5 steps to a successful virtual office policy

Thinking about crafting a virtual office policy? We lay out five overarching areas that need attention.

The federal virtual workforce saw some significant growth and attention in 2011, and shows no signs of slowing down in the new year. For those considering implementing a formal virtual office policy, a new white paper from Runzheimer International, a provider of employee mobility services, lays out five must-dos when crafting telework guidelines.

Define your policy: What does a “virtual office” mean to you? Getting the lingo down and writing a formal definition ensures that everyone in your office knows exactly what constitutes a virtual office and a virtual workforce. The policy should also include who’s covered by it, and could read something like this: “A virtual office is a location where work is performed outside of a traditional company facility, whether it be working from home or working from an airport, hotel, or other off-site location. Performing work in such settings often requires telecommunications capability as well as access to technology. This policy does not cover situations where an employee occasionally works from home during evenings or weekends or during the day on an irregular basis.”

Determine who’s a virtual worker: Many agencies have several types of virtual work. For example, the Office of Personnel Management identifies three types of telework: Full-time, part-time and situational. Full-time teleworkers perform most or all of their duties outside a traditional office setting, and part-timers work on a regularly scheduled basis, but not five days per week. They may work remotely one or more days a week, every pay period or several days in a month. Situational or episodic teleworkers do as the names imply: telework occasionally, whether it’s a result of a medical issue or inclement weather that prevent them from working in a traditional office environment. A comprehensive virtual office policy should address these different roles and outline their responsibilities.

Detail equipment requirements: Because of the high level of trust required in a telework situation, virtual workers, probably more than regular office workers, heavily depend on technology. As Pat Tamburrino, deputy assistant secretary for civilian personnel policy at the Defense Department, told me in a previous interview, “telework is teletrust.” In a virtual workforce, there’s no room for technologies that break or employees who don’t know how to them. A lapse or delay in communication due to a technology breakdown could result in a manger wondering why his or her employee isn’t responding, which could plant doubts about that employee’s ability to telework. A virtual office policy needs to define a specific set of hardware, software, connectivity and reimbursement requirements. This policy also needs to be clearly communicated to managers and employees alike.

Develop security policies and training: A virtual office policy also needs to address mobile technology security to ensure all employees know their responsibilities in safeguarding potentially sensitive information. For example, a policy could include language that specifies how agency-provided technology be used for work purposes only and used exclusively by the employee. The policy could also detail procedures to take in the event of stolen or lost equipment, or document formal training procedures for employees.

Formalize governance: A defined governance program will help your organization ensure compliance with policy and gauge success. The program should focus on tracking all the virtual employees, the technology they use, and any training they have received. The program should also yearly review the virtual work agreement and objectives of the arrangement. And last but not least: Every employee in the program should receive individual security training once a year.

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