By Andrea LaPlant, PHR, SHRM-CP, HR Services Manager at Trüpp

It’s been a busy year for HR professionals who are trying to navigate the coronavirus pandemic for their organizations. Many businesses transitioned their workforce from in-office operations to remote overnight. What was originally thought to be a short-term response to the pandemic is now turning into a long-term solution for organizations as they’ve realized the benefits of a remote workforce.

This shift puts a significant amount of responsibility on HR. The recruiting, onboarding, and employee separation processes must be adjusted to accommodate a distributed workforce. Company policies must be updated to set expectations for remote workers. HR must ensure compliance with state and local employment laws in the regions where employees are working. Finally, it is essential to put programs in place for maintaining company culture and employee engagement among the distributed workforce.

Recruiting, onboarding, and separation

One of the most significant benefits to a remote workforce is access to a larger pool of qualified talent with diverse backgrounds. Candidates are drawn to remote work opportunities. It facilitates work-life balance, eliminates factors like commuting, and results in cost savings since they will be spending less money on eating out for lunch or work attire.

HR adjustments: Update recruiting strategies to accommodate a remote workforce by casting a nationwide search for talent using job boards on platforms like Indeed, LinkedIn, and Glassdoor. Conduct video interviews instead of phone interviews to give HR and hiring managers a sense of how comfortable a candidate is with using technology–an important element of working remotely!

When onboarding a remote employee, be cognizant of the location in which they will be working.

HR adjustments: If the employee will be working from a state where the organization is not currently set up as an employer, HR will need to register with the state and correctly set up payroll taxes for that location, including unemployment and workers compensation insurance and applicable state disability and family medical leave benefits.

Consider conducting the new hire onboarding over video to personalize the welcome and introductions to the team. New hire paperwork should be completed electronically. Form I-9’s can currently be verified remotely if an organization’s workforce is entirely remote, this will eventually shift back to needing to verify documents in person. Determine a local authorized representative who can examine the new hire’s documents, in person, and complete section 2 of the Form I-9. Some states require E-verify; determine if that is a requirement when onboarding employees in new states.

The way that involuntary employee separations take place changes when a workforce is remote because the meetings will likely not be in-person.

HR adjustments: The best way to conduct a separation meeting with a remote employee is to meet with them over video. Sending notice of termination over email is not recommended unless it is sent following a meeting with the individual.

Regardless of the reason an employee is separating, be aware of any state laws regarding final paycheck requirements. Several states require that final wages be paid on the employee’s last day. Coordinate the return of company property, like computers, monitors, etc. Consider providing a pre-paid box and shipping label to the departing employee to ensure proper care and simplify the return of property to the organization.

Updating company policies

Many policies will become obsolete or require updates when transitioning to a partially or completely remote workforce.

HR adjustments: Update policies to set expectations for:

  • Employee availability and methods of communication during the workday, including set work hours
  • Requirements for employee workspaces: reliable high-speed internet, consideration of ergonomic factors
  • Dress code for video calls both internally and externally facing
  • Rest and meal period requirements for non-exempt employees (note: many states have different requirements around this)
  • Tracking of all time worked for non-exempt employees: reading or responding to work emails on personal mobile phones or taking business calls outside of work hours is compensable time and must be tracked

Compliance with state and local employment laws

Organizations must comply with state and local employment laws and policy requirements for all locations where remote employees work.

HR adjustments: Become versed in the following for all locations where the workforce operates. Some requirements apply even with only one person working in the given state:

  • Paid sick and safe leave requirements
  • Anti-harassment/anti-discrimination policy and training requirements
  • Constraints around the enforceability of non-compete agreements
  • Minimum wage standards and overtime variations
  • Minimum annualized salary threshold for exempt employees
  • Lactation/breastfeeding breaks
  • Days of rest requirements
  • Protected leave law requirements (ex: voting leave, domestic violence victims leave, pregnancy disability, school activities, etc.)

Maintain culture and employee engagement

As remote workforces become the norm, company culture and employee engagement will no longer benefit from onsite perks like company-provided coffee and snacks, bring your dog to work day, or ping-pong tables and lounges. Remote workforces can maintain employee engagement and a strong company culture through leadership transparency, encouragement of a healthy work/life balance, and adhering to the organization’s core values.

HR adjustments: Promote the importance of cross-departmental connectivity and transparent communication. Encourage or schedule non-work-related meetings and social events.  Establish channels for employee feedback and provide opportunities for professional development. Set an expectation for managers to hold regular one-on-one virtual meetings with their staff to celebrate accomplishments, review performance, and set goals and priorities.

It’s time to rethink HR

As you can see, there are a number of areas where a distributed workforce impacts the delivery of HR services. As you begin to consider what your business framework will look like moving forward, it is a good time to rethink HR. We recommend an HR strategy that is technology-forward, able to respond to rapid changes with agility, scalable as your business expands and contracts, and able to provide the level of expertise required to maintain strict compliance with rapidly changing employment laws.

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