When the mandated shutdown occurred last year, most companies were scrambling to go fully remote.
Some were better off than others, but most had to implement new technology, processes and procedures to accommodate a workforce that was no longer in the office.
Now almost a year after the coronavirus halted on-site work at many businesses, companies should have weeded out best practices and start putting together a long-term remote work strategy if they haven’t already, say experts.
"A long-term plan takes into account learning & development, collaboration, education and many things that will create a positive experience for the workforce and avoid costly turnover issues," says Clay Kellogg, CEO of San Francisco-based Terminal, which helps companies find and retain global remote teams.
Terminal did a survey last year that found less than a third of human resources and engineering leaders had a long-term remote strategy.
While respondents were from the engineering sector, "this is likely indicative of many companies right now," Kellogg says.
He explains that for the most part, companies have largely been "HQ-based," meaning that they hired their employees within a specific geographical area.
They often "only had to accommodate the occasional remote employee — nothing at a large scale. Now, with companies gone fully remote, they've been forced to figure out how to support remote employees at a mass scale — with technology and infrastructure, but also cultural changes to ensure collaboration and avoid burnout and isolation," Kellogg says.
Many companies have been so busy just trying to stay afloat they haven’t formalized plans yet, says John Coverdale, president of the Center for Workplace Solutions, a Bayport-based HR management consulting firm.
He has been working with clients on revising employee handbooks to "incorporate the new realities," of remote work like addressing flexible scheduling outside of normal work hours.
Also, helping them craft employment agreements, discussing things like whether the company will provide equipment to the remote employee, he says. Consider, you have liability issues that didn’t come up before, such as will the employee be expected to maintain homeowner’s insurance, he says.
Also, "from a competitive assessment, companies will need to decide whether they will need to provide new perks and benefits to keep remote employees engaged," he says.
A more recent Terminal survey found that among the remote benefits employees want are utilities, internet or other home office stipends.
Melville-based MSC Industrial Direct Co., which has the bulk of its 300-plus employees on Long Island working remotely since the pandemic and due to its success has plans to scale back physical office space by 85% says it understands the interest in remote perks.
MSC recently began paying a monthly stipend of $25 to associates who work remotely to help offset home office-related expenses, says spokesman Paul E. Mason.
Melville-based H2M architects + engineers provides a monthly technology allowance of between $50 and $100 to employees to be used for whatever they need, says president and CEO Rich Humann.
In December, H2M finalized a long-term flexible remote work policy, he says. Flexible scheduling is a big part of it, says Liz Uzzo, senior vice president and chief human resources officer, noting that flexible scheduling is important for employees with child care issues or even those caring for elderly parents.
H2M also invested over $500K in technology and infrastructure that employees needed to work remotely, Humann says.
The company also looked at engagement as part of its long-term plan and added distanced gatherings, such as a trick-or-treat event outside its headquarters, says Uzzo, the firm's coronavirus point person.
Christine Ippolito, principal at Hauppauge-based Compass Workforce Solutions, an HR consulting firm, said as companies start bringing back employees on-site they should also survey employees to see who wants to be in the office versus working remotely. Then the companies should consider what kind of technology and systems/processes are needed so both groups could effectively communicate.
Ippolito’s own firm switched to a cloud-based phone system so employees can make calls anywhere as if calling from the firm’s offices. The company also instituted a web-based eFax system.
Beyond technology considerations, look at what jobs within the organization can be remote and what can’t, Ippolito says. Also, consider how onboarding, orientation and training will work in a virtual environment, she says.
"These should all be part of a long-term plan," she says.
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By 2025, 36.2 million Americans will be remote workers, an increase of 16.8 million people from pre-pandemic rates, according to an Upwork’s report released in December.
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