An Employers’ Quick Guide to Managing Remote Workers
The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has caused many employers across the UK to make significant changes to their standard procedures, including shifting their employees from working at the office to being remote workers. While this working arrangement can help employers and employees stay healthy, it can be challenging for both parties to navigate.
For some employees, teleworking is business as usual. For others, this may be the first time they’ve worked from home. This working arrangement may seem exciting at first, but it can lose its lustre over time, resulting in disengagement and decreased productivity.
For employers, figuring out how to manage a team of remote employees is most likely something they’re not familiar with. This guide serves as an introduction to managing remote employees and includes best practices for keeping employees engaged. It should be used for informational purposes only and not be considered as legal guidance.
Teleworking is the term for working from a remote location, usually an employee’s home. In working-from-home arrangements, employees are connected to employers and company servers via the internet and are able to communicate regularly in real time using email, instant messaging, webcams and conference calls.
Teleworking brings advantages and disadvantages to the way that organisations do business. Here’s a look at some of the pros:
- Increased productivity—While it’s easy to imagine remote workers neglecting their duties at home more readily than in the office, numerous studies show that workers who telework are up to 55 per cent more productive.
- Fewer costs—Over half of all employers reported cost savings as a significant benefit to teleworking. By allowing workers to telework, companies reported big savings on real estate, absenteeism and relocation costs. In many areas, there are also grants and other financial incentives for companies that offer teleworking.
- Increased employer flexibility—Teleworking gives employers the option to hire from across the globe without worrying about relocating workers to a central location. Employers can also more readily hire part-time, disabled or homebound workers.
- Healthier employees—Teleworking relieves the stress caused by commuting and other issues related to the workplace or being away from home. Teleworkers often eat healthier and exercise more than their office-bound counterparts, and are less likely to get sick from contagious germs.
Below are some of the potential disadvantages of teleworking:
- Disengagement—Many employers say that teleworking interferes negatively with the relationship between workers and management, and can foster jealousy and rivalries between teleworkers and non-teleworkers. Staying connected and supervising employees who work from home can also be a challenge for managers.
- Lack of collaboration—Innovation can be stifled when remote workers are not physically interacting with each other.
- Technology and security concerns—Not all employees are tech-savvy, and there can be problems trying to remotely access an office network or set up remote meetings. Sensitive company information carries the potential for greater risk of being compromised through unsecured home computers.
In addition to the strengths and weaknesses of teleworking, employers must recognise legal issues associated with it before deciding whether it is right for them. The following are legal issues that may need to be addressed.
Make sure you have a clearly stated company policy for employees who are issued company electronics that addresses what to do in the event they are lost, damaged or stolen. Consider insuring more expensive items.
One way to handle company property issues is to have a written policy in place. If you are issuing electronics to your remote workers, have them sign something that acknowledges their receipt of the equipment, and indicates who is responsible for maintenance and damages.
Employees should be made aware of their privacy rights when working from home. Just because work is being performed on a home computer doesn’t mean that it’s exempt from being monitored or inspected by the employer. Though the location may be personal, employees are still acting under the scope of employment.
Security concerns arise with remote workers accessing company information from their home computers. One way to guard against intentional leaking is to require that teleworkers sign a non-disclosure agreement. Have your company outline security measures employees should follow to protect information on their computers from exposure to external forces. Further, make sure all teleworking procedures and cyber-security measures are compliant with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). For more information on GDPR compliance, click here.
Teleworking presents difficulties for employers in complying with hourly record-keeping regulations. Employers with teleworkers should set up a way to track those hours and ensure their accuracy.
Similarly, rules on overtime, and rest and meal breaks apply to teleworkers as much as they do to employees in the workplace. This makes an employer’s obligation to track employee hours especially important.
What happens if a remote worker slips and falls at home while working? Or what if an employee commits a crime in the scope of his or her employment while teleworking? What about employers’ liability?
Employers’ liability remains a considerable concern for teleworking employees. Be sure to have a specific policy in place to address work-related injuries or illnesses that occur at a teleworking employee’s home office.
If your organisation is having employees move to a teleworking arrangement during the COVID-19 pandemic, you will need to make sure that you formulate a plan. Because many employees aren’t used to exclusively working from home for an extended period of time, your plan will be their guide for success. Listed below are some things that you should consider when you’re setting up your company’s teleworking plan.
This policy should include your company’s work hour expectations, information about work-provided equipment and cyber-security, and expectations regarding communication. Your policy should also outline any other expectations unique to your organisation. See the appendix for a sample teleworking policy.
As the name suggests, teleworking requires the use of technology. This means that your company needs to review its technology to ensure that it’s appropriate for teleworking. At a minimum, your company should have a platform that remote workers can use to communicate with one another and managers, like Google Hangouts, Zoom, Slack, Microsoft Teams or Skype for Business, email and a secure network. Remote workers are proven to benefit from using technology that enables video conferencing, as it mirrors face-to-face connection. Consider licensing or purchasing technology that allows employees to use video conferencing to connect with each other and managers. Make sure that employees are comfortable with any new technology you acquire to prevent any confusion.
Employees are looking to you for guidance regarding their new working arrangement. That’s why setting guidelines or expectations is so important. Be sure to communicate your expectations of your employees while they work from home. Employees who are aware of what your expectations are will be more motivated to meet those expectations. If you want employees to be online for specific hours of the day, communicate that. If you want a daily report of what they are working on, be sure to ask.
While employees are working remotely, it can be easy for them and managers to feel like they’re out of the loop. As such, it’s important that your teleworking plan provides guidance on regular check-ins with employees. Many successful remote managers establish a daily call with their remote employees. If your employees work independently, a call may only be needed between the employee and the manager. If your employees work collaboratively, holding a conference call may be better.
When employees are working from home, it can be tempting for managers to reach out to check in on them constantly throughout the day. However, micromanaging employees while they’re working from home can cause them to feel like they’re not trusted to do their work, which can lead to disengagement and productivity issues.
Employees who are working from home in response to the COVID-19 pandemic are likely not familiar with the social isolation that can be felt as a result of not going into the office. As such, managers should encourage and provide opportunities for employees to interact with each other. It can be as simple as making small talk at the beginning of each phone call to try to normalise the situation.
Employees may face adversity adjusting to their new work routine and dealing with the uncertainty the COVID-19 pandemic is causing. Employers should be prepared to offer support to their employees by providing transparent communications and making opportunities for employees to talk to their managers about how they’re feeling, any challenges they’re experiencing and how their manager can help alleviate any of their concerns.
Every employer’s teleworking policy will look different. However, the most successful teleworking programmes keep the above suggestions in mind. Remember, this new arrangement is an adjustment for employees and managers alike, so communication and flexibility are key. Frequent check-ins and feedback are great ways to evaluate the success of your programme and identify any areas that can be improved upon.
One of the biggest challenges employers face when their employees are working from home is keeping them happy and engaged. The following are five ways that you can boost remote employee engagement.
Remote employees can often feel like they’re left out of the loop. As such, it’s important for managers to communicate on a daily basis. Consider scheduling a daily check-in to see how employees are doing during this new working arrangement and if you can do anything to help them. Be sure to communicate any important company news as it presents itself, too.
Remember that communication is a two-way street, and be sure to listen to any concerns that employees may have. The COVID-19 pandemic is a rapidly evolving situation, and many employees may be feeling overwhelmed or anxious. Listen to their concerns and evaluate whether there’s anything that you can do to help mitigate those feelings. Remote employees may start to feel isolated, so it’s important to remind them that they’re not alone, especially during these uncertain times. Since burnout is the result of prolonged and chronic workplace stress, it’s important to know how to recognise the signs of workplace stress.
Recognising and rewarding employees for their hard work is a key factor in boosting engagement among your teleworking employees. Employee recognition can take many different forms, but the main goal is to incentivise continued productivity and dedication from your employees.
For example, you could send out a team- or company-wide email detailing what an employee did and why it’s exceptional. If you want to offer a reward for their good work, consider sending an electronic gift card.
Sometimes, recognition doesn’t need to be formal or grand for it to be effective. For example, a personal thank-you email or message can go a long way in making employees feel valued and engaged while they work from home.
Remote employees may have difficulty establishing a healthy work-life balance. Because there may not be a physical separation between their workspace and their personal space, employees may feel like they need to be available for work 24/7, which can lead to unnecessary stress and, eventually, burnout.
As such, you should communicate the importance of creating boundaries to your employees. Suggest that they work their normal hours and then step away from their computer until it’s time to start working the next day.
Employees tend to be more engaged when they feel like they’re part of a team. When they’re working from home, it can be hard for them to buy into that mentality. As a manager, it’s your responsibility to make sure that employees understand that even though you may not be in the office together, you’re all working together toward the same common goal.
Consider sending out regular communications reminding that you’re there to help them meet any deadlines or provide any assistance while they work from home.
Teleworking during the COVID-19 pandemic is an unexpected situation for most. Additionally, schools across the UK are closed, so remote workers may have to try to balancing work and caregiving responsibilities at the same time. As such, be patient and understanding with your employees. Encourage them to take paid time off if they need it during these times to tend to their other responsibilities.
The COVID-19 pandemic has required employers to take actions like asking all employees to work from home to protect their health. Teleworking is a great way for employees to do their work without risking exposure to the disease, but it comes with its own set of challenges.
The best practices and suggestions within this guide can help employers overcome the challenges of teleworking and implement a successful programme. If you would like to review your business insurance, contact Lockyers today.