It's always good news when a middle market company successfully grows its volume of business to the point where it needs to boost employee head count. To avoid some of the growing pains that can come along with a larger workforce, however, you must thoughtfully and regularly revisit office rules and guidelines to make sure none have become obsolete.

Many elements of office life become established over time as unwritten guidelines. As your company grows, have a committee of employees decide which of those guidelines should become formal rules.

As a workplace evolves, failure to communicate a set of rules or remedy flaws in them can bring about situations in which employees dispute claims against their actions or simply claim ignorance. Even more dangerous is that such situations can cause mistrust and lowered morale among all employees if they believe rules and discipline are not being enforced uniformly or fairly.

Here are four ways middle market executives can make their office rules and guidelines better equipped to handle the needs of their organizations as the work environment changes over time:

  1. Establish a committee of newer employees, veteran employees and managers to revisit existing rules and consider new ones. Nearly all companies have formal rules for such issues as safety, absence and tardiness, possession/use of company equipment, accepting gifts from vendors, and harassment. But many other elements of office life become established over time as unwritten guidelines based on the firm's culture. For instance, what's your office's norm for back-office employee attire, decorating a workspace, eating at one's desk or using personal electronic devices? These elements are often not in the handbooks of smaller operations, but as midmarket firms grow, such issues could hold down productivity, push up company expenses and cause tangible friction between coworkers if left unaddressed. A committee that represents a cross-section of the workforce can help management cover all current issues and decide which require formal rules or informal guidelines.
  2. Create a handbook on an internal website or other source that's easy to update and access. Giving a printed handbook of company rules to each new employee is probably not the best option for growing firms. Create a password-protected electronic portal instead; this provides on-demand access to rules and guidelines anywhere, at any time, while also allowing human resources to update rules instantly without incurring production costs. Whenever a rule is updated, all employees should receive a formal message from management asking them to refer to the online handbook to learn about the change.
  3. Enlist an ombudsman to handle personal consultations with employees. Most workers don't want to run afoul of company policies. If the only way to get things done requires a "workaround" from the rules, however, this offers justification for noncompliance — which in some situations could expose a company to liability. To minimize this risk, designate an employee outside human resources to act as a counselor and confidentially assist employees who find themselves in a bind. This not only remedies immediate employee problems while building trust and morale, but it also gives the ombudsman the opportunity to make recommendations to management about larger issues.
  4. Spell out discipline procedures for minor and major misconduct. Minor misconduct (inappropriately decorating a workspace, eating at one's desk rather than using common areas, etc.) can be handled with a written warning that spells out more severe consequences for repeat offenses. For major misconduct, the adjudication procedure and possible consequences should be set in writing to eliminate potential claims of employee persecution or favoritism.

In the end, building trust is the underpinning of any set of office rules — an underpinning that keeps employees both compliant and motivated in their work.

Does your firm have a system for evaluating rules and modifying them to fit changing circumstances? Have you ever encountered a gray area where noncompliance was required to get work done? What did you do about it? Share your stories in the comments below.

Rob Carey is an NCMM contributor and a features writer who has focused on the business-to-business niche since 1992. He spent his first 15 years at Nielsen Business Media, rising from editorial intern to editorial director. Since then, he has been the principal of New York–based Meetings & Hospitality Insight, working with large hospitality brands in addition to various media outlets.