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Early last year, remote work was a growing but limited part of the workforce. Many employers initially resisted the remote work model for fears that it would reduce collaboration and efficiency.
However, remote work suddenly has become the status quo as many companies have delayed returning to work due to the recent COVID-19 delta variant surge.
Companies are also using this as an opportunity to adopt a new hybrid workplace model.
One study claims 72 percent of employees want to continue working from home at least two days a week. The same study found 74 percent of employees want the option to come in to the office.
Are you ready for the future of hybrid work?
As it turns out, remote work has presented opportunity for the workplace, including better and more sophisticated use of technology. Digital tools such as email, Excel, Google Docs, videoconferencing and virtual whiteboarding have made an employee’s presence in an office less essential.
In addition, technology and less use of physical office space has reduced the need for a physical office or an assigned desk.
Such activity-based working allows employees to spend their day moving between a variety of workspaces, such as a meeting room or spare desk.
No matter what the work arrangement, however, it is crucial that an employer set clear expectations in writing with employees on a hybrid work schedule. Such a document should explain where your employee will be when, and what aspects of their work they will be expected to handle in either location.
As your office adapts to this new telecommuting culture — and the issues of presence, proximity and place — here are some employment law considerations to bear in mind.
Productivity and performance — Employees who have performance problems, those who require close supervision and those who cannot create a home working space that is safe, secure and free from distractions are not ideal candidates for telecommuting.
To mitigate these concerns, all telecommuting employees should be required to sign a remote-work agreement reflecting your company’s telecommuting policy. The agreement and policy should reflect both your company’s expectations for employees’ productivity and availability while working remotely.
The agreement should further state it does not alter the employment at-will status and should cover topics such as when the employee is expected physically to be working; when the employee is expected to be at the home work site; the duties and assignments to be performed; and how overtime at the home work site should be requested and approved.
Moreover, your policy and agreement also should clarify what costs will be reimbursed to the telecommuting employee, such as a printer, paper and other items. If you are reimbursing for using the employee’s data plan, outline under what terms that happens.
Finally, there should be a general clause reserving the employer’s right to pull the employee back into the office if necessary.
Company property — If your telecommuting employees are using company-issued computers, smartphones or tablets, you should ask them sign to a document acknowledging that they have received the equipment and will take appropriate action to prevent damage, loss or theft.
You also should ask the employee to authorize deductions from wages for any willful or intentional loss or damages in accordance with Iowa Code Chapter 91A.
Obtain the employee’s consent for your continued access to the equipment, which may in some situations require access to the employee’s home workspace.
Each of these items can be included in the employees remote work agreement.
In addition, be sure to enforce a clear “acceptable use” policy for employees using company-issued technology at home.
It is easy for employees to blur the lines of what is work related and personal use when using company equipment outside the office.
In his next “The Law” column Stone will discuss scheduling tips for hybrid work.
Wilford H. Stone is a lawyer with Lynch Dallas in Cedar Rapids.