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Work from home has grown 173% since 2005, with over 4.7 million employees currently working from home—that’s 3.4% of the workforce! Currently, that number has dramatically increased as remote work has become inevitable in the wake of COVID-19. Daycares are closed, schools are shut down, and many employees are required to work from home. The reality is, it’s not always going to be business as usual. If you’re trying to host a morning virtual meeting, your employees might run late. They’ll most likely be working from their kitchen table, with kids and dogs in the background. They may roll out of bed at 7:59, or show up to your meeting with wet hair, in a big sleeping shirt. Things are different now, and this is uncharted territory for many.
There are many elements to consider, from creating telecommuting policies and procedures that consider all HR aspects of a remote workforce, to continuing to engage and motivate your workers from home. Let’s begin by reviewing specific HR considerations that should be outlined in your Telecommuting Policy. (If you don’t have one yet, don’t worry! We can help you get started. Below, we’ve outlined what your policy for remote work should entail).
HR Considerations for Remote Employees
- Company Culture
- Employment Posters
- Performance Management
- Policies & Procedures
- Remote Environment
- Non-Exempt Employees
- Workers’ Compensation Coverage
- Office Closures
- Leave Laws
- Discriminatory Practices
Make sure that all members of the team, both remote and in-office, feel like they are an important part of the company. Be sure to include remote teammates in-office events and team meetings so they do not experience FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). Think of ways to expose these remote employees to the rich culture that makes up your business. Use technology, and think outside of the box! Incorporate online employee profiles to share internally, with photos and bios, so your team can get to know each other virtually. Schedule team video calls once a week just to check-in. Use the time to review what worked and what didn’t work for everyone in the preceding week.
This is a great time to utilize electronic onboarding tools, which eliminate the need for paperwork while adhering to social distancing recommendations. If you have new employees who are being brought onto the team during this time of remote work, iSolved offers electronic onboarding technology through Big Fish. With iSolved, employees can complete new hire forms, benefit enrollment, and I-9 forms virtually. Beyond the paperwork, offer a virtual office tour to make coworker introductions, and arrange a video conference for the new employee to meet with other remote employees. Be sure each member of your team has their online profiles completed, including profile photos and short bios. Encourage your new hire to do the same, so everyone can see who they are. You can also assign a mentor (either in-office or remote) to help your new employee navigate their new job.
Offer training to your employees so they can get familiar with your important policies and software tools. Even for tenured employees, it may be a good time to brush up on the tools that they’ll need to successfully work remotely. Involve everyone, including both your office-based and remote workers. Big Fish offers software called iSolved Learn, which can be used to host pieces of training on iSolved services for new users (or those who just want a refresher). Big Fish also offers webinars on iSolved services. Visit our events calendar or contact our marketing team if you are interested. In addition to these pieces of training, this is a great time to host a personalized training specific to your business. Make it a one-on-one video chat, and share your important policies and expectations.
Even during times of remote work, employers are still required to provide employees access to employment posters, adhering to both State and Federal regulations. For remote workers, you can easily upload these electronically onto the iSolved platform. Employees can then view the posters through the Employee Self-Service platform.
During times of remote work, it is important to evaluate your employees based on accomplishment, as it’s difficult to measure hours worked. One tip is to evaluate your employees’ performance using S.M.A.R.T. goals, which are based on performance and results. Be sure that the goals you set for each employee are:
- Specific (goal is direct, detailed and meaningful)
- Measurable (goal is quantifiable, in order to track progress)
- Attainable (goal is realistic, and the employee has the tools and/or resources to attain it)
- Relevant (goal aligns with company mission)
- Time-based (the goal has a deadline)
Using these SMART goals to evaluate your team’s performance management can help keep your business on track, even when employees aren’t physically working in front of you.
Policies & Procedures
Review your needs as a business, as well as your expectations for remote workers. Establish a comprehensive Telecommuting Policy to share with your employees, covering the following issues:
- Eligibility: Who is able to work remotely? There may be some employees who simply cannot complete their normal job functions from home, for whatever reason. Be sure to distinguish between which positions can successfully be completed remotely, and which cannot.
- Availability: Be sure to outline your expectations of employee availability. Setting schedules in advance helps to eliminate some frustration and uncertainty.
- Responsiveness: Outline expectations of employee response time during remote work. How quickly do you expect them to respond to client emails? What about a message from a coworker? These are uncharted waters for many, so in this case, it is better to over-communicate than under-communicate your expectations.
- Productivity Measurements: Discuss with employees how you will be measuring performance while they are working remotely. You can use a concept like S.M.A.R.T. goals, or any other tangible measurement system. Communicating how performance will be tracked during this time will help ensure employees are staying on track.
- Equipment: In order to successfully work from home, employees need access to the right tools. The outline will be responsible for providing these supplies.
- Tech Support: When moving any number of employees to remote work, tech support will be required. Newly remote employees will require the company and employees to adopt new technology, which may pose a challenge. Be sure to specify how tech support is offered to remote employees, so they know how to access the right resources.
- Physical Environment: Outline any specific requirements regarding the environments employees should or should not work in. You’ll likely want to suggest a quiet place and ask employees to look presentable for meetings. Again, while this seems like common sense to some, many have never worked from home and are going into this experience blind. Any and all guidance you provide, as the employer, will help make this transition as seamless as possible.
- Security: Security for business is still essential, and you must continue to protect the privacy of your employees and clients. While many businesses have secure networks in their offices, employees working remotely may not be using secure networks. Mention in your policy that employees must be extremely vigilant regarding the security measures they take during this time. It’s best to ban the use of public WIFI and outline additional precautions that employees can take to keep your business information protected.
After they have reviewed the Telecommuting Policy, ask employees to sign a Telecommuting Agreement regarding the outlined conditions and expectations for remote work. Even if your company began to facilitate remote work as a matter of necessity in a short period of time, and did not initially provide a Telecommuting Agreement, it is not too late. Create your policy and agreement documents and send them to employees to ensure everyone is clear on the expectations during this uncertain time. Remember, communication is key.
Here are a few basic things to consider in the Telecommuting Agreement:
- Requirements regarding the completion of work assignments.
- Maintaining availability during normal business hours.
- Adherence to data privacy, security, and confidentiality policies.
- Ensuring all work time is recorded.
Outline in your policy and discuss with your employees any expectations regarding their remote work environment. It can be challenging for employees to navigate this new merging of work-life and home-life. Consider the type of environment you want your employees to work in—maybe it should be a quiet space. Consider whether they need to be presentable for video chats. It may take some time to work out all of the kinks within this new paradigm, so be flexible with employees while setting clear expectations on what you need from them in order to maintain the success of your business.
Navigating remote work for non-exempt employees can be a bit of a challenge, and you must comply with both state and federal wage-hour laws. Generally, non-exempt employees must be paid for all hours worked, and time and a half of their regular rate of pay for all hours worked over 40. Salaried, non-exempt employees must receive their salary for every workweek in which they perform any work. When non-exempt employees work from home, it may be more difficult to monitor hours, increasing the risk of off-the-clock and overtime claims. Direct your employees to use timekeeping software, like the iSolved platform, which accurately records and submits hours worked. Encourage employees to work their regularly scheduled hours, with normal mandatory meal breaks. Typically, these will be your regular business hours, unless otherwise communicated. Finally, if you have a policy prohibiting unauthorized overtime in place, reiterate and communicate this with your employees. While expectations may seem clear to you, there may be confusion for employees who have little experience with remote work, so be sure to help them with this transition in any way you can.
Workers Compensation Coverage
Does your WC policy cover your remote workers? Verify this with your carrier/broker. For more information regarding WC and COVID-19, please visit our COVID-19 NEWSROOM.
It is important to think about your telecommuting procedures, even if as a back-up plan, in the case that there are mandated office closures (by either the nation, state, or county). Recently, numerous businesses and offices have been mandated to close due to the COVID-19 pandemic. During times of widespread office closures, it is important that employees know what is expected of them, as well as who to contact for help when working remotely. Who should be their point person when experiencing problems that are over the employees’ heads? Who should they contact when they are having technical problems? Outline these details and communicate what employees can expect if your office must close temporarily.
Review all state and federal mandated leave laws that may be applicable to your employees. Some states may require the employer to pay for leaves of absence, under specific circumstances. Recently, H.R. 6201, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, passed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This bill goes into effect on April 2nd. For more information on H.R. 6201 and other laws enacted in response to COVID-19, visit our COVID-19 NEWSROOM.
To avoid claims of discrimination against employees, it is important to establish and clearly communicate policies and train your managers. During times of office closures, when you must determine who is ‘essential,’ pay attention to reasoning and business need—but don’t ignore optics, either. Ask yourself if your choices appear discriminatory (i.e., requiring all employees over a certain age to work from home). While you may think this is a good effort on your part to preserve their safety, it may appear discriminatory and put you at risk. Remember that you must be able to support your choices with good business rationale and valid reasoning.
Engaging & Motivating Remote Workers
So, what do you do now that you have a policy? Be patient, create boundaries, and support the changes that were thrown at you and at your employees without much time for preparation. Let’s walk through how we can keep employees engaged and motivated, even when they may be working from their kitchen table.
Communication is key!
Virtual team meetings
Schedule regular team meetings, to avoid an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality. Schedule a video call with the entire team once a week to get everyone on the same page. Create opportunities for employees to collaborate with each other. One department of your team may have important insights that can help another department function smoothly, and you can help facilitate these conversations. Especially during a time when face to face interaction is limited, making extra efforts to schedule virtual team meetings will help keep everyone feeling accountable and motivated by their peers.
Team member spotlight
Continue to give employees praise and recognition for a job well done. Now, more than ever, employees need to feel that the work they are doing matters and is positively impacting the business. During your virtual team meetings, do a team member spotlight, highlighting someone who went above and beyond each week. Giving employees shout outs will keep them feeling engaged while motivating other team members to work hard!
Stay in touch with employees and conduct frequent check-ins. In addition to your virtual team meeting, take the time to check in with employees individually. While you may not be able to talk with everyone, ensure that your managers are checking in with their team members one-on-one. It is important that everyone feels they have a resource during this time, and some people prefer to communicate in one-to-one settings, rather than large groups.
Everyone likes to compete (and if you have an employee who says they don’t—well, everyone loves a $25 gift card to Amazon!). Whether you work in sales, recruiting, customer service, or retail, work efficiencies can be tracked. You, as part of the leadership team, just might need to get creative.
Start by finding a way to track a specific objective within each member of the team’s tasks, as the number of emails responded to, the number of applicants vetted, the number of account profiles created, or the number of meetings scheduled. Then, find out what’s important to your employees. Maybe they’re home watching their 6-year-old due to school closures. Listen to their needs in order to set realistic goals together (we suggest using the SMART goals outlined above!). Then, hop on a team call first thing each morning and set a goal for the day using a tangible number. Depending on the nature of your team’s work, you can set the same goal for each person, or set individual goals. Offer a reward at the end of the day for achieving the goal. Encourage everyone to share what they plan to accomplish and how they plan to do so.
Create a group text message, a Slack channel for your team, or even an email chain to keep in touch throughout the day and give employees a place to share their successes. Remind them what’s up for grabs—maybe it’s a paid lunch, an extra PTO day, or a $25 gift card to Amazon. The better the reward, the harder they’ll work (most of the time)!
Set up a time to talk to each member of the team one-on-one. Ask each person how you can help. Offer support. Guide them when they need you, and be communicative. The worst thing you can do is ghost them at 11 AM. If they send you an email and it takes you 3 hours to respond, your employees will feel like they’ve been left in the dark. Make every effort to over-communicate (today, and every day).
Wrap up the day with a quick call to share everyone’s results from the day, and be sure to thank them for their efforts! Working from home is hard when your employees are used to being in the office and surrounded by coworkers every day. Celebrate the wins of the day, and give away the awards to the employees who met their goals.
Working from home may not be ideal for you and your business, but now is a great time to make lemonade out of lemons. This may be a blessing in disguise to your business and to your team’s productivity levels.