries that occur during remote time?
    Your workers’ comp policy may already address this issue, but it does not hurt to also include this language in your remote work policy so staff have easy access to the information. Many workers’ comp policies indicate that employees who are injured while working remotely are covered under the employer’s policy so long as they were doing work directly related to their employment at the time of the injury. If, for instance, an employee working from home somehow gets hurt while doing a load of laundry, this would not be covered by workers’ comp, even though the injury occurred during office hours.

There are many benefits to allowing employees the flexibility of working from home, including increased loyalty, decreased burnout and a boost in productivity. A clear work from home policy should not discourage employees from working from home. Rather, it should clarify the expectations and protections available on both sides of the work from home arrangement.

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