The majority of workers are still working from home, at least some of the time, and as we continue to move past the pandemic it appears that working from home isn't going away anytime soon. There are plenty of reasons a company might utilize a work from home policy with employees, especially a small business: freedom and flexibility, cost savings, work/life balance for employees and saving time are a few that come to mind.
While the benefits of working from home may easily outweigh in person and in office policies there are some legal and risk concerns that come up with having employees work from home. Here are some challenges to by aware of as you think about a work from home environment or even a hybrid setup where employees are working from home part of the time.
Productivity Concerns. One of the most challenging issues can be dealing with productivity concerns and time management for employees. Especially if you were once operating from an office space where everyone was in person. Making a transition can be nerve-wracking and this area in particular. You aren't going to be able to micromanage your employees (you shouldn't anyway, it's not productive) from a remote environment. There are all the distractions of being at home to contend with, a lack of supervision and issues with time management that employees may not be equipped to handle on their own, or have even thought about. Small businesses in particular may not have systems in place to remotely monitor employees, or the system may not be cost effective. You need to set up some internal process to help employees adapt to working from home for your specific business. That may be some sort of monitoring technology or solution, but it could certainly be something less formal than that. Educate your employees on time management, and time blocking strategies that can make them more efficient. Get regular updates and progress reports on what they're working on, and track how tasks are progressing. No different than when an employee is in an office, you should have a way to track what they are doing, how they are doing and act accordingly.
Data Security. Remote work can pose a significant risk to data security, and depending on your business and industry this may be a critical issue for you to be aware of and address. Small businesses may not think that they have data security issues, but that's not necessarily the case, and there may be privacy regulations that you are obligated to comply with. Employees and their work related communications are a leading cause of data breaches for small businesses because they are a direct way to access the company systems. Every company is at risk and vulnerable to data breaches and cyber attacks in some aspect and if you don't prepare for it you could find yourself out of business. Employees working from home may be using unsecure networks and devices which increases the risk of a potential data breach. Put in place safeguards and poilcies that will reduce the potential for breaches, actively monitor them and update as best practices on prevention change.
Communication and Collaboration Issues. This isn't necessarily a strictly work from home issue, small businesses should have communication and collaboration on the top of their mind in general. However, implementing a work from home environment amplifies the need to address these concerns. Consider what metrics you want to track and how you will measure overall efficiency of employees. Remote work can lead to communication breakdowns and reduced collaboration. Put some time into figuring out what tools you'll use (Slack, Teams, Zoom for example) and how you're going to foster a sense of community among employees that are working remotely.
Legal and Compliance Concerns. There are several legal and compliance concerns that come up with working from home. Businesses should be aware of these whether a work from home environment is still somewhat new to them, they do a hybrid situation or they have been operating as a remote organization from the beginning. It's common to overlook some of these and end up in trouble that could have been completely avoided. Here's a rundown of some to stay on top of:
- Labor laws and regulations - as with the case when you have employees working in a physical or office space, there are still federal, state and local labor laws to comply with. Ignore this at your own peril. You're still talking about paying minimum wage, potential meal breaks, rest breaks, labor restrictions and other regulations. Don't get caught up in the out of sight, out of mind mentality and ignore these potential issues because it's not something you're facing day to day.
- Work hours and overtime - similar to some of the statements above, just because you are utilizing a work from home policy and remote workers, you still have to comply with regulations around work hours and overtime. Make sure to continue to carefully evaluate each job or position and determine if they are exempt or non-exempt from overtime under the FLSA. Employees must be compensated for hours worked and non-exempt employees are going to be entitled to overtime when they go past 40 hours in a workweek. This circles back to a paragraph above: make sure to address productivity concerns and how you will track when an employee is on the clock where necessary.
- Workplace safety - again, still applies when you have remote workers. A company or employer is generally responsible for providing a safe working environment. This would include assessing the safety of an employee's home office and doing a risk analysis around that. Do they have the necessary equipment and resources on hand to make sure they can effectively do their job without creating any unnecessary workplace safety concerns?
- Tax implications - this can be an often overlooked, expensive and time consuming mistake. Technology has allowed companies to access labor across the world with minimal effort, but there are some potential problems that come with that. You have local and state tax requirements that may change depending on where your employees are actually located and employees may be eligible for some tax credits based on home office expenses. Get a handle on this before you find yourself dealing with a taxing authority.
To navigate these issues effectively make sure to develop clear remote work policies that outline employee responsibilities, expectations and compliance with relevant laws. Regular communication with remote employees regarding these policies and any updates is also essential to maintain a productive and complainant remote work environment.
Contact us for a free risk analysis and consultation about securing your business from unnecessary risks involved with using a remote workforce.