Your Team Is Staying Remote. Now What? Recommended Remote Work Policies for a Dispersed Workforce

Many people are working remotely without having signed a remote work policy from their employers. This puts the employer at risk.

In these unprecedented times, many people are working remotely without having signed a remote work policy from their employers. This puts the employer at risk. For protection, employers need appropriate remote work policies in place. Each state has its own specific requirements and regulations regarding types of employees. Please be sure to defer to those policies and regulations to ensure that any remote work policy you create is compliant. When formulating your firm’s policy, here are some things to consider.

Availability & Productivity Expectations

If a firm does allow remote work, then availability expectations should be outlined in their policy. Many firms are allowing flexible and extended hours. Employees should stipulate their regular working hours and have the firm’s approval for all hours worked. By communicating schedules, everyone involved has clearer expectations, creating a healthy relationship between employees and management.

Remote work requires both employees and management to be cognizant of productivity. The productivity of employees who bill their time is easily measured; however, measuring the productivity of employees who do not bill their time, such as administrative personnel, might be a bit more challenging. Though less precise, indirect signs of attitude and behavior can offer a means of measuring productivity. For example, administrative personnel who respond quickly and appropriately will oftentimes be more productive than ones who do not.

Technology Requirements

Remote workers need the right tools to complete their work and maintain their firm’s security. It is critical for firms to approve all technology being used. Technology approved for firm use should not be shared with other members of the employee’s household. If employees do not have the appropriate technology, the firm should provide the equipment to them. In addition, it is essential that all remote employees have secure internet connections and maintain secure passwords.

It is strongly recommended that the firm’s cyber security insurance providers be notified about what percentage of the workforce is working remotely, as well as provided with any additional information that could affect the firm’s security. Make sure that the firm’s existing cyber liability insurance includes remote work.

It is also strongly recommended that a firm have all of its data (accounting, email, documents, and specific databases) stored in a cloud-based system. A firm must ensure that its cloud provider is secure and has comprehensive backup procedures. It is also recommended that all business partners, including cloud providers, provide certificates of insurance. All remote workers will find electronic files easier to manage and access than hard copy documents. Again, it is critical that a firm have the appropriate cloud provider to ensure that all employees are accessing and saving documents correctly.

Technical support must be available not only during regular business hours, but after hours as well. This support should be easily accessible to all employees. Frequent communication between technical support and other employees is critical. It is the responsibility of the supervisors to maintain meaningful and regular communication. The more engaged employees are, the more profitable a law firm is.

Remote workers need the right tools to complete their work and maintain their firm’s security. If employees do not have the appropriate technology, the firm should provide the equipment to them.

Physical Work Environment

In a remote work policy, expectations pertaining to the employee’s physical environment should be clearly outlined. Many firms require a separate space which is used exclusively for work. It is understood that other members of the household may enter or occupy this space, but the space should be primarily used for remote work. An example of this clause in the remote work policy might read:

“The employee will establish an appropriate environment within his or her home for work purposes. The firm will not be responsible for costs associated with initial setup of the employee’s home office such as remodeling, furniture or lighting, nor for repairs or modifications to the home office space.”

It is important to clearly state that injuries sustained by the employee while at his or her home-work location and in conjunction with his or her regular work duties are normally covered by the firm’s workers’ compensation policy. Employees who are working remotely are responsible for notifying the employer of such injuries in accordance with company workers’ compensation procedures. The employee is liable for any injuries sustained by visitors to his or her worksite. Clients should not be visiting employees at their respective homes.

Office Supplies

Purchasing supplies and having them shipped to the office worked well in the past. It may be prudent to continue this practice and then ship supplies from the office to employees as needed. This, however, will require someone at the office to take on additional shipping duties. It may make more sense, therefore, to allow employees a budget to purchase their own office supplies. The best approach may vary not only from firm to firm, but from employee to employee. An innovative and flexible remote work policy may be needed to account for all of the supplies purchased.

Dispersed Employees

While many firms are beginning to reopen, many employees do not want to return to their offices. It is critical that firms document all correspondence and enforce policies in a uniform manner. It is especially important for firms to comply with all HIPPA regulations. Additionally, if an employee resides in another state or jurisdiction, payroll taxes may have to be adjusted. It is recommended that the firm’s accountant be consulted to ensure compliance.

In summary, this is uncharted territory for many firms and the firms that embrace this change will thrive. It is expected that more than 50% of the workforce will be working remotely. Firms that embrace this dynamic will focus their future spending on technology and secure document storage and access. As with any policy, it is important that your firm’s remote work policy be attorney to ensure compliance with current laws. It is also recommended that these policies be reviewed annually and that all employees receive updated documents to sign.

Written by CARET Legal partner, Gail Ruopp. Gail Ruopp has acquired more than 25 years of professional experience in senior law firm management, initiating best practices in administrative operations, including: financials, accounting, lateral recruiting, personnel, day-to-day operations, systems management, and firm marketing.

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