As we head into winter, many employees are getting antsy as they work daily from their kitchen tables. Requests are starting to come in, leaving benefits and HR pros asking questions like “You want to work from WHERE?” From escaping the cold weather to fleeing to less expensive housing, more and more employees are looking to work remotely, from someplace new.
Even before the pandemic, employers were starting to receive requests for creative approaches to working remotely. Researchers at Harvard University and Northeastern University say that a new form of remote work is emerging: work from anywhere (WFA). With a pandemic-driven increase in remote working, the WFA trend is escalating.
Resorts are looking to tap into the sudden spike in remote workers by offering workation options and even day passes to escape the home office. Advertisements taunt with images of luxurious work areas, kid-camps-gone-daycare and work-all-day/dance-the-night-away scenes.
If those options don’t get your attention, how about the new program offered by the state of Hawai’i—the Movers and Shakas Program, which aims to encourage temporary residency on the islands for remote work.
Each of these twists on telecommuting brings questions for employers to answer. According to respondents in a soon-to-be-released report, Employee Benefits in a COVID-19 World—Six-Month Update from the International Foundation, the shift to remote working has been dramatic. Prior to the pandemic, an average of 13% were working remotely, compared with 50% who are now. The sudden shift to remote work left many making decisions ahead of drafting policies. According to a Midwest Business Group on Health survey, released this summer, 70% of employers did not have a formal policy for those required to work from home.
Consider the questions below and whether you need to create a new policy or amend your current remote-working policy. Getting specific now may help avoid frustrations and challenges around unclear rules and unmet expectations.
1. Who is eligible?
Some jobs really can be accomplished from anywhere. Others, not so much. Does the position require being able to go to the office on certain occasions? Define who and/or which job function is eligible to pack up their work and head to a location of their choice.
2. Where can they work?
Remote means something different to each person. Make sure work locations are addressed in your policy, from geographical location to acceptable workspace. Must they have a clearly defined work area? Is it ok to work poolside using a hotel’s Wi-Fi? Outside of your state? How about abroad? What are the tax implications of employees working long-term from another state or country?
3. When can they work?
Requests for working hours outside of the standard 9-5 are nothing new, but working remotely can bring a new surge of creative ways to get the job done each day. What if they are in a different time zone? Can they move to an early start/early end time to take advantage of a workation destination?
4. How long—Short term, long term, workation?
What type of WFA arrangement works for your organization in the short and long term? Months-long stay at Grandma’s place in Florida for the winter? Week at a resort? Selling the house and moving, permanently?
5. Where is everyone, really?
Are you truly aware of where your employees are working? Don’t assume no one has moved without notice—especially if you do not have a formal remote work policy. Avoid surprise tax complications and legal issues by verifying. Open enrollment forms may show that some have taken up residency in a new location.
6. What are the legal complications?
The questions above bring many legal questions next. With the quick transition to remote work arrangements during the pandemic, it’s likely your organization missed a step or two to ensure you are in compliance with related workplace regulations. Review this Work-From-Home Legal Issues Checklist and then check in with your legal counsel.
Ann Godsell, CEBS
Director, Professional Development Marketing at the International Foundation
The latest from Word on Benefits:
- What to Consider When Choosing a Mental Health Benefits Strategy
- Taking Benefits Podcast: This Is . . . Jeop-ARPA-dy!
- Changes in Health Care Claims Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic
- How Do Multiemployer Plans Claim COBRA Premium Assistance Credit?
- 18 Prescription Drug Cost-Containment Strategies For Your Plan