“Communication and documentation are key to sound employment practices, but when a large contingent of employees are working remotely, they are even more important…and more challenging.”
— Molly Jones, Partner, Wick Phillips, Employment & Labor
The employment landscape is changing. What are the biggest factors affecting your work with companies/employers today?
The ever-changing landscape of COVID has been the most frequent topic of consultation with clients in the past 18 months. This pandemic has touched on and continues to affect many aspects of employment law – furloughs and layoff; health and safety protocols; COVID-related and other leaves; accommodation issues. Currently, we are counseling many employers about returning employees to the office, focusing on keeping those employees safe but also increasing productivity and collaboration that may have been lacking with remote work.
Many companies are making work-from-home permanent for some – what future issues do you foresee with flexible working arrangements?
Managing the performance of remote employees can be a real issue, especially when organizations have not grown organically or gradually into that arrangement. Some jobs and some employees work well remotely, while others are less successful, and managing remote worker performance requires even more consistent communication than managing a non-remote employee. With increasing workloads for many managers, performance management can be given short shrift or fall through the cracks altogether, which can exacerbate the problems. Working from home can also create challenges for non-exempt workers who are required to track and report their time. Because employees are more likely to multi-task between personal and work tasks at home, some employees may find it difficult to know when to record their time. Employers should set clear guidelines for non-exempt workers to ensure that they are accurately reporting all time worked.
Aside from management and compensation issues, remote work has other organizational challenges, like how to promote company culture and ensuring that employment opportunities are equal for all groups of employees. For example, issues of fairness can arise between workers who are required to work in the office and those who are permitted to work remotely. Given those obstacles, we foresee many companies opting for hybrid work arrangements (with 1-2 days remote per week), rather than moving towards fully remote work in the long-term.
How to you see labor shortages affecting employment over the long term? Or will the market correct itself?
Employers are taking drastic steps to attract candidates right now. We’ve all heard stories of sky-high signing bonuses, hiring bonuses for jobs that traditionally do not have them, and even pay for showing up to an interview. Employers are focused on offering competitive pay and benefits and other creative perks that will bring workers in the door. As difficult as it is in the current climate, employers should continue to focus on hiring employees who fit the organization’s culture and needs for the long term rather than taking stop gap measures that might lead to additional problems in the future.
Since we have no way to know whether labor shortages are a short-term problem or not, retaining quality employees is equally, if not more, important than attracting new talent. This is a good time for employers to evaluate the status of their teams, not only in terms of compensation but work satisfaction, promotions, flexible work arrangements and other aspects of their jobs that could make employees more likely to stay with an organization long-term.
What advice will help employees and employers in today’s workplace environment?
Communication and documentation are always key to sound employment practices, but when a large contingent of employees are working remotely, they are even more important, but also more challenging. Setting up regular check-ins with employees and following up with a short email summarizing the discussion and future expectations can go a long way towards keeping the line of communication open and creating shared expectations. For employees who are working remotely, employers should emphasize that it is crucial to communicate what each person is working on so that employers can address any disparities in workloads.