Recent weeks have seen optimism-crushing news that even should we have a vaccine soon, measures to prevent the spread of the virus may be in place for years. While some experts say that a vaccine may be available by the end of 2020, word from Ottawa this past week was that management of the pandemic will likely continue for two or three years. Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, states that she doesn’t know what role a vaccine will play.
The uncertainty ahead has pushed many big companies to decide to keep their remote working plans in place for longer, or even shift to a remote model indefinitely. Google plans to keep its employees who can and want to work from home until summer 2021. Shopify announced their “digital by default” plan to keep the vast majority of their workers remote permanently in May. While some Facebook employees are back at the office, Mark Zuckerberg has stated that he expects 50% of Facebook employees to be working remotely by 2030. Hopefully it won’t still be for pandemic reasons by then!
What does this shift to work from home mean for employers who are trying to decide what to do with their office real estate and employees?
As employers consider a potential permanent shift to remote work, here are some additional considerations:
Structured watercooler time
There is a risk that your team may feel adrift and socially isolated sitting at home alone. Create structured ways to check in with employees and to get them to check in with each other. Watercooler interactions are not going to happen organically at home but can be vital to an employee’s sense of community and engagement. Create structured social interactions for employees who might be shy about just picking up the phone to chat. Put some short social breaks in the schedule.
Keep everyone in the loop
Things can get lost in translation — or be easily ignored — when most communication is done in writing. Have regular all team video meetings to go over projects and share information. Video meetings can be better than conference calls, where employees are less likely to pay attention.
Consider work schedules and enforce them
When employees are not physically at work, employers are not as able to determine when they are working. Under and overworking can both be problems. While many employers worry that their remote employees might not be working as hard as they would be in the office, research seems to suggest otherwise. Employees often work more hours when they are working at home. In any event, keeping tabs on your employees hours and enforcing a schedule is a good idea. Employees should know that they are required to be available during their regular work hours. If someone chats or calls them during the work day the expectation is that they will be at their desk and able to answer. Employees should be discouraged from setting their own hours or working as much as they want. In many cases, employees will be entitled to overtime pay even if the employer had no idea and no expectation that the employee would be working overtime hours.
Your employees may be using their kitchen table as their new office. Their spouse may be sitting at that same table, listening to all their calls and have easy access to their computer, paperwork, etc. While this may not be an issue in every workplace, employers should turn their minds to the security of their confidential information when employees are interacting with that information outside of their usual office. At minimum, employees should be required to have a password on their laptop and to lock it at the end of the work day. In some cases, employers may insist that employees work in a separate room or at least take calls where they can do so privately. Flexibility is important here, as many employees never expected to be working from home and may not have the floor space to do things exactly as an employer would like. However, if work from home will be a permanent situation employers may want to insist on certain procedures.
Setting up a remote team for the long haul requires some forethought. It is recommended that employers roll out remote working policies to ensure that employees understand the expectations around remote work and how to work from home both safely and effectively.