While there are many articles out there talking to the employee about remote work, there are surprisingly few talking to employers around the nuances involved. Remote work is not a decision that should be taken lightly, and if it is part of your current Digital Strategy (and it should be), there are a few technicalities you need to be aware of. In this article, I’ll unpack four of these that I think are incredibly important as part of your consideration – assuming you, as the employer, are intending on embarking on a remote work journey.
On paper, how do you go about it?
This is an interesting choice. Do you keep your staff on your current employment contract, or do you set up your remote work arrangement as an ongoing contract? There are pros and cons to each approach.
If you retain your employees on their current contract, what are the changes that need to be made in order to facilitate the new way of working? You need to be sure that your new remote work policy does not contradict your current employment contracts. As a key example: most employment contracts state the hours of work as well as the location. If you are changing this, it is in everyone’s interest that you as the employer amend the contract by means of an appendix stating the new working conditions. This will preempt any misunderstandings later due to performance issues or other “unexpecteds”. Similarly, the nature of expenses may change, and you need to ensure that the rules are in place regarding what can and cannot be expensed (such as Internet access, travel in to the office and so on).
If you decide on the contract approach, how do you end your current agreement, and how do you ensure the smooth transition to a contract. As above, does the contracting agreement include remote work specifics? Using a stock standard contractors agreement may not be sufficient.
Another complication in this area is that of tax, can you ensure your remote employee is paying the correct tax when working as a remote worker? If they are contracted directly to you (and only to you), you may find yourself in hot water as the employer for the employee’s lack of tax payments. Or, do you force the employee to register a company and work on an invoicing basis? This may help on the tax side, but it also opens up the opportunity for – and almost incentivises – the employee to contract out to other employers. Do you have a plan and reasonable restrictions in place for this eventuality?
How do you measure it?
Once you’ve embarked on this journey, you need to understand as an employer that you are no longer monitoring your employees’ hours. If you are, they are simply working from home temporarily, and are not remote workers in the true sense of it. You are now monitoring outcomes, and as such these need to be clearly defined.
It is vitally important that your remote workers are included in meetings and regular updates as to what is expected of them. At the very least on a weekly basis. Be aware that the additional free time that your remote workers have on their hands due to not having a commute, also translates into additional busy time for managers to keep them focused on their direction and outcomes. You also cannot afford to alienate your remote teams by informing them of decisions after the fact. You have to include them in decisions and team meetings the same way you would for a physically present team member.
Technology infrastructure required!
Having your remote workers “present” in meetings means you need to have the technology infrastructure in place to drive this. Remote team members should have full access to decent webcams, microphones and communications equipment, and your office should be kitted out with the same. Can your meeting rooms comfortably bring a virtual worker in, and can they see everyone in the room? You need to consider having wide angle video (the cheaper option) or a tracking camera (the more expensive option) to ensure that they can see who is speaking.
Don’t fall into the trap of relying on a laptop in the room to be the microphone and camera, invest in decent kit for the room. Modern laptops’ microphones are often directional, in which case anyone speaking that is not directly facing the laptop will not be heard, and their cameras are often not wide angle enough to support a full room.
Intellectual Property, Data, and Bring Your Own Device
If your remote workers are providing their own hardware and laptops, how are you able to ensure that your (and your clients’) personal information, intellectual property, and data is adequately looked after. As part of your contracts, you need to take this into consideration. Your remote workers should have at the very least the same protections in place on their personal equipment that you as the employer have on your internal office network. Files should be encrypted, and data flows should be defined and communicated.
You need to ensure that you are incredibly clear on what tools are and are not allowed to be used, and that none of your company data is being stored on file sharing services that the remote worker may be using in their personal capacity. This creates a legal minefield for you as the employer.
You should ensure that you have a remote work policy, a BYOD policy, and a clear Acceptable Usage Policy (AUP) as a minimum to ensure that integrity is maintained. You will also need all of these to maintain a cyber insurance policy (which you should have already!). Related to this, short term insurance should also be specifically mentioned and clearly defined as to who is responsible. You cannot have downtime due to equipment being uninsured if an employee is burgled or a laptop goes missing from a coffee shop.
It’s clear that there is quite a lot to consider, and this is only scratching the surface. With any decision such as remote work, due diligence needs to be performed – often with external advisory in order to address any “blind spots”. As an employer, it is important that you consider all your bases, and weigh up the pros and cons. The fact of the matter though is that remote work is here to stay, and if you don’t move on it, you may end up losing your staff to employers that are embracing the practice.