Work-From-Home Strategies - The "Finer Points"
Many organizations transitioned a substantial portion of their team members to work-from-home (WFH) environments in early 2020. As a response COVID-19, WFH strategies allowed team members to work while reducing the risk of contracting the virus. However, many WFH implementations were rushed and focused only on the technologies necessary to facilitate remote work. Read on to learn about the “finer points” of WFH accommodations – things that your team may have overlooked thus far.
Do Not Ignore Workers' Compensation Issues
Workers’ compensation laws are complex and vary state-by-state. Yet, in general, these laws are consistent in one key area. That is, they provide relief if team members’ injuries or illnesses arise out of and in the course of employment. Further, the location of where the injury or illness occurred is inconsequential. Also, courts have held that an employer’s lack of control over conditions in a team member’s home is irrelevant in a workers’ compensation case. Thus, as an employer, you should take steps to ensure that your WFH team members have a safe work environment.
You can achieve this objective in part by creating a sufficient WFH policy. Keep in mind that employers are generally liable for workplace accidents, regardless of where the accident occurs. Therefore, among other items, the document should address the issue of safety in the workplace. It should also clearly document team members’ regular working hours and job duties. Additionally, it should provide guidance for a home office or workspace, including ergonomics. Ensuring that such policies are in place and team members adhere to these policies can reduce workplace accidents and, in turn, your organization’s exposure.
Carefully Consider How To Manage Remote Workers
One of the challenges many will face with WFH is managing remote workers. Be careful that an “out of sight, out of mind” paradigm does not appear. If you are managing remote workers, be sure to stay in frequent contact with your team members, including using voice and video conference services. Set clear and reasonable expectations for team members and make sure that they understand these expectations. Ensure that your team members are aware of target dates and monitor their progress toward meeting established milestones. Consider adopting workflow solutions along with collaboration tools to make it easier to stay on top of tasks and projects.
Maintain Your Corporate Culture
For many organizations, one of the most valuable assets is corporate culture. A strong and positive corporate culture encourages teamwork, camaraderie, and esprit de corps. Further, it helps to promote honesty and ethical behavior in the workplace. Unfortunately, in WFH environments, that culture can quickly erode unless you take steps to maintain and enhance it. To prevent this from happening, take steps to ensure that team members have a reason to communicate with each other. Schedule items such as periodic video-based team meetings, group outings and retreats, lunches, and even virtual “happy hours” to both maintain and promote an influential and prominent corporate culture.
Understand The Potential Issue Of Nexus
In some cases, WFH environments could potentially create nexus in another state for the employer. Consider the following example:
Pat works for Acme, Inc., whose corporate headquarters is only ten miles from a neighboring state. Pat lives in the neighboring state, but Acme has no other team members who reside there. Acme has no other points of nexus in that state. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Pat commuted each workday to Acme’s headquarters. Now, Pat works from home and expects to do so indefinitely. Depending upon the laws in Pat’s home state, Pat’s WFH environment could cause Acme to have nexus in that state. Of course, nexus could potentially trigger a host of income, sales, property, and employment tax issues for Acme.
Thus far, most states have been silent on this issue, offering little guidance. However, as WFH becomes more than just a reaction to COVID-19, you should expect states to become more zealous in using WFH to trigger nexus.
Ensure That On-Boarding Processes Are Adequate
Bringing new team members into an organization is always a challenge. Training and mentoring these individuals to ensure that they successfully contribute to the organization is a necessary task. Unfortunately, sometimes WFH environments can create obstacles for on-boarding new team members. These challenges often arise from the sheer volume of information that we must communicate to the team member. Further, the number of questions they are likely to have will contribute to the challenge. To optimize their chances for success, ensure that you have thorough and documented on-boarding processes in place. Notably, these on-boarding processes should go far beyond merely completing required paperwork, such as W-4’s and I-9’s. More specifically, they should provide adequate guidance on how the following items, at a minimum.
- How to complete specific job-related tasks.
- Technology resources at their disposal and how to use them.
- Protocols – including cybersecurity practices – that team members should follow.
- Expectations and responsibilities associated with WFH environments.
- How to maintain a safe and ergonomic workspace.
- Resources available for team members to improve work-related skills.
- Who to contact in case of questions, issues, or challenges.
Remember, a new team member will have numerous questions and challenges in learning the optimal way they should perform their job. Do not let the lack of face-to-face interaction add to these challenges!
For many workers, WFH environments are now the way they will likely work indefinitely. What many initially considered a response to the COVID-19 pandemic is now mainstream. Because of this, we should begin treating WFH as a permanent component of our business infrastructure. To do so successfully means taking a holistic view of WFH and all that it entails. Remember, WFH is not about just technology. Instead, successful WFH environments will address the finer points of the strategy, including those outlined in this article. When we use the proper tools and simultaneously address the finer points of WFH, then we have a solution that can truly work for all involved.