Remote & hybrid work wisdom

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For remote work to be successful for employers and employees, there must be excellent communication, clear policies, and effective tools to measure productivity. Lower productivity could be the result of remote work abuse or a misunderstanding of employer expectations.

Articles about remote work often cast employers or employees as angels or demons. Bosses are characterized as evil micromanagers forcing workers to return to work to keep their eye on them while super-productive employees are ripped from their home offices. Or, enlightened bosses willing to meet employee requests for flexibility are rewarded with lazy workers who abuse the system.

Maybe it’s time to have a more balanced look at the realities of remote work. What is remote work abuse? When is a worker exercising the flexibility the job allows?

Some bosses are skeptical about remote work because they lack trust in employees. However, sometimes, they have the right to be concerned about how some employees perform. With in-person work, presentism is often the baseline; being at work is a preliminary thing bosses look at. During work time, employees are expected to perform duties for the company outside of lunch and break times. 

Boss sees onsite workers do their job

Signs Of Remote Work Abuse Vs. Misunderstood Expectations

With remote work, the emphasis is on completing the work within the perimeters set by the employer. Some employees may go to the gym in the morning or pick up their kids later in the day. If they put in the time in the evening to compensate and complete their work on time, their employer still gets the value they paid for from the worker. Taking advantage of the flexibility that remote offers office is not abuse. 

When the workplace is separate from the office, some workers will take advantage of the flexibility, not use their time wisely, and fail to meet productivity standards. An employee who is an actual abuser of the privileges of working remotely might exhibit the following behavior as an ongoing thing.

  • Not responding to emails, texts, calls, or other attempts to reach them during business hours for long periods of time.
  • Not being available for conference calls or video meetings.
  • Not turning in work on time.
  • Going out of town without seeking permission. 
Remote work abuse - is your WFH employee ignoring you?

There are three ways employers can set up remote and hybrid work to make it fair for both sides.

Improve Communication

According to Ellen Bronchetti, an attorney with McDermott Will & Emery in San Francisco, “During this period of time when employees are working remotely, it has never been more important for employers to regularly communicate with and check in with employees.” 

She continues in an article in SHRM, “Regular communication is critical to maintain employee morale and to keep the workplace cohesive. Frequent talks may also help an employer identify an employee who is either struggling with the new remote-work environment or to identify signs of remote-workplace abuse.”

What differentiates a worker who is abusing the system vs. someone working a different schedule is communication. To make sure that people are working and have all the information they need to do the job, a good boss will communicate frequently. A good employee will touch base regularly.

Communication with remote workers
Image by DCStudio on Freepik

Set Remote Work Policies

Remote work is not a one-size-fits-all situation. Companies have expectations for their workers and should establish policies and service guidelines for home workers. 

  • Are workers obliged to work specific hours per day or week?
  • Can they choose their own hours, or does the company expect them to be working during certain times?
  • How quickly are they expected to respond to emails or texts?
  • How often are they expected to check in?
  • What are they expected to do with extra time if they finish their work?
  • What are the procedures for getting help with assignments or reporting problems or delays? 
  • What are the measures of productivity?
  • Do security concerns limit where they can work?
  • If they are W2 workers rather than 1099 contractors, do they need to notify you if they are planning on leaving their home state or country?

Even when employees have the green light to set their own schedule, they may need to tell the employer if they plan to work out of the state or country. Both the employee and the company can be liable for taxes when people work out of their usual location. In addition, should an emergency arise that requires them to come to the office, they might be hard-pressed to do so if they were enjoying a week in Aruba.

Employ Tools

Some companies utilize productivity software like Time Doctor, measure keystrokes, and monitor email or cell phone use to ensure employees stay on track. 

While these approaches appear to promote accountability, using any of these tools is controversial. They can help workers stay on track and make them feel like the employer does not trust them.

Companies should ideally find ways to measure results that do not penalize workers who are doing the job while uncovering those who abuse the system.

Penalties For Remote Work Abuse

Workers who violate policies and don’t communicate with their bosses or teams abuse the privilege of working remotely. For the concept to work, employers and employees must have mutual trust.

Some people enjoy gaming the system and do the minimum, while others need the structure of being in the office to do the job.

If the company finds that workers are abusing the system, as evidenced by low productivity and missing communication, there are several steps they can take.

  • Counsel the worker after determining why they keep violating the rules. An employee might have a difficult home situation that comes up that gets them off track with work.
  • Warn the worker that the remote work privileges will be revoked unless they improve in deficit areas.
  • Require that the worker keep a detailed log of their activities while engaged in work.
  • As the final step, bring the person back to the office to work under closer supervision or, if this is not possible, terminate their employment.
Taking control of remote work abuse

Especially since the pandemic, some at-home workers accept other full-time jobs, which they may work during the same time. If detected, this practice of overemployment is a fireable offense in most companies. The minority opinion, voiced in a recent Business Insider article, is that it shouldn’t matter so long as the employee is completing their work.

Examples Of Effective Remote Work

Cases of possible abuse should be taken seriously and evaluated with respect to company policies.

The boss needs to establish criteria for working, while an employee must state their needs. Communication is key. Just because a worker is not available to take a call at a particular time or cannot meet a particular deadline does not automatically mean they are abusing the parameters of remote work or derelict in their duties. 

Here are examples of situations that might fall within the parameters laid down by the company.

  • Tom has arranged his day to be able to pick up his son from football practice, so he is not available between 3:30 and 4:30 on Tuesdays and Thursdays. He communicates this information with his supervisor and teammates that trying to reach him in real-time or have a meeting on those days might be difficult. He suggests an alternate time to contact him and responds to messages at other times, so there is no problem.
  • Supervisor Roger needs everyone to be available for an important 11:00 meeting on Wednesday. With ample notice, he asks his staff to clear their schedules to be available or communicate if there is an unavoidable conflict.
  • Grace is preparing a report that requires data that is unavailable, so she may not get the work done At the requested time. She should communicate with her supervisor, Mark, to get an extension or prepare a tentative report without the data.
  • Employer Ruth posts a remote job that requires employees to be available for incoming customer calls between 9 and 12 three days a week. She reasonably expects those in the position to be available during those times.
  • Jim plays golf on Thursday afternoon and puts in work time in the evening or on weekends. There is no problem. Though critics like former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg chided remote workers for taking off time to play golf during the day, this should pose no problem if Jim turns in quality work on time. 
Carol Farrish

Carol is a lifelong writer and marketing specialist who has worked remotely for over 15 years. She started doing administrative projects and customer service work part-time, but became 100% remote when her last brick-and-mortar job ended. Not only has working at home been flexible and interesting, but it has also exposed her to wonderful coworkers.

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