For many Americans, the living room has become the new office. As companies continue their virtual operations and adjust to a new normal, remote work is becoming a long term business strategy.
Google, Microsoft, and Twitter are among the industry giants that have rendered their work-from-home policies permanent. And it’s not just the big guys. A recent survey of American companies conducted by 451 Research found that two-thirds of respondents plan to extend their telework policies indefinitely. More than half said they expect to reduce or eliminate their physical footprints to accommodate the transition to a largely virtual workforce.
It’s a good time to re-evaluate business policies that may now be defunct.
As the unpredictability of winter approaches, it’s important to consider what inclement weather policies should look like in this new remote landscape. We reached out to Mr. Robert Skelton, CAE, Chief Administrative Officer for the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) for his expertise and insights. Read on for some fundamental policy considerations and best practices as your firm navigates hazardous weather conditions during and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.
Don’t rely on boilerplate solutions.
Weather emergencies can appear in a variety of ways and affect businesses differently. “Inclement weather policies have been causing confusion and misunderstandings long before COVID-19,” says. Mr. Skelton. Like many organizations in the Washington, D.C. area, the ASAE once based their emergency closures on those of the United States Office of Personnel Management (OPM). But they quickly discovered how vastly different the weather could be, even within the local area. “It could be raining on the east side of the Capital Beltway while the west side was getting hammered with several inches of snow. We knew then that a one-size-fits-all approach wasn’t the answer.” Mr. Skelton says the policy was revised to encourage a common-sense approach, giving workers the discretion to decide if it was safe for them to travel to the office. Even now, when so many organizations have gone fully- or largely-virtual, demands can vary. Employees who interact with customers, such as those in service positions, need to be able to communicate seamlessly with them during business hours, even when working from home. In contrast, positions that don’t require this level of customer interface may allow for more flexibility in working hours. As you craft your inclement weather policies, consider the nuances that should be addressed.
Safety may take on a new definition.
“For this coming winter, our basic policy hasn’t changed. Safety still comes first but it takes on a completely different meaning when people are working from home,” says Mr. Skelton. “Instead of evaluating whether it makes sense to come to the office, our focus has shifted to ensuring that our team members can continue to work remotely during a weather event.” Even when there’s no more ‘closing the office’ per se, issues may arise that affect employees’ ability to perform their jobs, such as power outages, which are common in winter weather events. Mr. Skelton recommends companies have a policy in place when internet or phone connectivity is interrupted. “We ask our employees to contact their supervisor in this situation. They can grant administrative leave and determine a workaround if needed.”
Take a practical approach to flexibility.
“In our experience, flexibility is a good business practice,” says Mr. Skelton. “People appreciate it and ultimately it helps their productivity when they don’t feel so constrained and pressured.” Amid a weather event, for example, school-age children may require extra assistance from work-at-home parents and staff members may need to take some time off to shovel their driveways. Again, common sense should prevail. “As long as your employees know their goals and what’s expected of them, do your best to be flexible and allow them to get their work done as they need to.”
Effective communication is still paramount.
Whether it means that employees let management know their power is out or that customers be notified of a potential interruption to service, prompt communication is essential when severe weather strikes. Establish a phone, email, and/or text communication system to get emergency messaging out quickly. You may also wish to publish posts across your social media channels, as appropriate.
The weather can be unpredictable but your company’s response shouldn’t be.
Even in exclusively work-from-home environments, it’s important to decide how you will approach weather emergencies and any subsequent power outages, and to have a policy in place. No matter what guidelines you choose, put them in writing and make them available to all employees so everyone is on the same page.
Is your organization ready to replace outmoded policies with fresh, appropriate guidance that’s suited to the evolving business landscape? The HR Team’s experienced, friendly professionals are here to help. Please reach out to us for more information.
About The HR Team: Founded in 1996, The HR Team is a Maryland-based human resources outsourcing firm committed to developing strategic, customized solutions that respond to the unique needs and cultures of organizations of all types and sizes. Available as a one-source alternative to an in-house HR department or on an à la carte project basis, the company’s flexible service models address the full spectrum of HR needs that many organizations struggle to address. The HR Team helps clients achieve their highest level of success by providing value-driven human resources services that leave them time to focus on what they do best: directing business growth and profitability. Headquartered in Columbia, Maryland, the firm serves all of Maryland, Washington, DC, and Virginia. To learn more about The HR Team, call 410.381.9700 or visit https://www.thehrteam.com/.