Step 1: The Set Up

You may be new to remote employment, or you might have dabbled in it in the past. Pre-pandemic, many offices had a couple of people who worked from home. Today, remote employment has a new look. More people want it – and more people need it.

Depending on where you live, this arrangement may be just as much for the company’s benefit as it is for the employee. After all, unlike anything we have experienced in our lifetime, this crisis grows with the help of people. In the COVID-19 era, keeping people away from others is rather sad, but also, rather important.

The good news? Remote employment is much like regular employment. There are, of course, employees. They communicate to you their needs. They tend to need equipment. How do you set yourself up for success in this new environment? Here are a couple of tips:

Communicate with your staff

Now more than ever, communication is key. Why and how often you communicate with your staff will undoubtedly change in a remote world (we will dive into that topic in another post). At the set up phase, be sure to ask the following questions:

  • How are you doing?
  • Is everything working the way it should?
  • Is there anything you need?

Be sure that your supervisors are sensitive to employees’ preferences, no matter how trivial they may seem.  It’s good for morale and liability. While the ADA does not require that you give employees their favorite type of chair, for example, you will be required to offer an effective alternative. An employee who needs lumbar support may require a cushion, or a chair, or delivery of their chair from the office to their home.

As we’ll discuss in a later post, these accommodations are typically reimbursed by the employer. In some states, it is required.

Strengthen (or Form!) Virtual Bonds

There’s an old saying that I actually made up: People join a company, but leave a boss. I might add that the newer generation might even “ghost” a boss – quietly exiting stage left and never returning.

As an employer, you know that turnover, and the subsequent interviewing, onboarding, and training, is very costly. Therefore, retaining employees should be a priority. In a virtual world, keeping employees happy might seem more difficult. But do not despair!

As it turns out, many employees are willing to miss company outings and happy hours in order to gain time otherwise spent commuting. In fact, according to OWL Labs’s State of Remote Work Report 2019, remote employees are more loyal and less likely to leave a job than on-site workers. In fact, remote workers say they are likely to stay in their current job for the next five years 13% more than on-site workers.

Yet, in the COVID-19 era, the competitive advantage remote employers enjoyed before has been greatly reduced. How do you distinguish yourself? Compensation is one way, but let’s talk culture, which is far more nuanced.

I recommend employers think through the following when assessing how to best develop bonds in their virtual office:

  • Did employees work from home in the past? What can we learn from them? How were they perceived?
  • Who are the individual contributors in the Company? Do they have mentors?
  • How many people does the busiest manager manage? Should that change?
  • Does the office have technology to support sharing of ideas, not just deliverables?

Retrain

Even if you are flexible and welcoming of our new remote world, you may have supervisors who are uncomfortable managing people who they can’t see. Micromanaging does little to foster trust in a remote work environment, but it didn’t help in an on-site environment, either.

In some ways, COVID-19 creates an opportunity for a clean slate. Use it to retrain supervisors on how to give employees ownership of their role, along with constructive feedback along the way. Remind them of the ways in which remote work can be uniquely draining on employees – especially during a global pandemic. Ensure that they know the resources offered by your Company, such as telehealth, an EAP, or a meditation app, so they can remind their direct reports.

If you have your own tips on how to set up the remote office the right way, please email me and I may interview you on The Remote Employer, a new podcast launching soon.

It Was Friday the 13th

Do you remember where you were the day the office went away?

Four months have passed since the modern office vanished. It was Friday, March 13, 2020. Like any good scene in a scary movie, it happened quickly – with little warning – though there were whispers here and there.

If you were a train commuter back then, you cautiously boarded on Monday, March 9, aware that the formerly acceptable sardine-like configuration of human bodies was not smart, but unaware that it was the last week you would be inside another man’s armpit.

If you were a music lover, you might have caught a live show, aware that nobody coughed between sets, but unaware that the venue would shutter in days and, perhaps, never reopen.

If you were a proud working parent who finally “had it all” – thanks to a mixture of some planning, much outsourcing, and a whole lot of luck – you were slightly annoyed by the talk of a school closure, but never imagined that a pushed-up spring break would become … summer.

Yes, the world is different in July than it was in March. And if you are an employer, your team is living with you in that world. Some are terrified. Others are lonely. A couple feel just fine (they tend not to have children at home). The minute #togetherapart started trending, the office changed forever. For many sectors, what was once a perk became a necessity. For other sectors, what was once a job became an essential service. We were no longer navigating a discussion over flexible work policies, #MeToo, and work-life balance. Like the 2020 primary, the hot topics lost their heat. What matters now? Two things: COVID-19 and how you respond.

The Brave New Remote World is here.

This blog will analyze the remote employer. We’ll look at trends, challenges, liabilities, and opportunities. We’ll study issues like safety, privacy, morale, and organization, and tackle the legal implications of this new world, including ADA accommodation, FLSA wage and hour, and, yes, #MeToo – unfortunately, sexual harassment exists on the internet.

Whether you were a remote employer in pre-COVID days or are just getting started, we hope you’ll follow along.

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