In the Time of Telecommuting, is your Policy in Check?

Telecommuting Computer Screen

Telecommuting is not a new concept, according to Gallup’s most recent State of the American Workplace report, 43 percent of U.S. employees were working remotely, at least part of the time before the arrival of the pandemic. When the pandemic hit, that figure increased to 88 percent overnight, and only a fraction of businesses were prepared to flip operations to a completely remote environment. Even the companies that have policies in place are finding the need to revisit and revise those plans to account for the circumstances facing us today.

We invited Kimberly Prescott, founder and president of Prescott HR and Edward Tolchin, principal at Offit |Kurman® to our last Technology Executive Peer Advisory Network (TEPAN) event. The topic of discussion telecommuting policy and pitfalls. Here are some things for leadership to consider.

Creating a “Back to Work Plan”

Creating a return to work committee is an excellent way to plan and implement a strategy for getting people back to the office safely and functionally. Many organizations didn’t have time for disaster preparedness or business continuity planning, so as we phase back in, this is an excellent opportunity for organizations to be more intentional about their telecommuting policy.

Things to consider when drafting your plan

  • Update and strengthen telecommuting policies, consider creating a work from home agreement on an individual employee basis
  • Set and communicate return to work expectations, communicate what you are doing to make the workplace safe
  • Develop and define performance metrics/outcomes
  • Identify the technology and tools approved for use and related use policies
  • Define internal resources for communication and collaboration

As states start opening up, keep in mind that the CDC recommendation is to stagger work schedules, and to allow remote work for those in positions where this is possible. Unemployment is currently really high, but there will come a time when it isn’t, and employees will remember how they were cared for during this crisis. Treat your employees well by creating policies that show you care.

Need help with creating your telecommuting policy?
Check out the COVID-19 resources from Prescott HR https://prescotthr.com/resources/covid-19/

Choosing the Right Technology

Businesses are faced with selecting the right remote infrastructure to make it possible for staff to safely telework but still feel connected. Second to information security protocol is virtual communication and collaboration tools. Many leaders in the meeting discussed their personal experience with Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Google Suite, and other solutions. Not all solutions are created equal; some are more vulnerable to attack, and others are more clunky in terms of user interface.

We are going to see a revolution in unified communications platforms in the next year or two. This is going to be an area to watch because it has become crucial to our everyday business environment to remain efficient and effective at what we do.

Here are three must-haves to transition to remote work

1. Mobile Hardware

  • Smartphone
  • Laptops
  • Reliable internet connectivity

2. Cybersecurity

  • Virtual Private Network (VPN)
  • Multi-factor authentication
  • Antivirus/Malware software and/or firewall
  • Real-time network backups

3. Communication & Collaboration Tools

  • Video conferencing solution
  • Chat apps (Teams, Slack, Skype)
  • File sharing solution (Box, OneDrive, Google Drive)
  • Task/time tracking applications

Protecting Intellectual Property

Telecommuting doesn’t necessarily need to mean less control. Sure, it may feel like the wild wild west when there is a lack of a policy or plan in place, but it is easy enough to wrangle with keeping these things in mind.

  • Remind employees that compliance and confidentiality policies apply even when working remotely. Provide a copy to each employee if needed.
  • Instruct employees to secure company property at all times
  • Provide a VPN this creates secure remote access reducing vulnerability
  • Refrain from downloading confidential company information to non-secure devices
  • Prohibit the use of personal devices and email to conduct company business
  • Require sensitive information be stored away from the view of family or visitors
  • Dispose of confidential documents properly (basically, shred the heck out of them)
  • If you must work in a public location, be vigilant about using your VPN and never leave your device unattended.

Wage and Hour Laws

If you have staff working from home, one thing leadership needs to consider is the Fair Labor Standards Act that governs wage and hour laws at a Federal level. Your hourly and non-exempt employees will need a time tracking mechanism to accurately track the hours worked to ensure they are not working off the clock. Mainstream, big-box payroll companies like ADP, PayCom, Paychex, or similar products offer timekeeping functionality that employees can access and manage remotely. There are many free time tracking resources available if your organization does not have access to a mainstream payroll system.

It is essential to communicate the remote work expectations, including what time is compensable and what time is not. This includes meal periods, personal breaks, preparing for work such as logging in, and time spent waiting. Working hours should be established and agreed upon.

Businesses also need to consider the implications for salaried employees who have been furloughed and had hours cut. By the nature of the way salaried employees are paid, it isn’t possible to reduce the pay based on the number of hours worked. One option is to reduce the salaried employees’ wages by the percentage of workload decreased. Another option is to have a salaried employee work every other week. However, Kimberly mentioned that this method was less successful due to the human condition of wanting to check email and stay on top of things.

The list of telecommuting challenges and risks for an employer may be long, but nonetheless manageable with the right strategy in play. This is the new normal, we must adapt and evolve to a new way of managing. The areas covered in this article just scrape the surface on how to move forward in a post-pandemic world. We need to lean on each other as we navigate a new way of conducting business operations. We are here if you need us!


About Offit | Kurman

Offit Kurman is one of the fastest-growing full-service law firms in the United States. With 14 offices in seven states, and the District of Columbia, and growing by 50% in two years through expansions in New York City and Charlotte, North Carolina, Offit Kurman is well-positioned to meet the legal needs of dynamic businesses and the individuals who own and operate them. For over 30 years, we’ve represented privately held companies and families of wealth throughout their business life cycles.

Whatever and wherever your industry, Offit Kurman is the better way to protect your business, preserve your family’s wealth, and resolve your most challenging legal conflicts. At Offit Kurman, we distinguish ourselves by the quality and breadth of our legal services—as well as our unique operational structure, which encourages a culture of collaboration and entrepreneurialism. The same approach that makes our firm attractive to legal practitioners also gives clients access to experienced counsel in every area of the law.

Edward Tolchin, Principal
240.507.1769| Fax 240.507.1735
4800 Montgomery Lane | 8th Floor
Bethesda, MD 20814
https://www.offitkurman.com/

 

About Prescott HR

Prescott HR has been developing and implementing real-time customized HR solutions and services since 2014. We are performance and productivity specialists helping our nonprofit, corporate, and government clients to hire and successfully manage their employees. We are trusted advisors that know compliance. We know HR. And we inform, communicate, advise, and solve problems.

Prescott HR embraces your mission, and are unwavering on your behalf. We are dedicated to improving the infrastructure and overall organization for long-term success. We are real and respectful. And we confidently assess, evaluate, and recommend to maximize your organization’s performance.

Kimberly Prescott, Founder & President
5305 village Center Drive, Suite 284
Columbia, MD 21044
https://prescotthr.com/

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