The coronavirus emergency is a world-wide challenge whose impact is being felt across all levels of government, industry, social institutions, and walks of life. No one is immune from the impact that this virus is having on how we live. And nowhere is this being more acutely felt than in the workplace.
One of the greatest immediate challenges for companies, and HR professionals, has been how to organize alternative work arrangements (AWA). Right now, AWA are not a nice-to-have but rather a necessity given the restrictions being placed on individual movement and guidance being promulgated by government at all levels. For some companies, AWA have been a part of their corporate culture for some time; earlier crises, like the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and frequent weather-related calamities, have forced companies to evaluate how and where employees can operate in emergency situations. For many companies, however, an AWA has not been a front-burner priority - until now.
Alternative Work Arrangements is a general term than encompasses many different forms of non-traditional work schedules. Given the immediacy of the coronavirus and the need to work outside of the office, companies are dealing with the issue as best they can, prepared or not. As the crisis subsides, however, and a “new normal” emerges in the workplace, consider implementing a formal AWA policy in your company and be prepared for what may be a recurrence of unforeseen natural and other disasters.
A few things to consider in a formal AWA policy (in no special order):
- Eligibility - Who will be eligible to participate?Is it only for emergencies? Will this be a culture shift in your organization?
- Applicability and Scope - Unfortunately, not all employees can perform their job duties from outside the workplace.How will this be addressed?Is there a technological solution? Do you have expatriate employees whose schedules are dictated by contract? Do you have unionized employees?
- Approvals - How will you implement a formal approval process if this is your desire?
- Types - AWA encompass many forms.Some, you may be familiar with, like flex hours and staggered start/end times.Some are innovative, and more challenging to implement, like job sharing, and 9/80 schedules, and activity-based work, which puts more control in employees’ hands to determine where and how they will work each day.
- Impact on compensation and benefits - Does your policy clearly address the impact that shortened work hours may have on eligibility for plan benefits?How will you handle sick leave? Vacation leave?
- Non policy things to consider
- Insurance contracts - Does your workers’ compensation policy address homebased sites?
- Equipment and system security - AWA policy is not an HR issue alone.Engage your IT, Compliance, and Legal teams in preparing this policy
- Buy-in - How will you get the support needed to make this policy viewed as a benefit in the eyes of employees that will enhance your employee value proposition?Who will be your trend setters and senior level advocates?
- Training - Will you have formal training programs for managers and staff to educate them on distance working?Will it be mandatory? Will it be web-based?
Today’s workplace is changing rapidly. Open concept seating, flexibility, home-based offices, are already here (coronavirus not withstanding). Are you ready? Do the rest of your policies support these new ways of working? Things to consider as we emerge from this crisis and prepare for the next one.