What’s that musk?

Elon Musk’s terrible week can have a positive impact on the rest of us

It was an interesting week to be the world’s richest man. We all know the back story … a sort of American Dream for Ayn Rand readers. Genius boy turns man, does family proud, builds future car, launches present spaceship, and acquires past hottest new company that he tries but fails to get rid of. Also, finds time to host Saturday Night Live! Musk had it all, it seemed. But the rich do not have abundance in all areas. For example, Musk does not know how to manage.

As the week wore on, this unfortunate truth became more obvious. First, there was the ultimatum (I could end there because those never go over well with adults, but I’ll elaborate). The ultimatum was something like: Get back in the office 40 hours a week or take your severance! Do it this week!

“That’s ridiculous!” said anyone who had a sense of autonomy.

“That’s impossible!” said anyone who had a hard stop for daycare that a commute would eviscerate.

“That’s physically impossible!” said anyone who needed a disability accommodation (don’t worry, the lawyers helped Mr. Musk clarify on that final point).

“That’s not a bad deal …” said anyone who didn’t want to work for Musk anyway.

As if ending remote work – my favorite culture shift since recycling – was not bad enough, Musk continued to issue ultimatums. The next one was as bizarre as those falcon doors on his Teslas. While I paraphrase, it was something like: Care about this company as much as I do!

Basically, Musk asked his employees to work long hours, at high intensity, or walk out the door (the door of the Twitter lobby, since remote work had already ended). In doing so, Musk lost even more people. Like, lots of them.

What We Can Learn from Musk

Without diminishing how bad this week was for so many Twitter employees, there are some hard truths Musk (and the rest of us) can take from his actions.

Prepare for People. If you purchase a company with 10,000 (or 10) employees, make the time to truly understand the culture. If you are desperately trying to understand the “most salient lines of code“, you should also dig in to understand the people. What do they love about working at the company? Why do the longest tenured among them stay? What motivates them? What makes them proud? How far does the average person commute? Oh, it’s that expensive in the Bay Area? No kidding!? Maybe there IS an advantage to remote work, after all!

Step in Shoes. Never assume your employees are as motivated to grow a company as you – the boss, majority shareholder, or major investor – are. They are not. They are motivated by the upside, for sure, but the company is not their baby. Their baby is their baby.

Lead with Compassion. By not preparing, and therefore not understanding, his employees, Musk looks callous. People join companies and leave leaders. By failing to acknowledge that his wish list would shake up family routines and personal preferences established circa March 2020, Musk failed to show compassion and failed to lead.

Don’t Disrupt. Yeah, I hear that people like Musk love the word disruption, but keep it limited to markets. Remember, the last thing you want is your employees to think you don’t respect their lives.

Be Realistic. Finally, don’t take away remote work. People love remote work, and now they are used to it. In fact, they have built their lives around it. Ending it completely alienates some of your best employees. I wonder if Musk has even heard of Hybrid? After all, it’s not just for cars.

Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not express the views or opinions of my employer.

Not-So-Quiet Quitting: What’s REALLY Going On?

By now, you have heard about “quiet quitting,” the so-called “new” trend of disillusioned employees disengaging at work. Like a deadbeat dad who only bothers to show up for birthdays (late), quiet quitters are causing outrage among employers and retirees alike. Maybe even some employees hate them, too. Even if you aren’t in the presence of one of these mythical QQs who “act their wage,” it seems they may threaten American ideals of labor and loss (the two apparently go hand in hand). Of course, if you are a bit older and “paid your dues” in a long-gone decade, you might also feel a bit of egotistical rage, masked as good natured “these young people” bemusement.

I have my theories on why quiet quitting is a thing these days. First off, I note that while it certainly exists in some form, quiet quitting is not a movement. (I can only imagine the Vision Statement at the group’s first conference: Be Bad At Your Job!)

It can’t be a goal to quit quietly; even the name sounds like a personal crisis played out in slow motion.

No, this is not the calling of a generation motivated to underperform. Quiet quitting is a symptom of something sadder and obvious if you paid attention to the start of this decade: everyone is traumatized!

THEORY #1: EVERYONE IS TRAUMATIZED

2020 was a year of loss. So, too, was 2021. 2022 is not looking so hot, either. Let’s see …

There is the present and seemingly unending pandemic.

The constant fear of gun violence.

A giant, ruthless war in Ukraine.

The looming threat of climate change. Or, as of last week, Ian.

Women, who no longer enjoy bodily autonomy, are mourning lost ground in the fight for equality while angrily wondering, didn’t we create you men?

For Black Americans, there are the tragic consequences of race in America, present since (and constructed by) our founding as a nation, but only recently put into focus for whites through can’t-look-away social media during a can’t-leave-my-house blip in time. But this tragedy, for many, is a distracting, devastating part of everyday life (as Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote, ““Black people love their children with a kind of obsession. You are all we have, and you come to us endangered.”).

Perhaps some (or many) people can’t prioritize their quarterly goals while living in this world. They’ll accomplish what they need to accomplish, but “above and beyond” is reserved for letter writing, phone banking, or perhaps just sharing their anxieties with a trusted friend or therapist.

THEORY #2: BLIND LOYALTY IS SO 1985

Trauma aside, employees continue to question the outdated notion that one dutifully does all that is asked of her until collecting a pension, because there is no pension.

Employees are showing more signs of independent thought about how, when, and where they work because they learned long ago that one shouldn’t depend on a company.

THEORY #3: IT’S NOT ALL THAT IT SEEMS (CONSPIRACY THEORY ALERT!)

There’s another reason you’re hearing a lot about quiet quitting: straight up manipulation.

Employees always put up boundaries at work, but Gen Z put it on TikTok. And now, workplace traditionalists are using the idea of quiet quitting for their own purposes. If you can’t see your employees slacking off, when will you find out?

Subtext: you must loom over or be screwed over.

Fear is a powerful motivator.

This hype about quiet quitting could be another attempt to derail the healthy, efficient and environmentally-friendly trend of remote work, masked not-so subtly as a no-nonsense judgment of work ethic. Are we watching videos about this new phenomenon, wondering if our employees are busy producing another one at home? A bunch of would-be starlets collecting paychecks from our budgets? Do we long for the days where direct reports wanted to be us rather than a brand?

Or, do we only tolerate slacking off when it’s done the old fashioned way: in the office, rather loudly, by a certain type of person?

Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not express the views or opinions of my employer.

The Search for Culture

There’s a lot of chit chat around the internet these days about culture. When it comes to remote work, certain folks want to know: how can you create a culture when you are apart? As if culture could be created like a cake, carefully melding ingredients (add a cup of in-office time and gently fold in free snacks!), employers are searching in vain for the recipe. Many suspect it does not exist.

Last week, The Washington Post ran an article that questioned the premise that cultures require seeing one another on a daily, weekly, or even quarterly basis. Do workers need to see one another to truly be a team? The article reviewed both traditional and remote workplaces and found that the answer is, to every lawyer’s delight, it depends. As it turns out, culture is a bit more mysterious than cake. Culture is not about where you work. It’s about with whom you work, what you do, how you do it, who you are, and how you work. It’s sort of like love, really, because it sort of is a human thing.

Culture is not in the same category as wages and benefits. It’s not even in the same conversation. Culture is subjective. Culture is changing. Culture is extra-contractual and ultra-sensitive to human wants and needs. Culture is like catching lightning in a jar. I would bet that companies that don’t have it in 2022 didn’t have it in 2019. The pandemic gets the blame, because it’s the villain in this movie, but the pandemic didn’t make or break culture.

Keys to Culture (Spoiler Alert: No Five-Year Commercial Lease Required!)

I have seen office cultures thrive, sputter along, and fail. There are a number of factors at play, but I want to focus on a select few that I see as critical to achieving a high rate of satisfaction (belonging) at work, thus creating a thriving culture.

Openness

Have you ever been surprised by an annual review? Ever wondered why nobody told you about the enterprise-wide strategy that already launched? Have you terminated an employee and been thrown off by how shocked they were at the news?

Companies where these unfortunate events take place are closed off. They fail at communication because they don’t prioritize it. In keeping employees out of the loop, they communicate something else: you do your part here, but you’re not a part of here.

Companies with good cultures are open. They are transparent about expectations and results. They emphasize training at the supervisory level and continuing education throughout the organization. Feedback is welcome and as common as a mundane comment on the weather.

Kindness

Here’s some simple but solid advice: people care about whether you care about them. This applies at work as well as at home.

My favorite quote, by Maya Angelou, is framed in my living room, taking up a shelf where I should probably have a photo of my children. It reads, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you did, people will forget what you said, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Treating employees with kindness is not about holiday bonuses and early dismissals on long weekends (though those are nice, too!) Genuine kindness involves showing up in a crisis. It includes empathizing over a loss. Remember: your employees are family members first. But there’s also a ton of opportunity for kindness at a professional level. Professional kindness involves being open and transparent (see #1), because you want to help your employees grow, not catch them plateauing.

Trust

If you ever need to convince yourself that adults don’t like to be micromanaged, read philosophy. There’s Plato (“The heaviest penalty for declining to rule is to be ruled by someone inferior to yourself.”), Socrates (“To find yourself, think for yourself.”), and of course, Emerson (“He only is rich who owns the day.”) Indeed, humans were meant to be free.

Strong cultures trust their employees. I won’t even try to insert conditional language, because there aren’t conditions around trust. With Covid, trust has been tested. Companies continue to distrust their workforce. Yet, companies know exactly how this works: trusted employees get the job done. Indeed, since the beginnings of the modern-day office and corresponding suburban commute, the boss was conspicuously absent on sunny Friday afternoons. Did that make him bad at his job (it typically was a he, and still is)? No! He was just flexing his freedom – trusted to achieve his goals despite his occasional distractions.

Perhaps this is why working from home has caught on quickly. It’s nothing new, but it’s new to some. I call it “trickle-down privilege.” Remote and hybrid employees now benefit from what their bosses had all along: they own the day. What does it mean in practice?

Trickle-Down Privilege

In the Post article, Steph Donily, Zapier’s head of corporate marketing, observes with no hint of irony: “Rather than [basing someone’s] value on them sitting in their seat or saying the smart thing in the meeting, you have to manage differently,” she said. “I have to make sure the team is delivering what they say they are delivering.”

There it is: truth! This isn’t quiet quitting (more about that in my next post). No, what some may mislabel as shirking responsibility is actually radical efficiency. This is a positive. Your employees can now save a bit more time and money where they used to shower, commute, wait for elevators and stand in burrito lines. Additionally, they enjoy doing a load of laundry on a Friday because that means they don’t have to do it on Saturday. Time is finite, after all, and weekends should be reserved for more meaningful tasks.

Yes, trust brings freedom which in turn brings flexibility to one’s life. As a parent to two young children, I caution any employer who underestimates the power of flexibility. It reduces burn out in one’s career and in parenthood. Employers who want to empower their employees to take ownership at work must let them own the day.

Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not express the views or opinions of my employer.

“Back to school is coming”

I recently read an article in The New York Times that made me cringe. The title, “The Office’s Last Stand”, was nothing new. I’m used to reading versions of this article, with its tired themes that analyze the inevitable struggle that occurs when one set of adults tells another what they must do, without explaining why. Yes, since COVID-19 hit and office workers went home, this article continues to try to break news.

The Times article was no different … at first. There were descriptions of offices in turmoil, thrown off by a pandemic that left a company “trying to get employees back to the office regularly for more than a year.” There were examples of perks in the form of social engagements that promised an equal mix of bonding and fun (I don’t know anyone who would add two hours of commute for a glass of wine, but perhaps I’m too into beer).

Yes, attempts to lure to the office are popping up in the media every day, as if bosses forget that you typically don’t lure for a good purpose. Or, maybe they know exactly what they are doing. This is where the article took a turn. Interviewing Colleen McCreary, Credit Karma’s Chief People Officer, it seems that the company is fine with luring and, if unsuccessful, killing off.

Ms. McCreary reported telling managers “Back to school is coming”, promising “returning-in-the-fall type activities” that (one assumes) are above and beyond grabbing coffee and sitting at a desk. For example, Credit Karma’s employees can look forward to grabbing kombucha and sitting at a firepit instead. But if kombucha by the fire is not enough? Well, there’s always the door. Oddly, McCreary, the Chief People Officer, explains that her valuable employees have plenty of choices when it comes to employers:

It’s always ‘Google is doing XYZ,’ or ‘Facebook is doing XYZ,’ or ‘Small start-up down the street is doing XYZ,’ why can’t we?” Ms. McCreary said. “We’re very clear this is the choice we’ve made, and if people want to make another choice there are lots of opportunities for people from Credit Karma to go work somewhere else.

Whoa.

There it was: the jaw dropping sentiment that stopped me in my tracks and made me stress eat my third fun size candy of the afternoon (in the comfort of my remote office). The premise? That employees are expendable. The conclusion? We’ll find other ones.

In the doldrums of the pandemic, my daughter watched Disney’s Frozen roughly 812 times. In the movie, there is a really bad dude, Prince Hans, who ends up leaving Princess Anna for dead (I would say spoiler alert, but I know better). Before Prince Hans shows his true self, he is kind of adorable. He dances with Anna, sings a great duet about sandwiches (IYKYK), and even defends Anna in a way that confuses the audience because (atypical for Disney) he’s really very nice until he’s not. But in the end, he is really, really bad. He only wants Anna for his own purposes. He’s transactional, unfeeling. It is actually a character named Kristoff who emerges as the true good guy, even if he seemed kind of boring up to that point. He saves Anna for nothing in return. Simply put, Kristoff cares!

Employers should strive to be like Kristoff. They should work hard to show their employees that they truly care about them as people. Indeed, there’s a reason why Chief People Officer is trending when Head of Human Resources was sufficient. Employees expect their leaders to put their well being first. As it turns out, leaders can be boring, so long as they are kind. No one has left a boss because she didn’t provide enough opportunities to play virtual tag with coworkers.

While the pandemic raged, employers (mostly) met expectations. But as the dangers of COVID seem to wane, employees’ expectations around work remain high. They have experienced years of productivity and happiness at home, and they have an opinion they want their bosses to listen to and care about. Companies must meet the moment by retaining their valued talent, rather than alienating them; listening to their experiences and valuing their humanity. Employers busy brainstorming Labor Day luring activities may want to think about why Labor Day exists in the first place: to commemorate decades of struggle for better working conditions.

The fight continues. Happy Labor Day from my home office.

Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not express the views or opinions of my employer.

Flexible … and Judgmental?

How to Avoid Unintended Consequences in Your New Flexible Work Arrangement

Spring is here! (For Chicago readers, spring is a season, following winter, where it stops snowing, plants grow, and it’s not yet unbearably hot). Save for a couple hiccups along the way, vaccinations are increasing at a steady clip. As the last REB post mentioned, some employers are eager to see a return to in-office work. Of course, some employees are excited to return, too.

The EEOC has given the green light for employers to ask for proof of vaccination (training tip: be careful how you do so!), so one can envision how this can safely work. But, how should it work? For employers looking for creative ways to entice employees back to the office without eliminating the life they adjusted to in 2020, flexibility is key. Can it also be problematic?

The “Dress For Your Day” Paradox

If you commute to work via public transportation, you notice that at least half the car is dressed in jeans, flowy skirts, even (gasp) open toed shoes. Another large portion of the crowd is dressed as if they are going to meet their in-laws for the first time – not too fancy, but pressed and buttoned. A tiny sliver don a full-blown suit. Maybe most of the suit wearers drive to work; or maybe not. The fact is, as we look around, the dress code in office life changed over the years. Just ask the pantyhose industry. Many companies have a “business casual” approach, some offer Friday as the day for denim, and others do away with these rules all together in favor of a flexible policy known as “dress for your day!”

When thinking about how to approach the return, the flexible dress for your day model sounds promising. However, it also serves as a cautionary tale. Flexibility does not always foster inclusivity. According to Professor Richard Thompson Ford, author of Dress Codes: How the Laws of Fashion Made History, “casual workplace dress codes are increasingly common. But although they allow more personal freedom, they don’t really eliminate the judgment that can attach to clothing. Instead, they require us to figure out for ourselves what is acceptable for a given professional setting or occasion. In this sense, casual dress codes can be more demanding than strict rules: they force us to reveal our savoir faire, cultural background and individual sense of self. They are also especially tricky for women, who have more options in their fashion choices, but are also subject to more scrutiny. The traditional business suit can look like a nice, safe choice by comparison.” (The same irony is often found in “unlimited PTO” policies, which can result in a bizarre Who Worked the Most? competition, evidenced by overworked employees and cancelled vacation plans).

How do we avoid a flexible work environment becoming a source of stress? While I recommend employees have choice in 2021 when it comes to their work arrangement, available choices offered by the company should be acceptable choices according to the company. As employers contemplate how to welcome back employees, they must not inadvertently create a hierarchy based on who made the “right” or “wrong” choices. This will create an unpleasant work environment – or worse. Therefore, before you announce your new policy, educate your leadership, managers, and hiring professionals. Make your commitment to your policy well known. Talk about the risk of how employees’ scheduling choices could be perceived differently depending on their gender, marital or parental status, or age. Train your team to avoid acting on these (often-unconscious) biases.

Each employee has unique needs and demands. Their calendars, like clothing, will vary. By designing a truly flexible work schedule, employers can attract and retain good people who may no longer wear sweatpants, but still want to work from home from time to time.

An Aberration.

Goldman Sachs is focused on welcoming a new class of graduates and interns into its offices this summer. Recently, CEO David Solomon declared that working from home would be short-lived at his company: “This is not ideal for us and it’s not a new normal, it’s an aberration that we are going to correct as quickly as possible.”

Aberration (noun): a departure from what is normal, usual, or expected, typically one that is unwelcome.

(Hence, the need for correction).

They say that first impressions matter. Interns enjoy an entire summer of first impressions when they set foot in their first corporate job. They are (often) young, eager to learn, and curious as to what their chosen host family is all about. Will they stick it out for one summer, never to return, or will they build a life around a career at this very place? Will they be a long-term asset to the company, or a quick entry on their alumni list?

You might say that it is impossible to know. If the past year has taught us anything, it is that life throws curve balls. No amount of personality assessments, trainings, and perks can compete against a cross-country move for a spouse’s job, a health crisis, or a tragedy. Yet, some things are predictable.

People who do not feel seen leave companies.
People who do not feel heard leave companies.
People who do not feel respected leave companies.

Also, turnover is expensive.

Long before COVID-19, there were workers who desired more flexibility at work. Many, in fact, needed it. It is women’s history month, so let’s talk history. Many women have not even applied to certain jobs because the requirement of in-office time (the original FaceTime) eliminated the ability to both fulfill their duties and arrive at daycare by closing. For many of these working moms, the experience of the past year has opened up the possibility that they may be able to, even for one day a week, work from home. This provides a more inclusive atmosphere – and not just for women. Valued, talented employees who commute an hour each way for work may feel like this nightmare has been some version of a dream (and not just because of the extra hour of sleep). People who hate traffic (read: everyone) may feel less stress in their mind and their back.

We all crave some parts of our 2019 lives, and we will return to the office. Our culture depends on people interacting, and there is no substitute for in-person training, mentoring and collaboration. Yet, it would be a shame if we returned without thinking about what we have learned while we were away. Remote work is not all bad, and it comes in many forms. Though some may wish it away, this is a new normal for many.

The Era of Reflection

When the world is still, quiet, even boring, people start to think. When the present is less blurry, the past becomes clearer. There is time for nostalgia, regret, and resolution. It is winter in the winter of the pandemic … or so we hope.

As one of my favorite books reminds me, the busiest times can feel like the “end of living, and the beginning of survival.” Ironically, as the world sheltered in place to survive a once-in-a-century virus, some portions of society started to live. They reevaluated how they lived and worked, realizing that the way things have always been might not always be. Look to the ongoing debates among cities and their educators, and you spot an interesting trend: life is creeping into conversations about survival. Retroactive reviews of schedules, benefits, and more, are happening. Many employees do not envision a return to the way things were, plus mask. It is undeniable that the past year formed an imprint – one that will last well beyond the virus and its variants.

February 6, 2021 marked one year since the first known COVID-19 death in the United States. The year has been described as both fast and slow. Like a vacation with a nice, steady view, time has flown. At the same time, it is hard to imagine getting back to crowded parties and unmasked faces. In that sense, it is as if the year has been an era. If you feel that, your employees do, too.

Thankfully, vaccines are here. Vaccinations are increasing every day. Employers must anticipate the many questions and concerns this return to normal will generate from employees. Yes, employees are grateful to get their lives back; but in what capacity? Surely, you have an employee who does not miss a daily two-hour commute, and came to value the peace of a slower morning at the kitchen table with his spouse. Ignore the Era of Reflection, and you may lose your greatest asset: your people.

Curious as to what your team is reflecting on these days? Consider the following steps before you make any major decisions:

  • Utilize anonymous surveys to understand needs and wants
  • Engage existing groups of employees (ERGs, interest groups, etc.) to weigh in on priorities
  • Form a “Return to Work” committee, made up of a diverse group of employees (i.e., not just upper management)

Winter is Upon Us – What’s Next?

In an increasingly nerve-wracking world, communication will reduce fears and increase morale.

I’m writing to you deep into a global pandemic, facing down an important election, with a five-year old in the room next door in virtual Kindergarten. I think I made the right decision to put my other kid in daycare. I still need to buy Halloween candy. There is a lot going on.

Americans today are uncertain about the world around them. Easy decisions are now complicated. Can employers provide a proverbial shoulder to lean on, even when remote? Absolutely. Let’s look at a couple of common ways to provide stability to your team as we enter what some are calling the darkest period of the pandemic:

COMMUNICATE about your (financial) health

How is the company doing? Has COVID-19 harmed your bottom line, or are you doing better than ever? A persistent fear of unemployment, even one that proves baseless, affects mental health. Now more than ever, it is helpful to give at least a snapshot of the economic realities facing your company in late 2020.

COMMUNICATE about your timing

When are we going back to the office? If you haven’t heard that question, your employees are repeating it to themselves. While nobody should have plans in 2020, remember that your employees may have plans to not do certain things. Those include, depending on their risk tolerance:

  • Take public transportation
  • Ride an elevator
  • Talk to someone from six feet away
  • See other people

Good communication will also help those with homeschool responsibilities and elder care as they consider how to rearrange their new routine. If you are based in a city or state urging employees to work from home, expect resistance from employees for health and safety reasons. Review EEOC guidance and applicable COVID-19 related ordinances, and develop a plan to review requests for reasonable accommodations in a fair, nondiscriminatory way.

COMMUNICATE your appreciation

This goes without saying, but COVID-19 did not end the need for feedback. In fact, a remote environment requires even more back-and-forth on needs, wants, and outcomes. When somebody on your team does a task well, thank them. Picking up the phone makes a difference. Did they screen your happy call? They might be anxious – half the calls they receive today are asking for political donations. Leave a nice voicemail.

Recruiting Remotely – Building Your Team From Home Can Reap Benefits

In the midst of furloughs, layoffs, and terminations, companies are still hiring. While the pandemic forces us to change the way we recruit, it also provides an opportunity to make the process a smarter, more efficient, and more equitable one for everyone involved.

Hiring was always difficult – but the challenges are new

Whether you head Human Resources or sit on the hiring committee, you know that there is no good time for an interview. The process can be long, tiresome, and awkward. Depending on your company’s protocol, you may find yourself engaged in a panel interview, a one-on-one, and a lunch. As luck would have it, your scheduled slot will appear on your calendar wedged between an important meeting and a crucial deadline. You will move the interview only to cut it short when you do meet the candidate. “It’s usually not this crazy …” you’ll say as you usher them to the elevator.

Now, we truly know crazy. Some employees are engaged in a bizarre “work from homeschool,” others are grappling with tragedy or anxiety over it striking. Applicants are not immune, and may be dealing with the effects of lost income as well. How should you go about interviewing in this new, fraught world? Do the same rules apply? Will you get to know candidates when you can’t take them to lunch? What do you do if references don’t call you back because they are between jobs, juggling remote learning, ill, or too overwhelmed by 2020 to talk? With Americans increasingly questioning their choice of residence, career, and even spouse, how do you know that this candidate really wants this job? Nobody wants to be a COVID-19 rebound.  Here are a couple thoughts for a remote employer hiring:

  1. This can be the time you get to know your applicants
    Onsite interviews are formal and stressful. Enjoy getting to know candidates on their own turf. If you live in a warm climate, take two folding chairs to a park, sit six feet apart, mask up, and have a long, fulfilling conversation without the din of diners and the staccato of stories interrupted by refilled water. You didn’t really know the candidate after one lunch. Why not try something new? If it’s too cold for this idea to take form, videochat is always available. If they cite “Zoom fatigue,” they aren’t interested enough in the position. People show up for what they want.
  2. This can be the time you look for resiliency
    Who do you need to round out your remote team? COVID-19 is not going away anytime soon – just ask Bill Gates. Today, we need flexible people, who grow with challenges and enjoy learning new things. You also need better talkers and listeners, who can deftly navigate the telephone and video chat with ease and a bit of humor. There are dozens of well-regarded online assessment tools (industry and skill-specific) that can help you target particular talent. Even when COVID-19 is a distant memory, remote work will not be. Fill your team with people comfortable in different settings.
  3. This can be the time to get serious about diversity and inclusion
    Let me put it bluntly: friend-of-a-friend hiring perpetuates the Old Boys and Girls Club. As it turns out, so does a rigid onsite schedule. Take the opportunity that this new world presents and look for people outside your network. Look for diverse candidates – in race, ethnicity, age, and parental status. With a thoughtful recruitment process, you can attract candidates who you would not otherwise find. Do you need tips on how to get started? Talk to a diversity and inclusion consultant.
  4. This can be the time to become efficient
    Poor commuter trains. Until recently, a large portion of American society just assumed that they have to be boarded Monday through Friday in order to get to work. Now that many of us commute from bedroom to office via a ten-second walk, we should consider other ways to speed up processes. How can you streamline interviewing? Take stock of old techniques, ask hiring committee members about their experience, and develop a process that gets what you need out of the interviewee. When you are looking for a good fit, it is often quality over quantity.

This is not an easy time to get to know your applicants, but there is hope. A global pandemic has a way of peeling back the layers of your process, your work, even yourself, until you get to the core of what makes it tick. Let’s use COVID-19 to grow our teams to be better than ever.  

Suffered or Permitted: Tracking Work from a Distance

Yesterday, the Department of Labor (DOL) Wage and Hour Division issued guidance on tracking teleworking hours for non-exempt employees. Reminding employers that the math is simple (an employer is required to pay employees for all hours worked, including remote work), the guidance also recognizes that it can be fudged.

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires employers to pay for work suffered or permitted, even if not requested or scheduled. As for work completed without the knowledge of the employer? Perhaps this work is compensable as well. If an employer “knows or has reason to believe that work is being performed, the time must be counted as hours worked.” In other words, the question is not: did the employer know? The question is: should the employer have known?

When faced with a wage and hour claim, Courts look to whether the employer should have acquired knowledge of hours worked through reasonable diligence. As the DOL suggests, citing Seventh Circuit precedent[1], employers can pin down even the most fluctuating of schedules by providing a “reasonable reporting procedure for non-scheduled time.” 

How can employers avoid wage and hour liability, and what are specific issues remote employers should consider?

Develop a Reporting Procedure

To balance budgets and protect the company from liability, establish an easy to use, easy to understand reporting procedure for employees working off hours. The procedure will also alleviate the burden on you, as the employer, of cross-referencing schedules and calculating time. Per the DOL, though an “employer may have access to non-payroll records of employees’ activities, such as records showing employees accessing their work-issued electronic devices outside of reported hours, reasonable diligence generally does not require the employer to undertake impractical efforts such as sorting through this information to determine whether its employees worked hours beyond what they reported.” Where there is a reporting system in place, mere access to this data does not require you to mine for it.

Train Your Managers

Yes, I brought it up again. Policies are only as good as your people, so train your people to promote the policies. As the DOL warns, “… an employer’s time reporting process will not constitute reasonable diligence where the employer either prevents or discourages an employee from accurately reporting the time he or she has worked, and an employee may not waive his or her rights to compensation under the Act.” In other words, if your employees are encouraged, pressured, or threatened to reduce their hours, that reporting procedure you initiated will not be a strong defense.

Implement New Technology

How did you track hours before? If you need a change, there are a variety of timekeeping apps on the market. If you settle on a technology that uses fingerprint, handprint, iris scans, or other biometrics to log in, take care to understand laws related to biometric privacy in states like Illinois, Texas, and Washington.

Check Your States – Including the New Ones!

Do you know the minimum wage in your state? Your city? Of course you do. Do you know the minimum wage in the state your employee now resides after the pandemic resulted in a sudden move to be closer to family?  Maybe not. Similarly, do you know the wage and hour rules in those states? Different states have different definitions of overtime, a variety of restrictions on how quickly and by what method paychecks are issued, etc.

Remember the Safe Harbor

Whether your employees are remote or not, employers who make improper deductions from salaried employees’ wages can lose their FLSA exemption. However, the DOL provides a “safe harbor” provision in the event that such deductions are not willfully made. Remote employers should ensure that this information is provided to employees, and that improper deductions are promptly reimbursed. The safe harbor provision must “clearly communicate” that the company prohibits improper deductions. The DOL states that a communication is clear if it is published in the employee handbook or the company intranet, and contains information on the method by which an employee may report a violation. If you have not circulated your policies since everyone walked out the door, now is the time.


[1] Allen v. City of Chicago, 865 F.3d 936, 945 (7th Cir. 2017), cert. denied, 138 S. Ct. 1302 (2018)