None of us want to jinx it, but things are starting to look a little bit more familiar. COVID-19 vaccination eligibility is opening to larger sections of the population across the country, and cities and states are slowly lifting restrictions. In California we may even be able to overpay for some live sports, so what does this mean for the workplace? Recent studies project that the post-pandemic workforce will largely remain, at least partially, remote. How, as leaders, do we make strategic decisions and proactively plan for the return to a new normal? Can we leverage the experience and knowledge we were force fed over the last year to intentionally plan and structure our future? With the right considerations, revisions and implementation, the answer in short, is yes.
What works best for your organization? Remote work can look different by organization, department, or position. Is it fully remote or a hybrid schedule? Is it within the ‘home’ state or has your team moved? Determining what will work best for your team is a key component in remote work success. Here are key considerations when designing these plans:
· Nature of the work. Is the position autonomous or rely on a team and collaboration? If highly collaborative, is the infrastructure in place for video conferencing and communication (with this past year, our guess is yes)? If self-oriented, is the employee engaged enough to still perform while out of the office?
· Experience Level. The pandemic may have taught us that our employees are thriving in a remote workforce, or we may have noticed that we need the face-to-face connection within the first 90-days to establish our strategy and bring our new members up to speed.
· Cost of Business. A forced remote work has shown many employers that they can connect and maintain efficiency without the cost of office space.
· Tax Implications. Employees that have moved to new states have new payroll taxes. It is important to track this and ensure that taxes are being paid and deducted correctly.
· Employee Preference. Pre-pandemic many people stated, “I wish I had the flexibility to work from home.” And while that may still remain true for some, others are now saying, “I cannot wait to get back to an office.” It is important to know your employees and culture. Conduct a survey as things begin to “normalize” so that decisions can be made with employee preference in mind.
Let’s talk policy. The chances of your organizations policies being up to date for an unplanned pandemic and complete 180 in how the world did business, are just as close to your chances of winning the lottery. While we may have had a ‘Remote Work’ policy roughly outlined in our handbooks for flex scheduling, it likely does not cover all aspects of where we are or where we may be going. And, while policies cannot possibly cover all possible scenarios, here are some of the top items to address in your Remote Work Policies:
· Remote work is a privilege that may be revoked or denied. Include language that makes employees aware of the considerations when determining eligibility moving forward (e.g., position, scope of work, length of service, productivity, and viability of remote work).
· Identify key guidelines. For example, remote work should have a dedicated, distraction free workspace, adequate internet, and phone service. You must set grooming and appearance standards, background settings for video calls and cleanliness of workspace.
· Compliance with Company policies. While working remotely employees should be held to the same standards as they would in the office. This includes time and attendance, meal, rest, and break periods, confidentiality, data protection, anti-discrimination, harassment, and equal opportunity guidelines.
· Safety. Though this falls under complying with company policy, it is important enough to warrant its own bullet point. Employees should be reminded to keep their workspace clean, and free of clutter and hazards. More than likely their workspace is likely their home, however on company time this could potentially translate to workers compensation claims.
· Company Equipment. Employees are now taking company equipment that has typically remained in the workplace home and policies need to be established about safety, maintenance, and storage.
· Stipends and Reimbursements. California requires that employees be reimbursed for all expenses incurred during the discharge of their duty. Many of us may be offering a cell phone allowance, stipend or reimbursement but is that amount reasonable now that we are remote, and will it translate if we stay that way? Should increase cost of internet and power bills be considered? These are things to keep in mind when establishing the amount and a survey may assist in making this determination. When you land on the amount, we recommend including verbiage that states that this is the established base amount and that any overages can be discussed with management and a review of bills and reasonable reimbursement may be considered.
There is no ‘one size fits all’ model, and each organization will need to do their own internal review and analysis. Other items to consider are maintaining company culture, connection and providing a work-life balance. Bringing your employees into surveys and polls to help make these decisions can be a key factor in maintaining engagement and buy-in from your teams. Now is the time to proactively start to vet this out. So, we will slowly and quietly (so as not to jinx our subtle return) begin to plan our new normal.
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