This article is contributed from UpCounsel, a modern legal service that connects businesses with experienced lawyers.
While remote work has grown over 91% over the last decade, the #WFH (work from home) movement has skyrocketed in the face of COVID-19. As a result of this, 6 out of 10 of what Netskope calls “knowledge workers,” or people who “think for a living” are working from home. That’s up to 36 million people in the US alone.
While many of these companies have had the technology and capabilities to employ remote workers, only after the sweeping shutdowns did they realize just how valuable these tools could be.
Remote work offers a number of benefits to both employers and employees: employers are able to access a greater pool of talent (both domestically, and, in some cases, internationally), reduce their costs (for rent, equipment, and other costs related to business travel), and, importantly, undertake hiring practices that may be fundamentally fairer, as people who are unable to travel for work because they are part-time caretakers are able to work in a flexible environment. Meanwhile, employees are able to spend more time with family and less time commuting, as well as experience increased productivity and a greater sense of autonomy.
These benefits will likely forever change the face of working, as employers realize the benefits of employing candidates who work remotely. That said, there are a number of things to consider before employing remote employees.
Just because a company can move to remote work, doesn’t mean they can necessarily make that transition smoothly. Many American companies had the infrastructure and tools to move to remote working before the crisis, but it isn’t enough to merely have these tools.
Employers must also offer training to make these structural adjustments in order to avoid loss of efficiency and frustrations with both employees and stakeholders. Tools are critical, but for a company to thrive in a remote office, they must provide leadership, clear expectations and guidelines, and a dedication to commitment.
Managers must expect to implement clear direction coupled with a transparent path to what employees and employers are working together towards. This will involve communicating more clearly than ever before to set clear expectations for how employees can best meet KPIs in a new remote environment.
When a company considers hiring remote workers who are not locally-based, the employer must consider the employment laws of the state or territory of the remote worker. That is, when a company hires a remote employee in the United States, the company needs to comply with the local and state employment laws of the state or territory where the remote employee is located, while ensuring their corporate practices related to employing out-of-state employees are met.
As a result, companies that are considering hiring remote workers must consider where the applicant is located, and should also consider adopting a provision in their employment agreement that requires remote employees to alert the company before they move.
Employers must consider the location of an employee when determining remuneration and benefits. For example, an offer that is considered to be reasonable in a state with a low cost of living, such as Mississippi, might not be feasible for an employee based in San Francisco, the USA's least affordable city.
In order to be competitive, an employer needs to consider the benefits offered by other companies in the region in which the applicant is located. For instance, if a company is looking to hire a remote worker in the Bay Area, it may need to offer more time off to that applicant than it would for an employee located in Arizona, as generous vacation packages are fairly common in Silicon Valley.
Companies will want to ensure their offer is competitive when compared to the local market, both to attract the best talent, but also to retain the best talent as local companies entice them with subsequent offers.
Onboarding in a remote work environment is an ongoing hurdle when compared with face-to-face onboarding. Virtual onboarding can either be a wild success, with company culture and work ethic instilled in a new recruit through effective engagement or exacerbate struggles that new-starters face in a new company. Technology is the key consideration here, but the direct management of new recruits is a vital component as well.
Digital tools and social networks give new-starters equal access to team members, direct managers, colleagues, and leadership. Access is one thing; uptake is another. Onboarding processes must facilitate the uptake of these technologies to allow new-starters the best chance to access an employer’s core knowledge base — the people.
Forbes has shown that up to 20% of all new hires resign within the first 45 days of their new role. These statistics were taken from a face-to-face context, and we know that the virtual landscape exacerbates the risk factors associated with turnover—stress, anxiety, and confusion. It is important for new-starters to have one-on-one time with their direct managers in their onboarding and the initial period of employment. It facilitates better education, knowledge sharing, and relationship building, ironing out troubles by using technology to help to set company expectations.
Like traditional workplaces, remote companies experience real growth when employees work in an environment that is conducive to thriving. In the pre-COVID-19 world, a 2018 Randstad study found that although employees claim they’d like to work from everywhere, 62% actually prefer working in an office. With the increase in mandatory remote working during this stressful time of home isolation, that number is likely to skyrocket if employers do not create a work culture that supports employees.
Employees likely prefer the officer environment for a number of reasons, as a lack of in-person interactions can make it harder to instill company values in employees and can sometimes lead to workers feeling disconnected from their employer.
To avoid this, employers should consider regular “virtual water cooler chats” with the goals of establishing trust and fostering engagement for a longer period of time by recognizing the employees as human beings, learning about their lives outside of the office, and establishing trust.
Employers should also encourage colleagues to plan specific social events for each other, like one-on-one check-in calls, after-work drinks, and weekly quizzes to engage employees and have them “rub shoulders” in a more planned and structured way.
While remote working can save an employer from certain expenses, some states are beginning to crack down on employers who are using remote work as a way to shift their operating expenses on to their employees.
California Labor Code section 2802, for example, requires an employer to “...indemnify his or her employee for all necessary expenditures or losses incurred by the employee in direct consequence of the discharge of his or her duties.” In Cochran v. Schwan’s Home Services, the California Court of Appeals relied on this Labor Code provision in its ruling that employers cannot avoid paying an employee’s business expenses by claiming that an employee incurred no marginal cost in performing remote work. In short, this means that companies may be responsible for paying cell phone, internet, and co-working space bills for their employees.
As a result, employers should be wary and consider consulting with an experienced employment law attorney before determining what business expenses it should cover before making an offer to a remote employee.
A recent report by the UN Secretary General finds that COVID-19 disproportionately affects women, due in part to domestic and family violence and the gender pay gap. These will likely affect how women in both the US and around the world view remote working arrangements, and whether they opt for them or not in the post-COVID world.
One main consideration is that companies that are hiring remote workers have an opportunity to set an example for all companies, whether or not they were remote before COVID-19. This provides an opportunity like no other to create better working conditions for both men and women, and that starts with analyzing the problems that are unique to women in the workplace.
Employers need to consider implementing strategies that both women and men can use to make working environments (wherever they may be) safer and more equal. Strategies to consider could include opening discussions with men and women on domestic and family violence, and offering solutions in the form of self-guided surveys and hotlines to offer both prevention and solutions to people in these situations. Companies should also consider whether their “ideal remote working environments” are equally accessible by both genders, and whether a reassessment of this expectation is needed to allow for equal opportunity. Additionally, remote companies should consider analyzing their gender pay gaps and create key goals and deliverables to close those gaps.
After all, when employees have a workplace that is fundamentally safer and more fair, productivity surges, collaboration flourishes, and long-term and ongoing trust between employees and employers is established.