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Some Things to Consider When Employees are Working Remotely

Covid-19 changed the way many organizations do business. Many employers have shifted to a full or partial remote-work arrangement. Remote work presents many challenges for both employers and employees.  Lack of face-to-face supervision, keeping employees engaged and motivated and managing the work environment are just some of the challenges faced by employers and employees.

Working remotely is an arrangement between the employer and the employee that permits or requires the employee to perform all or part of their work at an approved alternate site and applies whether the employee works remotely regularly or under exceptional circumstances as directed by the employer from time to time.

An employee’s activities while working remotely should be subject to the same standards that are applied at the organization’s offices regarding confidentiality, security, quality, and access to business documents just to mention a few areas of concern. In addition, an employer must continue to comply with applicable employment legislation. Establishing a clear remote-work policy can ensure employers are prepared in times of crisis. The remote-work policy should establish rules that clearly define the expectations for employees while working away from the office.

Below are some key areas to focus on when creating a remote-work policy.

Availability

A remote-work policy should clearly outline availability expectations. One of the disadvantages of working from home is that employees are in different places. This sometimes makes it difficult to have spontaneous meetings or pop by someone’s desk for a quick meeting or chat about business.  A solution for this may be to incorporate schedule requirements including structured, periodic check-in times with employees. While there has been much written recently about the value of flexibility for employees who can have greater control over their schedules while working remotely, it may still be necessary to set parameters for hours of work and set rules for overtime. The employer may want to set expectations for employees to be accessible during regular working hours and available to respond promptly to any time sensitive calls, emails, or other communications from the organization’s clients or other third parties critical to the organization’s purposes.

Physical Environment

If there is a preference for a physical working environment for your employees, outline these expectations in your policy. Ensure your employees know what the requirements are for a physical working environment whether it be in the employee’s home or alternative location. If necessary, the employer may need to require employees to provide addresses and locations from which they are working remotely and update these, as necessary. Employers may wish to establish expectations for dependent care arrangements and personal responsibilities to ensure that employees are able to meet their job responsibilities without interruption or distraction.

Security

Security is a big concern with remote work. Your remote-work policy should outline the importance of protecting confidential information in remote work settings. Your policy should set the guidelines for working remotely to secure records and prevent unauthorized disclosure of confidential business information.

Employers should consider the processes for storing business documents, especially sensitive and/or highly confidential files, on organization’s secure servers and not on the employee’s personal hard drives.

Your organization might consider specific policies mandating secure internet connections or virtual private networks with a strict exclusion of public wi-fi. And perhaps there should be a policy and process for reporting a security breach if the employee has any reason to believe that business information has been accessed by any unauthorized person(s).

And, of course, if budgets permit, it may be prudent to provide remote-work employees with secure computers and other hardware, owned by the organization. Related policies could then restrict the processing or storage of any of the organization’s information on the employee’s personal equipment.

Client Confidentiality

Some employer’s client information may be particularly sensitive. Customers have a right (both legal and moral) to expect their confidential information to be protected. Remote working employees should be reminded of their obligation to take appropriate precautions to ensure that confidential information not exposed to third parties, including family members, visitors or any other persons residing, working or simply present at the remote-work location.

Health and Safety

The remote work location is an extension of the physical office. While the Ontario Health and Safety Act appears explicitly to not apply to work performed by the owner or occupant in or about a private residence, it may still be considered best practice to direct employees to observe all applicable health and safety policies when working remotely. And, of course, remote work may also be conducted in locations other that the employee’s home. This could be highlighted in the policy and employees reminded that they could consult with their health and safety representative (if applicable), in respect of best practices in setting up a remote-work location.

Confusion of expectations and disconnections between employees and employers from not having a clear remote-work policy can result in undue risk to both parties. An effective remote-work policy should establish the guidelines and expectations for performance while working remotely, along with providing a framework for monitoring and addressing situations of non-compliance. By doing so the employer may enjoy a competitive edge, even during trying and difficult times, as they provide employees the opportunity to continue to contribute to the organization’s ongoing success.

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