Ellen Warden, SPHR, SHRM-SCP
WorkPlace Synergy, LLC
Thanks to COVID-19, employers in 2020 experienced one of the most significant remote work experiments in American history. Many businesses across the country had to implement ad hoc work from home arrangements with almost no turnaround time. That might have sufficed as an interim emergency measure during a pandemic but won’t work going forward.
For a growing number of BV firms, a most efficient and cost-effective way to assimilate to the new normal is to continue to offer remote work options to employees. While there are benefits, there are also pitfalls. As remote working becomes the new normal, it’s essential that you put the right policies in place now to ensure your employees feel part of the team and don’t burn out. Policies take on added importance if your business is including remote work options for the foreseeable future.
The lines between work and non-work are blurring in new and unusual ways. In the absence of any policies to the contrary, employees may feel they have to work all the time to signal their loyalty, devotion, and productivity. Some employees find themselves working or checking email from when they wake up to the time their head hits the pillow. That’s a surefire recipe for burnout. When work policies address availability and response expectations, employees can maintain accountability and preserve healthy boundaries between their professional and personal lives.
Connectivity is a constant struggle while working remotely. There is a tendency to focus too much on tasks in a virtual environment and too little on relationships. While multiple channels can be useful, too many collaboration tools can kill productivity. Myriad video conferencing calls can lead to Zoom fatigue. On the other hand, lack of feedback from managers and senior colleagues gives employees no benchmark to judge progress, which leads to increased feelings of anxiety and a concern as to whether they are “up to standard.” Establishing policies that outline what avenues of communication are best for what purposes, providing appropriate parameters and performance measures, sets employees up for success by clearly communicating responsibilities and conduct.
Employees rely on technology more than ever when working away from the office. Stressors associated with the costs incurred to work from home, employees’ equipment and how to handle technical difficulties, what tools they should and shouldn’t use to avoid inappropriate access to the company, employee, and customer data, can be mitigated by a remote work policy.
Like pairing a universal remote control with your TV, developing or updating a remote-work policy that pairs with your firm might seem intimidating. Think of the policy as an agreement that ensures that all employees understand what is required when they work remotely. Defining rules, policies, and procedures is essential to keeping your teams on track. The more information you provide, the better the experience will be. A policy also safeguards compliance with applicable state and federal regulations.
Your culture defines the way work gets done at your firm. Tailor your remote work policy to what works best for your business, not necessarily what works for your competitor or the company next door. The key is to create a remote work policy that sets the right expectations and creates channels and infrastructure that supports working from home and mitigates the many pitfalls that spring up when you take employees out of the office. And be sure that your unwritten rules match the written ones! With the right preparation and communication, your team can be happy, connected, and productive remotely as they are in the office.
Do you need help developing effective remote work or other HR policies? Ellen Warden works with BV/LS practices around the country to help them align their HR solutions with long-term objectives. You can reach Ellen at WorkPlace Synergy.