Businesses have shifted from remote work as a necessity to considering remote work as a business choice. In hopes of aiding the ongoing conversation, here are some things to consider when evaluating or developing a remote work policy.
Productivity and Accountability. How do you measure productivity, and does it reflect value to your company? What are your standards on accessibility and responsiveness? Do you have policies, or just rely on unwritten social norms and physical availability? Are those working? What are your standards for assigning tasks, setting expectations and managing deadlines? What are the expectations on being physically available for clients? What would this look like in the context of remote work?
Creativity, Teamwork and Esprit de Corps. How do you encourage creativity, teamwork and esprit de corps when Microsoft Teams and Zoom are no substitute for in person contacts? How do you encourage opportunities for spontaneous communications when phone calls and even e-mails tend to feel more intrusive and distracting? Do new employees need special consideration compared veteran employees because it’s easier to maintain a professional relationship online than create it? How do you set an expectation that it’s okay to pick up the phone and just chat? Are regular, fixed in-office days a good compromise even if it reduces potential cost savings from a smaller office footprint?
How do you address social friction that may be created with a hybrid work force? This includes casual remarks about coworkers that may simply be intended as humor suggesting those other employees are leaving early, coming in late, or taking naps. Do you have a plan to address managers may feel compelled to exercise even more micromanagement?
Job Satisfaction, Talent Recruitment, and Talent Retention. How do people in your field and industry, and desired recruits, feel about remote work? For example, some mid-career professionals with school-age children may find remote work paired with flexible schedules far more valuable than extra compensation and be very comfortable with self-direction. Similarly, people in urban areas with bad traffic or rural areas with long commutes may find the commute savings invaluable. An hour a day of saved commuting time over the course of a year could easily be over 200 hours of gained time. That’s the equivalent of over a week of paid vacation.
However, many people genuinely enjoy going into the office. Whether it’s to interact with people who share common goals and experiences, to be around other adults, to get away from the distractions at home, or to separate home-life from work-life. Polls have shown employees often report being more productive and more satisfied working from home, forced remote work also increased reports of loneliness and isolation and reduced satisfaction. Moreover, someone who is newer to the industry may be turned off by the potential loss of opportunities to network with more experienced people and learn the business.
Home Office Expenses and Equipment Expectations. Who is providing the equipment? What specific equipment? Will there be any reimbursement? Can an employee use an employer provided computer for personal use, or is the risk of viral infection, litigation or privacy headaches too great? What if the equipment is lost or damaged? What are the expectations for internet connectivity? What about telephone? Especially in the Northland, you cannot assume everyone has solid internet or telephone service at home, no matter what their salary range is.
Insurance. Is the equipment significant enough to warrant insurance? Has the employer talked to their agent about increased insurance needs? Does the employer need the employee to get a rider for business equipment or require umbrella coverage? Will there be any issue with workers compensation insurance if the employee is injured at home while working?
Health, Safety and Security. What are the expectations for data security at home? What about measures to prevent shoulder surfing? Are there strict rules on locking the screen when stepping away? Is the industry regulated, or subject to strict confidentiality contracts, that need to be considered? Employees should probably not be meeting with clients at their home and making that clear is more critical.
Employers also face increased expectations of keeping premises safe for employees. Should the employer implement additional safety procedures like annual screening questions such as “do you feel safe at home?” to identify an enhanced risk of domestic violence? More mundanely, will the employer offer ergonomic assistance, funding or evaluations?
Legal Compliance. One of the toughest issues with good hourly employees is making sure they don’t work too much. Many people are proud of working through lunch, or breaks. This creates legal liability for employers with hourly employees. How will you ensure work does not spill over with remote workers? One of the things I love about working at home is how easy it is to start a project in the afternoon and work straight into the evening without the interruption of driving home. For non-exempt employees, that temptation is a risk to the employer.
There’s also potentially unintended impacts related to discrimination. It is a lot tougher to ensure everyone is included in social activities that may impact careers if those who work remotely are (unintentionally) excluded, either because they weren’t around when plans were made, or because plans made from home are more likely to be narrowly targeted to close colleagues or those who live in similar areas. Bosses might unintentionally lean more on younger workers due to merely perceived differences in their proficiency with technology, or prefer granting remote opportunities to older workers based on generational stereotypes. On the other hand, the opportunity for remote work might alleviate some of the barriers that have plagued women who may be expected to handle the majority of parenting duties that interfere with work or barriers plaguing individuals with mobility problems.
Setting Expectations and Leaving Room for Change. Finally, any remote work policy must set clear expectations, and should be in writing. This has both social and legal impacts. Someone who accepts a job, or sets up a home office and plans their summer accordingly, is not going to be happy with sudden unexpected changes. At the same time, a person who accepts a job reasonably expecting it involved remote work will have a stronger claim for unemployment benefits if they quit. For this reason, a common clause gives notice that the employer will determine who can work remotely at its sole discretion, that remote work is not guaranteed and may end at any time for no reason at all, but that employee will be given 30 days-notice to prepare for a transition. As always, you also have to make sure these CYA agreements don’t accidentally alter the employment-at-will status of employees.
This is by no means a complete checklist of all considerations, but hopefully provides food for thought and keeps the conversation going and flag some potentially novel considerations.
Thomas Witt is an attorney with Fryberger, Buchanan, Smith & Frederick, P.A., practicing in the areas of Employment Law, Family Law and Civil Litigation. This article is not intended to provide legal advice. You should always consult with an attorney about your specific circumstances.