In our recent articles on the InterNations Team and the current COVID-19 crisis, we pointed out that it was our existing ReFlex policy that made a fast transition to remote work possible. What exactly does this policy entail?
More Freedom for the InterNations Team
Even before introducing ReFlex, we used to have an official company policy on working from home. However, it offered rather limited options. Each employee was allowed only one day of remote work per month.
This policy was useful in cases like team members waiting for an important delivery or having to be at home between 7:00 and 16:00 because a maintenance crew would be checking all the heating meters in the apartment complex. (I’m sure we all know and love the latter scenario. For some reason, it seems they are either late and don’t show up before 16:30 or they surprise you at 6:45 when you’ve barely made it out of the shower.)
Quite a few team members thought this restrictive policy was hardly in keeping with the times, especially for an online company — and they made this point on several occasions, during official feedback sessions, informal talks with supervisors, and in the InterNations Barometer, our annual employee satisfaction survey.
It was also mentioned that some employees had negotiated individual exceptions that were approved on a case-by-case basis (e.g. due to childcare emergencies, long commutes, or when visiting family overseas). While the proverbial exceptions to the rule provided greater flexibility for some, it didn’t seem fair not to apply the same regulations to everyone. Clearly, it was time to revise our general policy.
A Remote-Work Policy to Meet Our Specific Needs
The Human Resources Team decided to take action, hoping to increase the monthly number of remote working days — but they were in for a very pleasant surprise. The management board, especially our Founders & Co-CEOs Malte and Philipp, turned out to be very accommodating and envisioned a more flexible policy tailored to the needs of InterNations.
“We didn’t model ReFlex on similar policies in other organizations, not even our parent company New Work SE,” Senior HR Manager Ira recalls. “Instead, we had several in-depth discussions with the management board, the various heads of department, and Hans-Bernhard, our Team Lead Development & Operations, who helped us figure out what kind of tech equipment we would need for this to work. The ReFlex policy was the consolidated result of all these talks.”
“We want our team members to decide on the work-life balance that works best for them. While we highly value our company culture and the relationships we build at work, there are many reasons why our employees sometimes need or simply want to work from somewhere other than the office,” Christa — the Team Lead Human Resources — explains.
“They’d rather use the time spent on their commute for their hobby or they just need a couple of quiet days to focus on finishing an important project. And, of course, we’d like to give our international team members the opportunity to spend more time with their family and friends back in their home country.”
Working from Home for a Day — or a Month
According to the updated policy, team members can now choose among three types of remote work: the short stint, the mid-stint, and the long stint.
The short stint is for everyone who wants to spontaneously take off one or two days in the same working week without making it a regular occurrence. They don’t even have to give a reason why they’d like to work from home — they just need to enter the date at least 24 hours in advance, and the short stint should be approved automatically. (Theoretically, their supervisor or head of department could still veto it if, for example, they were planning to schedule an important in-person meeting on that same day, but this very rarely happens.)
As its name implies, a mid-stint is a bit longer than the short stint, covering up to ten working days (vacation days can be included in the stint, if someone would like to combine a mini-break or a bank holiday weekend with remote work). This option isn’t granted automatically but needs to be discussed with the direct supervisor at least two weeks in advance.
Lastly, there’s the long stint, which lasts for three to four weeks (again, potential vacation days can be included). The rules governing up to one month of remote work are a little stricter. Not only do both the respective team lead and department head need to approve it at least four weeks in advance, but this option can only be chosen once per year. This restriction doesn’t seem to be much of an issue, though, as most team members apparently prefer shorter stints anyway. The long stint isn’t available to all employees either; it’s limited to all team members in a senior or leadership position, as well as those who’ve been working at InterNations for two or more years.
However, the other options are open to all employees who have passed their probationary period. During this time — normally the first six months at a new job — team members can still work from home one day per month, though.
Our interns are the sole exception of the ReFlex policy. Their internships are often only for six months anyway, and it may also be their first time working in a corporate environment; working from a student flat or dorm room would rather defeat the purpose of their internship. Of course, during the COVID-19 crisis, all our interns switched to remote work too, and we’ve been genuinely impressed by how well they’re handling such a stressful situation — but this isn’t what office life should be like under normal circumstances!
The ReFlex Checklist: What to Keep in Mind
Apart from general eligibility, there are other aspects to consider when team members want to work from somewhere other than the office. While they obviously need to be online, they can’t use a personal device or a public internet connection. (There goes my dream of working from the public library or my favorite cafés around Munich . . .) Working from a guestroom in a private home is, however, perfectly fine, as long as confidential information and sensitive data are protected from other members of the household.
In October 2019, Senior HR Manager Ira, for example, worked from an empty desk at her brother’s office in an environmental NGO for a short time. “I had already taken most of my vacation days for that year, but I really wanted to go and see my family in Albania,” she remembers. “It was quite fun to get a new office and new colleagues for a few days!”
No matter where you work, it does matter when you work, though. Generally, team members should be available during our core working hours from 11:00 to 16:00. On a regular eight-hour working day spent at home, night owls can sleep late, sit down at their desk at 11:00, and finish at 20:00.
Of course, this won’t always be feasible if a team member works from a different time zone. For instance, it would be extremely difficult to be in touch from 11:00 to 16:00 CET while sitting at a desk in New Zealand — which would mean staying up from 21:00 to 2:00 in Wellington or Auckland. In complicated cases like this, employees need to discuss with their supervisor when it should be possible to contact them and get a quick response. How they structure their day around this time window is up to them.
Last but not least, while there’s nothing to keep anyone from lounging at their desk at home in their comfiest pair of baggy sweatpants, there are some things beyond the dress code to keep in mind: Everyone working remotely should have a proper desk, an ergonomic chair, and proper lighting.
This may be handled more flexibly in these times of coronavirus when lots of team members suddenly have to share their private workspaces with their roommate, partner, pets, and/or children, escaping to kitchen tables, balconies, and even attic rooms in search of some peace and quiet. But workplace health and safety still need to be guaranteed, and this includes, for example, avoiding back pain from sitting in a deck chair for eight hours or headaches from staring at a brightly lit screen in a badly lit room.
Flex Up Your Life: All You Need Is Flexibility
In June 2019, the HR Team officially introduced the new ReFlex policy with a kick-off meeting to explain the details described above. With most of the technical infrastructure in place, the six-month trial phase could start.
Not only did each team member need their own laptop but also access to a shared file-hosting service. Our DevOps Team also provided several options for companywide messaging services and installed brand-new video and audio equipment in all meeting rooms, so that employees could join their meetings remotely. Setting up a virtual private network (VPN) to give access to our internal servers had to wait, though — it took the COVID-19 crisis to turn the VPN into a high-demand item and bump it up the priority list.
After the first three months of the trial, the HR Team scheduled an evaluation round to assess the policy and adjust it, if necessary. However, the reactions from the InterNations Team were so enthusiastic that the management board simply decided to keep the new guidelines. Some employees in leadership positions had been concerned that sudden freedom might lead to lower productivity, but these fears turned out to be completely unfounded. The policy did lead to higher employee satisfaction, though.
“I am really happy with ReFlex,” an anonymous team member responded in the evaluation survey. “I think it fits our company very well. We are an expat community, and many of our team members are also expats. This policy makes it possible to visit family far away without using most of your annual leave, and though I haven’t used a long stint yet, I will now be able to attend my sister’s wedding in the US without having to take off too much time from work and lose my stride here!”
Of course, when the decision to go ahead with ReFlex was announced in November 2019, we had no idea this policy would be justified by a disastrous global pandemic, of all things. Now, after about six weeks of enforced remote work, many of us are looking forward to returning to the office, seeing our colleagues again, petting the office dogs, and enjoying a freshly brewed cappuccino from the office kitchen. Nonetheless, it’s reassuring to know that we’ll always have this kind of flexibility, not only to react swiftly during a crisis, but also as originally intended, to improve our work-life balance.
Image credit: InterNations / iStockphoto / Shutterstock