The dos and don’ts of remote working

Gretchen Lennon outlines the benefits and pitfalls of the growing trend, and provides guidance for employers on managing staff based elsewhere

The omnipresence of new (and some very slick) co-working spaces globally, coupled with the advent of Slack, Skype, Google Hangouts, Zoom, Trello and countless other tools, has got many employers asking themselves why they demand their employees are physically present if they don’t absolutely need to be.

Of course, remote working doesn’t lend itself to every role and business. More junior employees benefit from hands-on supervision, training and support. Similarly, employees whose work is highly sensitive and confidential should perhaps be required to keep their work in the office.

However, where remote working is conducive to your business, there can be significant benefits in offering employees the opportunity to find their ‘second desk’, wherever in the world that might be.

Staff morale

Cutting out the commute can offer a huge boost to employee productivity. Without office distractions, or extended water-cooler chats, staff can become a lot more efficient. It can also provide them with a greater sense of autonomy if they feel less monitored at work, which encourages job satisfaction and loyalty.

Instead of monitoring time spent at work, consider moving to a model where you monitor your employees’ output instead – as long as they are still getting the work done, and meeting their deadlines, should it really matter where the work is carried out, or what time of day or night it gets done? 

Talent pool

Remote working completely transforms your talent pool when your people no longer need to live within commuting distance to the office, and can even live on the other side of the world. Recruitment suddenly just got a lot more interesting. The flipside of this benefit, of course, is being mindful of local employment laws, payroll and taxes for the country in which your new employee is based.

Cost savings

Depending on how easily your business lends itself to a remote working model, you could be looking at potentially huge cost savings – if more and more of your desks are empty on a regular basis, you should consider moving to a smaller office space, or even doing away with it altogether.

Beware the loneliness trap 

One of the most consistent frustrations employees tend to experience with remote working is a feeling of isolation, loneliness or lack of team camaraderie. Employers are advised to be mindful of this and encourage team get-togethers and frequent interaction, either in person or via face-to-face technology.

Manage teething problems

As with the introduction of any new policy or business model, you should expect some teething problems. However, once things settle down and your team becomes more familiar with virtual meetings than physical ones, your business and your staff can start to enjoy the numerous benefits remote working has to offer.

Dos and don’ts

Businesses looking to implement remote working should:

  • ensure they have the appropriate technological tools in place, including rigid data security measures and confidentiality procedures;
  • amend employment contracts if needed and shape a new remote working policy to help set boundaries, manage expectations and support their culture;
  • consider whether their remote workers need to complete a short health and safety assessment for their chosen location, as employers continue to have some responsibility for employees’ work environments, even outside the office; and
  • update their employer’s liability insurance policy to cover remote working.

They should also be mindful not to:

  • forget to check international employment laws and payroll laws, as they may need to comply with the employment laws in the remote worker’s location;
  • expose their company to data breaches. Remote workers should be educated about inadvertent disclosure when working in public spaces, and the implications of taking work abroad and unintentionally transferring confidential data across borders;
  • treat remote workers and onsite workers differently. This could put the firm in breach of discrimination laws and leave remote workers feeling isolated; or
  • expect remote workers to be constantly logged in. Remote working culture risks blurring the line between work life and home life and could breach employees’ rights under working time laws.

Gretchen Lennon is a legal consultant at Peregrine Law