It’s Only a Policy if It’s Enforced

Recently I met with leaders who were trying to develop a return to office policy. They decided on a blended approach, having everyone come into the office two days a week and work from home the other three.

As we discussed the enforcement of the policy, we started talking about the grounds crew. “Oh, they will need to come in every day.” They were going to make an exception for that department. Then they talked about the accounts payable clerk who is a single parent taking care of his severely disabled child. “Oh, he doesn’t have to come in. He’s never had to come in. That’s our arrangement.” I asked, “What about the accounts receivable clerk?” “Oh yes, she does need to come in,” they said. My human resources background said this is ripe for issues of unfairness.

As your organization works to establish “Back to the Office” or “In-Person versus Work from Home“ policies, avoid the tendency to develop a policy that will apply to all your workers.  

Instead, the place to start is with the job description for every single job. I know it will be tedious, but it’s imperative. Additionally, avoid the tendency to default to “in office” when you could write “flexible.”

I know this sounds more complicated than writing a general policy, but a policy is only a policy if it’s enforced.  

Let’s consider an example: you want to keep your talented grant writer. Since his position rarely requires collaboration with colleagues, and he has always worked remotely, if you require him to come into the office he is likely to resign. He probably won’t take a job as a phlebotomist, so your real concern is that he would become a grant writer somewhere else, or worse, for the competition. By considering each job as a separate entity, you will be doing what is the most fair for your employees.

Many employees will always need to work on location. For example, surgeons, mechanics, wait staff, and train conductors cannot work in a home office. Interestingly, I do know a few radiologists who have always reviewed charts from home. And all of these professionals work for companies that employ bookkeepers, marketers, salespeople, and leaders who can work from home sometimes, but maybe not all the time. 

Though it is tempting to create a blanket policy for your entire workforce, spending time from the start considering the job description for every position will result in policies that most benefit your employees and your organization.

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July 16, 2019

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