Managing From Afar: Effectively Adapting to Telework

One of the realities created by the COVID-19 pandemic is that more employees are working remotely than ever before.  This change raises legal and business issues that have caught many companies off guard.  Companies designed policies and trained management pre-COVID19 based on the presumption that most employees worked in the physical office.  With the shift in the landscape, it is advisable to create or augment your telecommuting or remote work policy.  Among many other considerations described below, your policy should address tracking time, including overtime and breaks.  This is also an opportune moment to set clear expectations of employees who are working remotely.

Managers may also need to be trained on how to effectively manage their teams from afar.  Many managers likely lack the necessary toolkit to handle a remote workforce.  Employers need to ensure that managers know not only how to communicate with their team (via email, phone calls, virtual meetings, or text messages), but also when to communicate with their team (should they communicate with employees only when they are “on the clock” to avoid potential unpaid overtime claims by nonexempt employees?).  Most managers have not been trained on how to disseminate work and to track progress remotely.  Training on how to issue constructive and negative feedback remotely is also critical.

There are a host of business challenges and opportunities that should also be considered.  While remote work comes with its own set of obstacles, by conducting the proper training and employing the right outlook and strategy, many of these obstacles can be overcome.  Here are a few tips on how to effectively manage your workforce while they are working remotely.

Maintain a sense of community.  Foster a sense of connectedness with your workforce through virtual meetings.  Even if these “get togethers” are short, it helps to remind your employees that even though they are working alone from their individual silos, they are in fact still very much a part of a team.

Check in frequently.  Communicating with your team about the specific work-related tasks at hand is crucial, but should not be the sole focus of remote communication.  Ensure that your team has the resources they need (e.g., the technology and proper access to subscriptions and drives), and the training that they need to accomplish their essential job functions.  Ask open-ended questions regarding what your employees are struggling with or what resources they might be lacking.  Their answers might surprise you.  Remember to be cognizant of your employees’ classifications and, for nonexempt employees, curtail your communications to work hours.

Use available technology and resources.  Technology helps to streamline much of the work that is conducted in the United States, and we should take advantage of the technology that we have available to us.  Videoconferencing helps to minimize the social isolation of remote work.  While we are able to communicate messages over the telephone and via emails and texts, seeing your colleagues face-to-face, seeing their expressions, and hearing their intonation helps to keep us connected.  While avenues such as videoconferencing keep us connected we need to be aware of some potential pitfalls.

Be very cautious of privacy issues; this can be of particular importance in certain industries such as healthcare and in legal practice.  Make sure if you are videoconferencing with clients that all parties are aware of whether or not the sessions are being recorded and how secure the connection is.

Furthermore, it is an unfortunate reality that hackers and opportunists are taking advantage of our citizens and businesses during this crisis.  Make sure that your organization’s and employee’s cybersecurity is up to snuff.  Train your team to be aware of phishing scams and malware attacks.

Consider implementing clearly defined performance management plans and processes.  Managers and team leaders can more easily evaluate and keep track of their employees’ productivity from afar while avoiding the need to micromanage.  Your organization’s goals are more likely to be obtained when you clearly communicate to your employees what they need to do to meet said goals.  With clear expectations and outcomes in place, both the employer and employee win.

Track outcomes and deliverables.  In the same vein, it is important to focus on your workforce’s outcomes and deliverables rather than emphasizing the hours spent.  Many businesses are hurting right now and there may be not be as much work to go around as there once was.  Depending on your billing and wage policies, it may behoove morale to focus on the quality rather than the quantity of work that is being churned out.  That being said, another approach to help track and identify business growth or decline is for nonexempt employees to track their time and submit their daily or weekly updates.  This will give managers a better sense of what type of work is being focused on and will roughly gauge any increase or decrease in client business.

The Wagner Law Group’s Employment and HR team is available to provide legal advice including conducting management training.  During this volatile time, we are here to help.  Please do not hesitate to contact Katherine Brustowicz, David Gabor, or Virginia Peabody for assistance with any employment or HR matters.