Prior to the pandemic, companies allowed remote work sparingly and where necessary because of the location of certain key players in other states or countries. Many employers felt that remote work was not practical, citing technology gaps and company culture. According to a survey of 600 IT decision-makers conducted in May 2020 by research firm Vanson Bourne for Xerox Holdings Corp., entitled The Future of Work in a Pandemic Era, at least 95% of those surveyed thought that in-person communication was still necessary to train, develop, and assess talent. However, the survey also found that more than half of businesses intend to change their policies after the pandemic to allow a hybrid return to work approach.
A hybrid work model is one that allows employees the option of working in physical office locations, or remotely, or a combination of the two. As vaccinations make it possible to get back to normal, “normal” is going to look different for every company. One thing is certain: no matter what your work model looks like after the pandemic, employers will need to communicate their policy and expectations.
A hybrid work policy will have several different components. First, it should explain what the company’s hybrid model allows. This section should set out the advantages of hybrid working, citing flexibility, decreased travel time, and supporting a better work-life balance. This section should discuss different remote work options, such as part-time in the office and part-time at home. If you intend to establish hoteling for those employees who are working remotely, then you should introduce that here.
A second section of the hybrid work policy should discuss which employees are eligible for remote work options. If there are positions where remote work is not an option, then the introduction should also speak to this. This section will require a review of the job descriptions to determine whether the position will allow for a remote work option, or whether the person must be physically present in the office. An employee may need to be present in the office if the position requires personal face-to-face interactions with customers and employees. Be honest about your evaluations and determine whether that physical presence can be part-time, allowing for that employee to work remotely some days and in the office others.
Your policy should also set out the expectations that you have for your remote workers. If your workforce is salaried, this will be similar to your expectations in the office. They have to get their job done, whatever that might be. But if your workforce is hourly, then you will have to have rules around the time that they must log on to the computer, when they must take rest and meal breaks, and how you are going to document their breaks. Your hourly workforce will have much different wage and hour issues than your salaried employees. Additionally, this section must set out your guidelines regarding requesting permission to work overtime or to take time away from their desk during the day. Finally, if your hourly workers are going to work a flex schedule in and out of the office, consider that if they start their day at home by checking emails or working, then head into the office to perform more work, then you may have to pay for their travel time into the office to comply with state and federal wage and hour laws.
Also include a section that discusses technology and computer use issues. Consider data security of remote workers. For example, should your remote workers allow any others in their family to access their work computer? This may seem obvious, but you should be proactive and think about all of the possible issues that could arise in hybrid work situations.
Hybrid work is here to stay. It is now time for employers to prepare for this new normal and to create the policies and guidance necessary to encourage a successful working environment.
Jean Back is an employment attorney with Schwabe, Williamson, & Wyatt, P.C. and can be contacted at [email protected] or 503-796-2960. This article summarizes some potential challenges of a hybrid work environment; it does not constitute legal advice. For legal advice specific to your situation, you should contact an attorney.