Small offices often reap the biggest benefits from remote work options. Yet, many leaders of small teams are hesitant to allow employees to work from home for two reasons: inability to maintain the same level of accountability and perceived fairness between those allowed to work from home and those that are not.

Here are a few simple steps to address those concerns and balance accountability with remote work options in small offices.

Who can/should work from home?

Working from home is a lot easier if the employee is exempt. The problem with allowing non-exempt employees the opportunity to work from home is that many small employers do it as a nice gesture and neglect to pay attention to the details required for accurately tracking and calculating work hours.

That said, it is not impossible and often non-exempt workers are the most appreciative of the opportunity thus making it a worthwhile effort to figure out. This article from Kelly S. Hughes of Ogltree Deakins provides helpful tips on how to effectively and lawfully support remote work for non-exempt employees.

The other position characteristic to consider is how office-bound the major job duties of the role are. For example, cleaning staff, receptionists, technicians and medical support staff all perform work specific to the job site. Thus, be realistic about who can really accomplish a day’s work away from the office.

Why work remotely?

The next step is for everyone to get clear on the reasons an employee may work from home. In general, there are three: triage, thinking and convenience.

Triage work is most often associate with a personal emergency that corresponds with deadlines. For example, staying home with a sick child but still committing to finishing a report and taking a conference call.

Thinking work is the kind of work that is easier to do without the normal interruptions in an office. Working remotely for convenience may be anything from avoiding burnout to proactively trying beat a cold, or taking care of appointments, when because of location or traffic it is more efficient not to drive back to the office.

How do you hold employees accountable?

In all cases, getting clear on deliverables and availability is key. For employees in a triage situation, this should be rare, one-off type occurrences that include clear deliverables for that day. Those deliverables should articulate the employee’s availability, projects to be completed and appropriate deadline.

For those needing quiet time to do a deep dive or push through a huge workload on a deadline, then the expectation of what will be finished before return to the office should be clear.

Presumably, this is an exempt employee and thus it should be a conversation about what the employee needs to accomplish the work — including availability of support, their own responsiveness (or lack thereof) and tools needed.

Employees using a remote work option for convenience should also be clear on their availability to others and what they can expect to accomplish, realistically. If it is simply that they will be available for emergencies, then the team needs to be clear on that and what constitutes an emergency.

The bottom line is that by acknowledging the different reasons an employee may want to work from home and being reasonable and clear about deliverables and availability, the entire office can support the effort and benefit from the results.