By Paul Banuski
As we all find ourselves in an unprecedented and rapidly evolving situation regarding COVID-19, we know many employers are asking their employees to work remotely whenever possible, whether as a best practice to maintain social distancing or to comply with a state order regarding essential businesses.
Working from home was already a growing trend prior to the pandemic, and many organizations are finding that there are some roles that may not require a physical presence at an office or jobsite at all. So, whether it’s a short term accommodation due to circumstances or part of a broader effort to modernize the workforce and reduce physical overhead, what do employers and employees need to know about working remotely?
For employees who are able to work remotely, employers should develop a specific work-from-home policy to set appropriate expectations both for what is expected of the team and what the team can expect, too. There are many routines that can be shed once one is no longer in an office environment that many managers worry may result in a loss of either professionalism, productivity or both.
First, an organization should identify which functions within the organization could function remotely — in other words, really think about who needs to be on site. If a majority of your communication is via phone or email, does it matter if someone is down the hall, across town or even across the country?
You may decide that there are certain activities that must be done on site or critical in-person meetings. That’s fine — remote working can mean flexibility from both parties. Maybe someone can work three days per week from home but needs to be on-site for meetings or certain activities for two other days during the week. When it comes to remote working, there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
Questions to Consider
Once you identify the positions that might be suited to remote work, you’ll need to take into consideration the following factors:
- How will you track time for non-exempt employees (including mandatory meal periods)?
- How will you communicate both one-on-one and as a team?
- How should an employee procure office supplies? Will the company provide them, or is the employee responsible to obtain them and then track and submit expenses?
- How can you and the employee work to protect the security of company and customer data?
- How can you and the employee protect and maintain company property, including computers, printers and mobile devices?
Any work from home policy should also clarify that the employee is expected to maintain a work area that is largely free of distraction and offers some privacy to discuss proprietary or confidential information if required. It’s also important to work out what the employer will and will not be responsible for regarding home office furnishings, internet and phone services.
Many of these factors may vary from company to company. What’s most important is that you find out what will and will not work for you.
Benefits of the “New Normal”
It’s important to keep in mind that, along with the potential costs of remote working, there are definite advantages, as well. If an organization can shift to a remote or partially remote workforce, it can reduce its physical office space, energy costs and other expenses related to maintaining a larger location. It also allows the organization to expand its network of potential employees. If most work can be done remotely, you are no longer limited to filling positions with job candidates in your immediate area. And, because so much of the success of remote work is supported by technology, your organization’s embrace of this technology will be seen as a major advantage for forward thinking candidates.
Not every organization or employee is going to be a good fit for remote working long term, but those who are comfortable and productive under this model will gain a competitive advantage over other organizations in their field, will be more efficient with reduced overhead costs and attract the best potential hires on the market.
Many employers have been forced into experimenting with remote working due to the COVID-19 pandemic and in the process are learning a great deal about how the “new normal” might have its advantages.