As we get closer and closer to a post-pandemic world, the question for many employers is going to be: what does work like after COVID? Or more precisely, where does work happen post-COVID? From March 2020 on, many employers successfully shifted to a predominantly remote work environment. In fact, some employers were so successful, they decided to save money by downsizing office space with the idea of a more remote workforce moving forward. But each workplace is different, and each employer is going to have to tailor its post-COVID workplace to its needs.
Can employees successfully work remotely? Are we technologically equipped for remote working as a long-term solution? How will remote work affect things like morale, camaraderie, and employee buy-in? These are all important considerations moving forward. The first thing an employer who is going to make remote work an integral part of day-to-day operations must do is craft a clear work from home policy. Without this guidepost, there will only be confusion, frustration, and potential discrimination claims from employees. This policy must be clear on when remote work is acceptable. Can an employee always work remotely? Does each employee have an allotment of WFH days per week/month/year? Or are there days employees must be in the office? Does an employee need a reason to work remotely? How does an employee obtain permission to work remotely? If remote work is at the employee’s discretion, who does the employee notify when he or she works remotely? A comprehensive remote work policy must answer these questions clearly.
Another issue that employers must confront is how they are going to leverage the burst in digital communication adaptation over the last year. Since March of 2020, we have all become familiar with Zoom, Teams, Slack, Google Hangouts, Go-To-Meeting, and the litany of other digital communication platforms. Employers must now answer how these platforms fit into their day-to-day operations moving forward. For workplaces that will continue to have some element of work from home, they will be crucial. For those who return to a more traditional workplace, they will most likely continue to use these platforms in some capacity. This could be by replacing a certain portion of in-person meetings, providing an avenue for employee/employee or employee/client interaction, or interacting with other entities. Employers must create or expand existing policies to set the standards for the use of these communications tools. For example, a company’s anti-harassment policy or network use policy must be expanded to include these forms of communication. Communication through Zoom or Slack should be treated like any other communication and any other technology already a part of the workplace. Employees must also know when it is proper to set up a Zoom meeting and the procedure for doing so. Employers will also have to consider the finer details of their business and how those technology platforms interact with those details in an attempt to forecast potential other issues these platforms may cause.
Lastly, employers will need to consider how these two issues intersect with their cybersecurity and IT goals. Is your network capable of handling a workplace that has both in-person and remote workers? How do those telecommuting pose a threat to IT security? Which devices should employees use to access the network, their personal device or an employer provided device? Can your network support the new digital communication tools? Do those tools pose any threat to network security? Many of these questions must be answered by an IT professional, but there are policies employers can enact to help maintain a functioning, secure IT space. For example, requiring employees to only access the network on work-approved devices, requiring two-factor authentication, and periodic comprehensive network security training all help protect employers.
The solution to all of these issues is going to depend largely on each unique workplace. We here at ThompsonMcMullan have experience with every size of employer, from the region’s largest companies, to sole proprietorships. We can use this experience to help craft personalized solutions for employers across the Commonwealth.