As the pandemic continues to affect work and employment in BC, we’re seeing many employers shifting toward hybrid work models on a more permanent basis. A hybrid model, or one that allows for a mix of in-office and remote work, can give employees more flexibility and power over their schedule, but working from home isn’t ideal for everybody. In creating a permanent policy for hybrid working, employers can open a dialogue with employees about what aspects of remote work should stick around, and which stand to be refined.
One of the first questions we would ask in the current environment is: is the change or arrangement tied to the pandemic or is it more permanent? Whether or not you make working from home permanent is a business consideration, rather than legal, but it’s an important starting point for considering your policy going forward.
Creating a Policy
In order to shift from remote work as a temporary, stopgap measure into remote work as a permanent fixture for your team, you need to have a written document that clearly outlines your expectations for how partially or fully-remote employees will conduct themselves, including how they will communicate with the rest of the team, how you’ll keep track of their hours and output, and when or how often they’ll be expected to come into the office.
It’s always a good idea to be mindful of your employees’ needs when developing a company policy, but we don’t necessarily recommend opening the discussion to commentary from every team member. Especially in large organizations, too much feedback during the development process can create chaos. That said, it may be useful to develop a short survey to send to your team to better understand how a particular hybrid work model might be more beneficial.
Determining a Structure
Make sure you’re clear about the planned structure of your work from home policy. For many businesses, a hybrid work model can involve allowing employees to work from home voluntarily for a certain number of days per week, while also requiring a set amount of in-office time. For some businesses, it makes sense to have employees in the office 2 days a week and at home 3 days a week. In other cases, it might be sufficient to require employees to come in only for occasional in-person meetings or seminars.
A hybrid schedule can be useful for reducing the number of employees that are in a space at any given time. Staggering employees’ schedules so that only 50 percent of your staff is on site on any given day, for example, can be helpful right now for social distancing purposes, and it can also potentially save money in the long run, with some businesses being free to downsize to smaller spaces.
No matter what specific arrangement your work model involves, it is critical to be clear about your expectations for working hours. If your on-site employees are required to be in the office from 9am to 5pm, is the same true for your remote employees? If so, how are you going to track their hours or productivity? If you plan on using a project management software or remote work platform, make sure you indicate this in the policy. Identify the software, the employees’ responsibilities in using it, and exactly what information is being tracked.
Consistency is Key
Ideally, a work-from-home policy would be consistent across the board regardless of an employee’s position or duties. In reality, the type of work that an employee does will dictate whether or not working from home is a feasible option for them. For example, while software programmers might be able to work from home almost all of the time, a front-desk receptionist might have to be physically present in the office.
Another thing to consider with regards to consistency is individual preference and abilities. This is where it might be useful to have a dialogue with certain employees, and where permanent work-from-home arrangements differ from temporary ones.
As many employers (and employees) have discovered over the course of the past year and half, remote arrangements don’t work well for everybody. Some people find that working in a dedicated space among colleagues keeps them focused and accountable. Some people simply don’t have enough space or privacy in their homes to get a lot of work done. Employees that are eager to return to the office when it’s safe to do so can be covered in a policy that makes remote work voluntary (except in the case of emergency measures).
As an employer, you might also discover that some employees have a hard time being productive at home, even if those employees continue to want to work remotely. For these situations, it’s a good idea to include some verbiage in a policy that indicates you have a right to revoke work from home privileges. If you find that a particular employee is missing in action while allegedly working remotely, then you need to have recourse in your policy for calling that employee back to the office to ensure that their work gets done.
One exception to that recourse involves a consideration of any human rights issues. Some employees require a greater degree of flexibility due to child care obligations, or a disability. Again, protection against human rights discrimination should be built into your policy.
Make the Terms Clear
Particularly in the current environment, it’s important to communicate to your employees whether this work-from-home policy is in direct response to COVID, or if it’s a permanent arrangement regardless of pandemic developments.
Communicating this helps reduce confusion, and if it is permanent it also gives you the chance to update other policies and ensure that WorkSafe rules are being followed while employees are at home, and to ensure that everyone has the necessary equipment to do their jobs remotely.
The question of whether remote work is a temporary measure or a permanent policy is one that we are seeing a lot. In a lot of cases, the former is still true, but many employers and workers who previously might never have considered working from home are now realizing that such a thing is possible.
Whether you believe your organization will someday return to a fully in-person model, or you plan on maintaining remote work as an option going forward, it’s very important to have a clear, written policy that can answer the following questions:
Is this arrangement permanent or temporary?
Is the employee expected to come into the office every week? Only for specific events?
How will you keep track of and communicate with remote team members?
How often are employees expected to check in?
Does this policy apply to everyone, or only to certain positions?
What is your course of action if an employee is not getting their work done at home?
How are you going about confirming that the employee has the right equipment and has a safe workspace?
Give yourself the ability to review the policy at a later date (for example, you might include a line to the effect of “this policy will be reviewed annually”). This gives you the power to make adjustments to the policy if you find down the road that certain aspects are not working as well, or if the structure of your organization changes.
If remote work is possible in your industry, now is a great time to think about how you can incorporate it into your business model in a way that upholds BC employment standards. In a post-pandemic world, employers who refuse to offer a remote-work option might be hard-pressed to find employees, especially among a younger cohort.
If you are considering your work arrangements, call us to discuss – we want to help!