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Managing a Remote Workforce During The COVID-19 Crisis

A record number of employers have found themselves quickly forced to managing a remote workforce, in many cases with 100% of employees working from home due to government mandates. For some organizations, work-from-home is a regular part of the way they do business and the company may already have established policies and practices. For many, however, this sudden shift to remote work has left managers scrambling with how to maintain productivity and engagement while employees are working from home.

As you make the shift to remote work, whether as an ongoing strategy or just a short-term solution during the pandemic, keep the following strategies in mind ensuring both compliance with applicable federal and state laws, as well as creating a positive experience for you and your employees.

Manage Compliance

Ideally, employers should have a written policy on Telecommuting or Working Remotely, including a written acknowledgment by each employee working under such arrangement. The policy should outline expectations with respect to legal compliance and company policies/procedures.

Telework, particularly for non-exempt employees, can get complicated. Under both federal and state wage and hour laws, employers are required to have accurate and complete records of daily and weekly hours worked for non-exempt employees. This includes when they are working from home or another location away from the employer’s regular place of business. As such, you will want to have clear guidelines on work schedules, permissible hours (e.g., prohibition against working outside of agreed upon hours or working overtime, without management approval).

Also be mindful of state meal and break requirements. In NY, employees who work more than six (6) hours in a day are required to have a 30-minute, uninterrupted meal break. It’s recommended to have non-exempt employees track this meal period on their time record, as meal breaks (provided they meet the 30-minute minimum) can be unpaid.

Employers should also keep in mind NY state requirements related to “spread of hours” and “split shifts” when it comes to establishing work schedules for non-exempt employees. Refer to your organizations’ applicable wage order summary for more information.

Besides wage and hour compliance, employers also must think about things such as employee safety and cybersecurity for remote workers. For example, the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) requires an employer to exercise reasonable care with respect to any potential hazards for employees working in home-based work sites and to provide the necessary protection through appropriate means, such as training. Additionally, if an employer is otherwise required to maintain records regarding work-related injuries or illnesses, this requirement also applies to any work-related injury or illness that occurs in home-based work sites. Further, if an employee is injured while working from home, the injury may be covered by the company’s workers’ compensation policy if the injury is deemed to have arisen out of the course of employment.

Managing Productivity

In addition to ensuring compliance with applicable laws, employers are often concerned about how to manage productivity and keep employees engaged when everyone is working from separate locations.

Start by having clear expectations of what employees should be working on each day. If work volume is lower than normal, plan to work on those projects that often get pushed to the “back burner.” To keep work on track, establish a cadence of regular check-ins with employees, whether through email, text, conference call or some other means. With a remote workforce, managers need to be more deliberate about periodic check-ins and not fall into a trap of “out of sight, out of mind.”

This may also be a great time to catch up on training. Using an online Learning Management System (LMS) will allow employees to complete important trainings, such as mandatory sexual harassment prevention, workplace safety and cybersecurity. Employees may also be able to access other online courses for their own professional development. Check out HR Works’ LMS Course Catalog for available online trainings.

Manage Engagement

While it’s important to have clear goals and expectations for your remote workforce you may need to cut some slack during these challenging times. Many employees are trying to juggle work and families, without any way to gain additional support due to school and childcare closings, “stay at home” orders and other social distancing measures that are currently in place. Whenever possible, allow flexibility with schedules and recognize that for some employees, productivity may not be as high as it is when employees can focus 100% of their attention on their work. Your empathy and flexibility during this (hopefully) short-term crises will go a long way in building employee loyalty and engagement and you’ll reap the benefits of that in the long run when things get back to normal; and they will get back to normal!

Because remote work can be isolating, especially during this current crisis, it’s important to find creative ways to maintain a connection and provide employees with an opportunity to socialize with their colleagues.

Holding virtual meetings using technologies such as Zoom, GoToMeeting, FaceTime or Skype (to name a few) can be a great way to infuse some fun into the workday and build camaraderie among teams. Consider activities such as virtual team lunches or happy hours (after the workday has concluded, of course!).

Thinking about and applying these different strategies will help both managers and employees adjust to this new way of working, while maintaining compliance, productivity and engagement. Additionally, you can find tips and information about how you can use your HRIS System to manage, pay, and communicate with your employees during this time on our Technology Resources page.

Watch our webinar on COVID-19 Issues: Managing a Remote Workforce Recorded 4/6/2020

HR Works Can Help

HR Works recognizes that these are challenging times for employers and we’re here to help. Whether you have a compliance-related question, need a sample policy on teleworking, are searching for an LMS or need employee engagement ideas, HR Works has a solution for you.

Current clients can contact their dedicated HR Works’ representative. If you’re not currently an HR Works’ client contact us at 1-877-219-9062 or for assistance.

© 2020 HR Works, Inc. All Rights Reserved

HR Works, Inc., headquartered in Upsate New York, is a human resource management outsourcing and consulting firm serving clients throughout the United States. HR Works provides scalable strategic human resource management and consulting services, including: affirmative action programs; benefits administration outsourcing; HRIS self-service technology; full-time, part-time and interim on-site HR managers; HR audits; legally reviewed employee handbooks and supervisor manuals; talent management and recruiting services; and training of managers and HR professionals.