Thanks to technological advancements in the modern workplace, remote work, or work-from-home (WFH) jobs have become increasingly more common. According to the Global Workplace Analytics’ analysis of 2018 American Community Service data, work-from-home jobs have grown 173 percent since 2005—11 percent faster than the rest of the workforce. Remote work has likely grown even more so as a result of the 2020 outbreak of COVID-19, which prompted many employers to shift to a remote work model to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
Telecommuting can be an attractive work option for both employees and employers. For employees, flexible work hours and more time to spend with family can make remote work an ideal situation. For employers, hiring remote workers can save money and increase productivity if you manage your remote team effectively.
As more businesses implement work-from-home policies, employers will need to consider how the trend will impact HR initiatives. Here are some best practices for managing HR for remote employees.
Remote Employee Performance Management
How do you manage an employee that you don’t see face-to-face every day? With technology and some effort, it may not be as hard as you think it is. In fact, some evidence shows that working remotely can improve performance.
According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), “77 percent [of employees] reported greater productivity while working offsite.” In addition, the article cites a U.S. News & World Report story that states “Telecommuters log five to seven more hours per week than non-telecommuters” With good management, remote employees can be a boon for business.
Of course, this can all depend on making sure that proper employee performance management practices are in place to monitor performance and make sure that employees stay engaged. In terms of monitoring performance, timesheets or online time tracking can help you keep track of employee productivity.
It’s also good to set up phone or video check-ins to see how they’re doing (but not so often that it feels like they’re being micromanaged). In addition, regular facetime can help remote employees feel like they’re a part of the company.
While telecommuters can have flexible schedules, it’s a good idea to make sure that part of their schedules overlap with office workers and that they work together via Skype, Zoom, Slack, or other communication programs.
Payroll for Remote Employees
Managing payroll can be a complex and time-consuming task for any business owner. However, remote employees might be subject to different payroll regulations and laws depending on where they’re located. Each state, county, and even city can have its own stipulations on how much people are paid and how it happens. This can affect multiple aspects of payroll compliance, including:
- Minimum wage
- Income tax withholding
- Leaves of absence regulations
- Common ownership concerns
- Workers' compensation regulations
- Required information on paystubs
- Payday frequency requirements
- Paycheck delivery requirements
- Payroll deduction requirements
- Overtime calculation (if it differs from the federal regulations)
Employers must also find a way to display federal and state labor law posters for remote employees. You can electronically share the posters via email or in an employee online workplace portal, or you can mail copies for the employee to keep.
In addition, employers need to be aware of any state requirements for the reimbursement of business expenses that remote employees may incur, such as Internet access from a home office. Where the expense may be used for business and personal use, such as having a stable WiFi connection, consider a system to help employees monitor and record how much of the cost is related to business activities and reimbursing employees at least that amount.
Nobody wants to be hit with costly non-compliance penalties, especially for infractions that could be easily avoided. If your employee works in a different city, make sure that you or your payroll provider checks each state’s payroll regulations to make sure that your business is compliant.
Hiring Remote Employees
While some HR functions may be impacted more by remote work locations, the hiring process can be very similar to what it would be for anyone who works on location. Aspects of the process like creating face-to-face time for an interview, assessing skills, and determining if someone is a good culture fit all apply to remote employees as well.
While it’s not always possible to have remote applicants sit down for an in-person interview, technology gives you a way to conduct a “face-to-face” interview. Video interviews through Skype, Zoom, and other tools allow you to still get a more personal feel for how an applicant would fit through nonverbal communication and body language.
Terminating Remote Employees
As for termination, you need to take the same precautions that you would for someone located in your office. Create a checklist of matters to address when an employee is terminated, such as final pay requirements, removing IT and security access, and retrieving any company property in their possession (if the employee has anything). If the employee is out of state, make sure to review the laws in that state. For example, final payment laws can differ, impacting what’s included in a final paycheck and deadlines for when it must be provided.
Another item to consider is how you inform your soon-to-be former employee about the termination. Even if he or she telecommutes, it’s good to let an employee hear the news face-to-face, whether it’s for an in-office meeting or through a video conferencing tool like Skype. The latter may not be as personal, but it’s much better to let someone know about a dismissal during a video conference than via email.
Workplace Safety Concerns for Work-from-Home Employees
Even though remote employees may not work in your office, they still may be subject to health and safety regulations. The level of responsibility an employer has regarding workplace safety for remote employees is hazy.
According to SHRM, OSHA is on record as saying that it “will not conduct at-home workplace inspections and that it will generally not hold employers liable for at-home safety issues.” However, the article also cites attorney Alec Beck stating that “OSHA continues to maintain that employers are responsible for safe working conditions regardless of location.”
As a result, the best plan of action is to create safety reporting systems and policies that can help protect you and your employees. SHRM suggests the following risk management strategies to help reduce the chance of claims against your business:
- Create an at-home work policy and disseminate it to all employees.
- Require that remote employees create and provide evidence of a dedicated work area at home that has been set up according to your specifications.
- Periodically follow up to ensure compliance.
- Require employees to have homeowner's or renter's insurance that covers any potential equipment damage or liability.
- Review the employer's insurance to make sure that all contingencies are covered—including business travel incidents.
- Make it clear that computer security issues are monitored and that employees wishing to use their own computers must have safety protocols installed.
Manage HR for Remote Employees with a PEO
It takes a lot of hard work to run a business. Telecommuting adds yet another layer of complexity to HR management, a task that already requires plenty of time and know-how. This amount of work and expertise is a big reason why many businesses turn to a professional employer organization (PEO) to help manage HR.
At GMS, our experts can help you save time and strengthen your business through payroll management, benefits administration, and other key functions. Contact GMS today to talk to one of our experts about how we can help your company manage remote employees.