While the COVID 19 pandemic continues its destructive course across the globe, many measures are being taken at all levels to contain the spread of this virus. Employers in all industry sectors, including providers of medical review services need to embrace policies and strategies that really work to keep their employees safe. Many employers are asking their workers to work remotely or stay at home if they or their family members are sick. However, remote work is possible for only a certain percentage of employees in the United States. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2018 only around 29% of U.S. employees actually performed remote work. This group of employees are found to be better educated and wealthier. BLS data shows that among the workers ages 25 and older, while 47% of workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher worked from home sometimes, only 3% of workers with just a high school diploma could do so. Nevertheless, some highly educated workers such as medical professionals have to be present personally for their work.
Telecommuting or telework or working from home is more common in the private sector. People who are in the IT field and who do most of their work on computers can work from home. Studies show that about 24% of workers in the management, business, and financial segments including corporate executives, financial analysts, accountants, insurance underwriters and IT managers have access to telework. Similarly, 14% of “professional and related” workers such as software designers, lawyers, scientists, and engineers also have access to telework.
Taking into consideration that a large portion of the U.S. workforce may be working from home at least temporarily to safeguard their own health as well as those of others, here are some tips employers can consider when adopting a remote working policy.
- It’s best to adopt a telecommuting policy that is specific to the emergency situation: Employers may be arranging telecommuting as a temporary solution, so it is best to have a policy that is COVID-19 specific. Let the employees understand that working from home is not a permanent arrangement and that the regular policy would be reinstated once the emergency situation is over. An ogletree.com article points out what such a policy should make clear.
- The positions that are eligible to work from home during the COVID 19 pandemic.
- How an employee should place a work from home request, and how the employer will inform the employees that they are required to work from home.
- Have a protocol regarding when employees may return to work. Also, the protocol that will be followed to alert the employer that an employee plans to return to work, and/or will be requested to return to work.
- Have employees understand and know how to notify the employer in case they become symptomatic and are unable to work, or need additional accommodations because of the illness or to care for a sick family member. It is important to know that the FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) and the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) will continue to be relevant even when the employees are working from home.
- Include a clear statement in the policy that employees who telecommute continue to be responsible for complying with all employer policies and procedures.
- Ensure that the right infrastructure is in place: The CDC advises employers to have the IT facilities and infrastructure that are required to support the many employees who may be able to work from home. Ensure that the employees have internet access at home. Also, have in place robust security and privacy protocols. Short-term rental of laptop computers, printers, scanners, cell phones and monitors may be necessary. The proper cloud-based tools should also be ready so that employees can easily access applications over the internet: file sharing capabilities, email access, mobile applications, chat or instant messaging, video, desktop sharing, voicemail to email and so on.
- Physical materials should be digitized: This will facilitate remote working because all employees will have access to the material or data they need to work with.
- Strengthen physical security of your property: A policy can be drawn up regarding the physical security of the property employees handle. This should remind workers to safeguard company data they are handling remotely. Employees can be warned not to leave company-owned devices, laptops, or other devices unattended in their vehicles. Also, employees can be warned against misplacing thumb drives containing company information or use thumb drives, the origins of which are unknown. Advise employees to use a USB data blocker to connect to power when charging portable devices in public and plugging directly into a USB port. Other ways to protect data when charging devices in public are using power cords that do not transmit data; and using a charging converter that transmits power only, and not data.
- Ensure maximum and sure communication: Document all communications made via emails and other tools. This will help in case messages get lost. Also, it helps make work shareable so that colleagues can more easily be informed of co-workers’ projects.
- Conflict management is important: Remote work means digital communication, which can be easily misinterpreted and this necessitates employees to be very careful about the language they employ. Talking to the person personally over phone or video chat can help clarify the written word.
- Check in with your employees regularly: This is to make sure the employees are on course to achieve their goals and schedule more conversations with the team. Shorter, frequent meetings could prove to be useful.
- Provide more flexibility: Provided the employees understand they are accountable, a certain amount of flexibility can be allowed because the home environment may be different, with possible disruptions.
- If an employee is injured during work time at home, workers’ compensation may be applicable: Whether an employee works in an office or at home, the employer is responsible for providing a safe work environment. Therefore, it is best for employers to specify telecommuting employees’ work time and work environment. They can designate a specific area at home to serve as a temporary office and also specify lunch and rest break times. A virtual worksite check can be conducted of the home office to make sure there are no potential hazards or risks, and also to ensure that the employee’s desk and seating arrangement are appropriately designed.
- Supervisors must be properly trained to manage employees working from home: Managers may require special guidance to supervise a remote workforce. They need to ensure communication and collaboration at all times. For the best team work and output, there should be a personal connection between the managers and employees. This is easier now with advancements in digital technology that facilitate communication and collaboration. Managers must ensure that employees are clear about how and when to complete projects. They can also help management determine how efficiently the remote employees are functioning, and thereby address any issue that arises in a timely manner. Good performance by employees must be appreciated.
This is a period of medical emergency, and there is likely to be a number of legal repercussions as well in various contexts. It is a very stressful period for employers who have to continue business operations, employees who may not find the home environment conducive to working peacefully, working compensation attorneys, and providers of medical records services. The above-mentioned tips could help employers provide a more conducive and efficient work environment for employees working from their homes.