How employers and the economy win with remote work

Employers have been highly affected by the situations that the coronavirus pandemic has brought upon them, but so has the economy. The coronavirus has seemed to bring in a dark cloud over most situations, but now it can be looked at as helping both employers and the economy with the remote working situations. Read this blog post to learn more.


As high profile employers such as Twitter and Slack announce that they will allow employees to work from home indefinitely, other organizations have also noticed the advantages of a remote work model.

Aside from increased productivity and improved mental health for employees, employers can save $11,000 per employee on office costs and even reduce their carbon emissions, says Moe Vela, chief transparency officer at TransparentBusiness, a company that provides a remote workforce management platform.

When it comes to remote work, ”everyone wins across the board,” he says. “Remote work should be viewed no differently than a healthcare insurance package, dental insurance, paid time off, sick leave, or family leave.”

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Vela shared his thoughts on why remote work is the new normal and how employers can use technology to ensure that the experience for their employees is seamless.

How does remote work benefit employers and employees?

Employers benefit tremendously. On average, an employer saves $11,000 per year per employee in a remote workforce model. They need less commercial office space, so their bottom line actually improves because they can cut down on their office expenses. If you have 500 people in an office setting, that's 500 people you need supplies, equipment and infrastructure for — those costs get dramatically reduced or go away completely.

The other benefit to the employer is that productivity goes up in a remote workforce model. There is less absenteeism, workers are happier and also healthier because you're not confined in an office space spreading germs.

Your work life balance is improved dramatically by a remote workforce model for employees. On average, an employee gets two to three hours of their day back into their life because they don't have to commute. That's two to three hours you can spend with your family, that you can engage in self care, that you can run your errands, whatever it is you choose to do.

What advantages does remote work have outside of work?

One beneficiary in a remote workforce model is the economy. When those employees get those two to three hours back, guess what they're doing: they're spending money that was not being put into the economy before.

Another beneficiary is the environment. During this pandemic, there are around 17% less carbon emissions being emitted into the atmosphere and the environment. Climate change is impacted and our environment is a winner in a remote workforce model.

How can employers ensure a seamless remote work experience?

There are three fundamental technologies on the marketplace that every employer should immediately start using. Number one, video conferencing. We're all using it, it works just fine, you’ve got a lot of options in the marketplace from Skype to Zoom, to Google. Number two, file sharing. You have all kinds of file sharing software and services out there in the marketplace. Number three, remote workforce management and coordination software. All you have to do is implement them, and the risk is mitigated almost to nothing.

How can an employee approach management about working from home permanently?

Don't be afraid to ask your employer. Communicate your request very succinctly and very clearly. Let your boss know that you've thought this through. Prove to them that you have the self-discipline, that you have the loyalty, that you're trustworthy, and that you have the environment at home to be effective at working remotely. Use the fact that you've already been doing it as an affirmation, to attest to the fact that it can be done seamlessly and productively.


Best tools to support your remote workforce

The coronavirus pandemic has brought many strains onto the workforce, and some are caused by the fact that employees are now having to work from home. Although working from home can come with benefits, it can also create challenges that weren't noticed before. Read this blog post to learn more.


The remote workplace comes with a lot of benefits — including increased productivity and better focus. But it’s also causing challenges to both employees’ mental and physical well-being.

Disruptions from the coronavirus have infiltrated the daily lives of employees. Everything from proper nutrition to child care and financial concerns are major focus points to many.

Many companies are now stepping up their efforts to adapt their benefit offerings to support employees who work from home. Employers are considering options like work-from-home office policies and stipends, ergonomic workplaces at home or mental health and telemedicine checks.

From virtual fitness memberships and snack boxes to tech tools and online wellness resources, here are some of the best tools employers can provide to support their remote workforce.

Free food at home
While almost everyone is working from home, many employees have lost a popular office perk – free food. That’s why Stadium, a New York City-based group lunch delivery company, introduced a new service in early June where employers can have snacks delivered nationwide to any home office. The service, called SnackMagic, lets employees choose individual snacks and beverages that they like within a gift budget set by the employer.

The coronavirus has also exacerbated the challenge of accessing healthy food and proper nutrition for many across the United States. To address those concerns, meal subscription company Freshly created a new service called Freshly for Business to provide healthy and affordable meals for employees working remotely. The program allows employers to offer free or subsidized meal plans consisting of up to 12 meals per week. Employers including PwC and KPMG, among others, are partnering with Freshly, which costs an average of $8 per meal per employee.
Mindfulness and stress management

As a result of these circumstances, Unplug Meditation, a Los Angeles-based drop-in meditation studio and app, is seeing a surge in corporate programs, and has partnered with companies including Disney, Mattel and Google. The app offers everything from virtual meditation and sound bath sessions, to team building, stress management and customized wellness programs.

Chill Anywhere, a mindfulness and meditation app, is built specifically for the workforce, and provides live mindfulness video practices. It can be offered as an employee benefit or part of an organization's Employee Assistance Program. App users can track their mood before and after each session to see how their mindfulness practice impacts their day-to-day lives.

Financial wellness
As the pandemic sends shockwaves through the U.S. labor market with layoffs, pay cuts and furloughs, employers are making efforts to support the financial security and resiliency of their employees.

SmartPath, a financial counseling platform, launched a free online resource called the Money Moves Quiz to help employees build confidence and a secure financial plan by answering 15 questions about their current situation. The questions cover topics such as levels of emergency savings, home ownership or employment status. Based on the answers, SmartPath will provide a clear financial plan tailored to the employee’s needs.

In March, Alegeus, a consumer-directed healthcare solutions company, introduced a new offering called the Employee Care Card, a debit card that enables employers to offer targeted financial support for employees to address their most immediate needs during the pandemic. Employers determine the amount they wish to contribute per employee, as well as the type of eligible expenses they want to allow — from groceries and home office supplies to educational supplies. Unlike cash or gift cards, employers control how the dollars can be spent, preserve unspent dollars and gain real-time insight into employee spending trends.

As head of an HR tech company and mother of two and CEO from another employee benefits firm, felt the effects of this firsthand. That’s why she decided to offer Outschool.com, an online education platform for children ages 3 to 18, as a benefit to her employees. Outschool offers classes on subjects ranging from life skills, arts and music, to math, coding and science.

Screen Sitters, a virtual child care service connecting sitters with families to entertain children via live 1:1 video, is another service offering overextended working parents some relief. Employers can get flexible packages that integrate into their existing benefits programs. All of the company’s sitters are vetted through a 5-point screening process to ensure safety and a hassle-free transaction for the parents. Children get a personalized experience, as the sitter plans sessions ahead of time based on each child’s personal interests.

This summer, a virtual camp experience is what many facilities and families are choosing to keep their kids safe. Anna Birch, a 23-year summer camp veteran has replaced her usual summer adventure camp programs with an online alternative. The new resource, called The Camp Cloud, provides children ages 6 to 17 with the opportunity to make new friends and engage in guided activities led by institutions like science centers, museums, zoos and aquariums, schools and theaters, without need for significant parental assistance.

Team building
Summer is typically a time when companies plan team outings, parties and activities to give employees an opportunity to bond outside the office. But with COVID-19 taking a toll on group activities, many of those events are now cancelled.

HealthKick, a corporate wellness program, provides a personal well-being hub for companies and their employees to participate from home. From using in-home workout services to taking cooking classes over Skype with meal delivery kits, teams can take advantage of many different activities this summer that they can do together from their new work-from-home offices.

Mental health resources
Employee mental health is a workplace crisis, with many employees experiencing increased anxiety and depression during the pandemic. To address care accessibility issues — including in-person sessions and treatment — imposed by COVID-19, many employers are offering employees access to mental health care online.

Healthstat, a provider of virtual employer-sponsored health centers, is offering a virtual mental health solution, Ment4Me, that helps employers improve access to high quality mental health services for employees who are seeking support for treatable mental health conditions. Ment4Me aims to help reduce the stigma that can often be associated with mental illness. It’s also using artificial intelligence to offer the chatbot “Tess,” a provider of on-demand mental health support.

Mental health benefits provide Happify Health has designed a new program for employees and health plan members to remotely access mental health resources to meet the recent surge in demand. Happify Connect is a part of the organization’s selfcare platform and allows employees to connect with mental health care that is more conducive to the current work-from-home environment. The program directs employees to mental health resources, including self-guided tools within the Happify platform, higher-touch care through integrated partners such as online therapy and a mental health provider directory.

Supportive, a mental wellness support platform, offers 24/7 chat-based peer support on any emotional well-being topic ranging from depression, anxiety and loneliness to daily life struggles like parenting, relationship conflicts or stress and burnout. Users answer the question "what's your struggle?" for Supportiv to analyze and auto-match them to a small group of peers who relate. Each group has a live moderator to guide the chat, make sure each user's needs are met, and vet the personalized resources that appear as hyperlinks in real-time. It can be deployed as a dedicated web link, integrated into an EAP, or embedded as a chat window that appears on any existing benefits portal.

Physical well-being
With gym closures disrupting wellness benefit offerings as well as employees’ workout routines, employers are now looking to virtual solutions.

Earlier this spring, Virgin Pulse, a global provider of digital wellness and wellbeing solutions, launched a dedicated COVID-19 hub to provide employees with resources — ranging from webinars to blog posts — on fitness and nutrition. It aims to help employees build and maintain healthy routines by reducing stress, staying active, being productive, eating healthy and sleeping well. The hub is a resource app for Virgin Pulse users, but also gives free access to health and wellbeing content, programs and resources.

BurnAlong is an online video health and wellness platform where employees can take classes from a network of hundreds of instructors across 45 categories ranging from cardio and yoga to stress, chronic conditions and diabetes. They can take classes alone, or invite friends and colleagues to join them live online for social motivation. The platform, which is used by companies, hospitals, insurers and brokers, is partnered with on-site and local gyms, studios, instructors and wellness professionals to help people achieve their health and wellness goals.
An ergonomic workplace
With employees using everything from their kitchen table to their couch as their workplace, working from home sometimes brings bad ergonomic habits and solutions.

Bad ergonomic habits, if left unaddressed, could mean higher healthcare costs for the employer, lower productivity and the increased potential for an employee to sustain a medical condition.

To be mindful of employees’ who don't work out of an office too, some employers are reimbursing them for remote office furniture.

Livongo, a digital health services company, is offering its remote workers reimbursement for ergonomic and job essential furniture. With the whole company being remote during the pandemic, the office furniture reimbursement benefit was extended to all employees to help make their home offices more efficient. Even before the pandemic, Livongo had a strong remote workforce with more than 1/3 of its employees working remotely. The company says taking the time to set up a workplace that is safe, comfortable and limited from distractions is important for employees to help manage their time and well-being.

SOURCE: Nedlund, E. (19 June 2020) "Best tools to support your remote workforce" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/list/best-tools-to-support-your-remote-workforce


How to Monitor Your Employees — While Respecting Their Privacy

A recent survey found that 55 percent of millennials that had partaken in the survey plan to leave employers that prioritize profits over people. Read this blog post to learn more.


Even before Covid-19 sent an unprecedented number of people to work from home, employers were ramping up their efforts to monitor employee productivity. A 2018 Gartner report revealed that of 239 large corporations, 50% were monitoring the content of employee emails and social media accounts, along with who they met with and how they utilized their workspaces. A year later an Accenture survey of C-suite executives reported that 62% of their organizations were leveraging new tools to collect data on their employees.

These statistics were gathered before the coronavirus pandemic, which has made working from home a necessity for thousands of companies. With that transition having happened so rapidly, employers are left wondering how much work is actually going on. The fear of productivity losses, mingling with the horror of massively declining revenues, has encouraged many leaders to ramp up their employee monitoring efforts.

There is no shortage of digital tools for employee monitoring — or, as privacy advocates put it, “corporate surveillance.” Multiple services enable stealth monitoring, live video feeds, keyboard tracking, optical character recognition, keystroke recording, or location tracking. One such company, Hubstaff, implements random screen capture that can be customized for each person and set to report “once, twice, or three times per 10 minutes,” if managers so wish. Another company, Teramind, captures all keyboard activity and records “all information to comprehensive logs [that] can be used to formulate a base of user-based behavior analytics.”

Despite the easy availability of options, however, monitoring comes with real risk to the companies that pursue it. Surveillance threatens to erode trust between employers and employees. Accenture found that 52% of employees believe that mishandling of data damages trust — and only 30% of the C-suite executives who were polled reported themselves as “confident” that the data would always be used responsibly. Employees who are now subject to new levels of surveillance report being both “incredibly stressed out” by the constant monitoring and also afraid to speak up, a recipe for not only dissatisfaction but also burnout, both of which — ironically — decrease productivity. Worse, monitoring can invite a backlash: In October of 2019 Google employees went public about spy tools allegedly created to suppress internal dissent.

Tempting as it may be to implement monitoring in the service of protecting productivity, it also stands in stark contrast to recent trends in the corporate world. Many organizations have committed to fostering a better employee experience, with a particular focus on diversity and inclusion. There are not only strong ethical reasons for having one’s eye on that ball, but good bottom line reasons as well. The Deloitte Global Millennial Survey from 2019 found that 55% of millennials plan to leave employers that prioritize profits over people. Retention — which should be a priority for all companies, given the high expense of making and onboarding new hires — becomes difficult and costly for companies that don’t reflect those values. Given the risk of alienating employees coupled with the possibility of error and misapplication of these tools, it is quite likely that, for many, the juice just isn’t worth the squeeze.

Even so, some companies will still find it worth the tradeoffs. Justified fear of a collapsing economy reasonably drives employers to monitor their employees to ensure they are being productive and efficient. Indeed, they may even have ethically admirable aims in doing so, such as for the sake of their employees’ health and the health of the country as a whole. Furthermore, if the tools are deployed with the goal of discovering which employees are in need of additional help — more on this below — that may be all the more reason to monitor. But if your business concludes that it ought to monitor employees (for whatever reason), it is important to do so in a way that maximally respects its employees.

Here are six recommendations on how to walk this tightrope.

1. Choose your metrics carefully by involving all relevant stakeholders.
Applying numbers to things is easy, as is making quick judgments based on numeric scores spit out by a piece of software. This leads to both unnecessary surveillance and ill-formed decisions. It’s simply too easy to react to information that, in practice, is irrelevant to productivity, efficiency, and revenue. If you insist on monitoring employees, make sure what you’re tracking is relevant and necessary. Simply monitoring the quantity of emails written or read, for instance, is not a reliable indicator of productivity.

If you want the right metrics, then engage all of the relevant stakeholders in the process to determine those metrics, from hiring managers to supervisors to those who are actually being monitored. With regards to employee engagement it is especially important to reach both experienced and new employees, and that they are able to deliver their input in a setting where there is no fear of reprisal. For instance, they can be in discussion with a supervisor — but preferably not their direct supervisor, who has the authority to fire or promote them.

2. Be transparent with your employees about what you’re monitoring and why. 
Part and parcel of respecting someone is that you take the time to openly and honestly communicate with them. Tell your employees what you’re monitoring and why. Give them the opportunity to offer feedback. Share the results of the monitoring with them and, crucially, provide a system by which they can appeal decisions about their career influenced by the data collected.

Transparency increases employee acceptance rates. Gartner found that only 30% of employees were comfortable with their employer monitoring their email. But in the same study, when an employer shared that they would be monitoring and explained why, more than 50% of workers reported being comfortable with it.

3. Offer carrots as well as sticks.
Monitoring or surveillance software is implicitly tied to overseers who are bent on compliance and submission. Oppressive governments, for example, tie surveillance with threats of fines and imprisonment. But you don’t need to pursue monitoring as a method of oppression. You would do better to think about it as a tool by which you can figure out how to help your employees be more productive or reward them for their hustle. That means thinking about what kinds of carrots can be used to motivate and boost relevant numbers, not just sticks to discourage inefficiencies.

4. Accept that very good workers will not always be able to do very good work all the time — especially under present circumstances.
These are unique times and it would be wrong — both ethically and factually — to make decisions about who is and who is not a good employee or a hard worker based on performance under these conditions. Some very hard-working and talented employees may be stretched extraordinarily thin due to a lack of school and child care options, for instance. These are people you want to keep because, in the long run, they provide a tremendous amount of value. Ensure that your supervisors take the time to talk to their supervisees when the numbers aren’t what you want them to be. And again, that conversation should reflect an understanding of the employee’s situation and focus on creative solutions, not threats.

5. Monitor your own systems to ensure that people of color and other vulnerable groups are not disproportionately affected.
Central to any company’s diversity and inclusion effort is a commitment to eliminating any discrimination against traditionally marginalized populations. Precisely because they have been marginalized, those populations tend to occupy more junior roles in an organization — and junior roles often suffer the most scrutiny. This means that there is a risk of disproportionately surveilling the very groups a company’s inclusivity efforts are designed to protect, which invites significant ethical, reputational, and legal risks.

If employee monitoring is being used, it is important that the most junior people are not surveilled to a greater extent than their managers, or at least not to an extent that places special burdens on them. For instance, it would be particularly troublesome if very junior employees received a level of surveillance — say, sentiment analysis or keyboard logging — that only slightly more senior people did not. A policy that says, “This is how we monitor all employees” raises fewer ethical red flags than a policy that says, “This is how we monitor most employees, except for the most junior ones, who undergo a great deal more surveillance.” Equal application of the law, in other words, legitimately blunts the force of charges of discrimination.

6. Decrease monitoring when and where you can.
The impulse to monitor is understandable, especially in these times. But as people return to their offices — and even as some continue to work from home — look for places to pull back monitoring efforts where things are going well. This communicates trust to employees. It also corrects for the tendency to acquire more control than necessary when circumstances are not as severe as they once were.

At the end of the day, your employees are your most valuable assets. They possess institutional knowledge and skills others do not. You’ve invested time and money in them and they are very expensive to replace. Treating them with respect is not only something they deserve — it’s crucial for a company’s retention efforts. If your company does choose to move ahead with surveillance software in this climate, you need to remind yourself that you are not the police. You should be monitoring employees not with a raised baton, but with an outstretched hand.

SOURCE: Blackman, R. (28 May 2020) "How to Monitor Your Employees — While Respecting Their Privacy" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2020/05/how-to-monitor-your-employees-while-respecting-their-privacy


Viewpoint: Introverts and Extraverts in the Time of COVID-19

As working remotely has become a new workplace norm for many employees and employers, many social effects may start becoming more clear. Read this blog post to learn more about considerations to ease interactions regarding introverts and extroverts in the workplace.


If you're working from home during the coronavirus pandemic, you and your co-workers maybe starting to feel the social effects of remote working. You may be on a plethora of video and phone calls throughout the day. Do some people's communication and manners rub you the wrong way? Here are a few considerations that can ease your interactions.

Extraverts

Extraverts are people who get energized by being around other people. They seek out opportunities to engage others and thrive when working with others, at least compared to introverts. In a more extreme form, they may be uncomfortable being alone for any length of time.

In the time of COVID-19, extraverts are deprived of the physical presence of their colleagues. There are no cubicles or offices to visit, informal chats in the coffee areas or regular meetings in a conference room. They are missing the interactions big and small that really get them going. Being deprived of those built-in connections with others is a real loss for extraverts. They will probably prefer video meetings over phone calls, which they prefer to text (e-mail, chat or Slack) for that dose of connection.

Living alone during this time can be a real hardship. While sheltering-in-place, they may have no in-person contact with other people, unless they go to a store or walk a dog. They are deprived of something that, for them, is emotionally akin to food. Video chats and phone calls are unlikely to provide the same energy lift.

Extraverts who live with others have the advantage of the physical presence of others, but depending on who those people are (e.g., children, sick relative, or roommate or partner who is out of work or having a hard time), the lift may be offset by juggling the demands of work and the demands of home.

Introverts

Introverts are energized by being alone. That's how they recharge. In the workplace, they seek out quiet places to work alone: the empty conference room, a quiet office. Interacting with people all day, as in a typical workplace, can be exhausting.

In the time of COVID-19, introverts may initially find that working from home is a relief, a reprieve from the more frequent interactions in a typical workplace, particularly an open-plan office. However, working from home has new challenges for introverts. Video calls can feel intrusive; there's too much eye contact. If they have large screens or laptops, other people are simply too big, or there are too many of them. It can feel overwhelming.

Introverts who live with others during this time may find that challenging. It can be hard to get real alone time, particularly if they are on numerous video calls, or they live in a space that doesn't provide much opportunity to be alone. Commuting time, which may have allowed some alone time with or without strangers, is gone. Now, when introverts live with others, and space is tight or children sprawl throughout the home, there may be no room of one's own.

Introverts enjoy some limited types of social interaction, but once they've had enough social time, they're ready to leave. Now, circumstances may require that they continue to engage—such as a day full of video meetings for work. It's worth noting that introversion is different from shyness, in which conflicted individuals want social interaction but also are anxious about such interactions. Introverts have no such conflict.

For introverts, phone calls may be preferred to video calls, and communicating via text may be preferred to phone calls, when that makes sense for the task at hand. Introverts may want to turn off their cameras on video calls.

Most people are neither extremely introverted nor extraverted. They are somewhere in between.

Solutions

Given we're in this for the long haul—a marathon, not a sprint—we need solutions, which start with encouraging employees to develop self-awareness. What is the type and range of optimal communication with colleagues and partners given the demands of the job, their level of introversion/extraversion and their current living situation? Would they be better off with some of the contact via phone calls rather than video? Phone calls rather than e-mail or Slack? Perhaps extraverts can seek out other extraverts?

The cramped spaces most employees are working and living in also mean that we're not moving in the way we would at work. Most of us are sitting (or standing) in the same place with much more constrained movements while we're on our computers. Most of us don't have to walk far to get our coffee or lunch. We're not walking to the conference room. It's as if we're chained to our workstations at home. For both introverts and extraverts, I've been encouraging people to vary where they work within their homes, depending on what's available; to move their "workstation" around: a bed, a chair, a different chair, or standing up. The uniformity of the experience at their workstations can itself make the day seem unending and amplify either the social deprivation for the extravert or the social intrusiveness for the introvert.

Stela Lupushor, management consultant and founder of Reframe Work, urges managers to "help employees to realize that identity switching can also be taxing on the emotional state." When working in the office, the commute time allowed us to switch from our "work" persona to "home" persona. That switching now happens every single time an employee's child walks by his or her workstation or the dog barks, and it can deplete the employee's emotional equilibrium faster. Sheer awareness of this fact can help employees develop coping strategies, such as scheduling breaks, "off limits" hours and time for nonwork activities.

Encourage employees to pace themselves. It's wonderful that workplaces are creating virtual social hours, but, like their physical counterparts, make sure it's OK for employees not to attend, or to show up for a little while and leave early. Feeling pressure to attend and stay the whole time will use up the introverts' bandwidth for social engagement.

Judy Heyboer, executive coach, HR consultant and former CHRO for Genentech, noted, "There is no 'one-size-fits-all' approach that works for managing in a crisis. Knowing your people's behavioral style is essential to crafting an approach that optimizes both comfort and productivity." Managers can help by first being aware of their own introversion/extroversion level and recognizing that direct reports will have different levels. An introvert manager may prefer written communication or phone, but some direct reports may want to check in by video. An extravert manager may want a lot of video meetings, but some direct reports aren't enthusiastic about it. A mix is probably best, but managers should check in with their direct reports and specifically ask about preferences for different types of meetings or information flow. Encourage managers to be sensitive to what their team members prefer.

Video may be the preferred modality for team meetings, but make the meetings count. Encourage the meeting leaders to be thoughtful about agendas. Make sure agendas are distributed in advance—and that those expected to attend have a reason to be there, they know why they are there, and they know how they are expected to contribute.

Long Haul

Tunji Oki, Ph.D., industrial/organizational psychologist at Google, noted, "with the influx of stress that extraverts and introverts are facing during this time due to work-related adjustments or personal situations, and the inability for employees to take true vacations, managers should be more transparent about allowing their employees to take paid 'mental health' days as needed to maintain their productivity level."

As we must prepare for sheltering-in-place to last for weeks in this phase, and likely again in the autumn, we have to experiment in order to do this better. And we have to communicate with each other.

SOURCE: Rosenberg, R. (30 April 2020) "Viewpoint: Introverts and Extraverts in the Time of COVID-19' (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/employee-relations/pages/viewpoint-introverts-and-extraverts-in-the-time-of-covid-19.aspx


Taking Walks with the Kids Is One Perk of Working Remotely; Handling Their Meltdowns Is Not

Although many employees are now enjoying the perks that come with working remotely, such as saving time on their daily commutes, there are also downsides that may come with it. Read this blog post to learn more.


Time with kids. Time with pets. Time to exercise. Time to cook. Time to sleep in.

These are among the perks that employees appreciate while having to work from home during the coronavirus pandemic, according to the results of a recent survey.

But there are downsides, too: trying to work while overseeing kids' schooling, for instance, or being distracted by children so stressed-out by quarantine that they frequently cry or act out.

"The level of remote employees reporting enjoying the extra time they have as a result of not commuting one to two hours a day was an intense theme," said Paul White, Ph.D., a psychologist in Wichita, Kan., who writes on relationships in the workplace and who conducted the survey with Natalie Hamrick, Ph.D., a research psychologist.

By that, White said, he means that the vast majority of respondents indicated that not having to commute was one of the things they most appreciated about being forced to work from home.

"We wanted to learn about newly remote employees—those who were forced to work remotely," said White, who is co-author of four books, including The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace (Northfield Press, 2014). "With the millions of new remote workers—who face different challenges than traditional remote workers—we thought it would be wise to explore the experiences, perceptions, reactions and coping mechanisms of this group of workers … for the purpose of providing guidance to leaders, supervisors and HR professionals in understanding their new remote employees and how best to support them."

From more than 1,200 applicants, White chose 50 people representing different ages, genders, geographies and living situations. Most participants had been working remotely less than two weeks when the study began. They were asked to fill out an online questionnaire once a week for four weeks, answering questions about their concerns, the challenges they faced, their anxiety level, what they were anxious about, what coping behaviors they were using, the feelings they were experiencing and the positive aspects of working from home.

Anxiety Levels

Respondents tended to report a moderate amount of anxiety—about their health and the health of their relatives and about the impact of the pandemic globally and on the economy.

The levels of stress and anxiety were fairly consistent across the respondents' ages, genders, family situations, living arrangements and geography, which surprised White.

"I thought maybe that living in an urban setting rather than a rural one might feel more stressful," he said. "But there was no difference between participants in those groups as to anxiety, stress or positive reports. Same thing for whether you lived alone or not, or had kids or not."

Managing Kids

Respondents who had children reported that their biggest challenges when working from home were things like "working while overseeing my children's schooling" and handling cooped-up children who were experiencing "lots of crying and meltdowns."

"Employers and employees alike must recognize that working from home naturally involves surrounding noises like animals and children," said Michael Masset, chief human resources officer at ITWP, a digital market research company based in Wilton, Conn. "We are all human and having to deal with more than we have before. Child care and schooling have been disrupted. Companies must maintain structure for employees but also provide flexibility where necessary—not only because it's the right thing to do but because it will ultimately lead to greater productivity."

The Upside to Working at Home

One thing that surprised White was the number of people who said not having to commute was the most positive aspect of working from home.

"The intensity of [the reply] and the breadth of it were unexpected," he said, noting that "not commuting" was an answer to an open-ended question, not a choice on a list of answers. "It was [about] … more time with family, lunch with the wife, walks with my kids, time for exercising. It populated the majority of the positive things they were mentioning."

Should managers worry that employees who report having more time for exercising, cooking or playing with kids might be less productive than they were at the workplace?

Mercer partner and business segment leader Adam Pressman says the consultancy is "hearing from both employers and employees that there are two sides to this coin."

"On one hand, employees that work from home do report they have extra time in their day due to less travel and no commute," he said. "However, we are also hearing concerns about maintaining work/life balance and managing burnout. With everyone working at home, e-mail traffic has increased and the amount of time on Zoom and conference calls has increased as well. And for employees who are parents with children now being forced to do online learning, it can be a challenge to keep up with both work and family needs.

"We encourage employers to be empathetic during this time and allow people to find a work structure and approach that works for them."

Alex Konankykhin is the CEO of TransparentBusiness, a New York City-based workforce management and coordination software company. While it's a leader's duty to worry about employee performance, he said, good managers know who their solid performers are. That probably isn't going to change when those employees work at home, even if they are "in their jammies," he noted.

"Managers know that [some] employees may give in to the temptation to take advantage of the lack of transparency into their work and enjoy Netflix marathons, moonlight for other companies, work on a personal pet project or spend time on domestic matters," Konankykhin said. But, he added, "every manager knows [which of his or her] workers are dedicated employees. And often, when working at home, [they put in] more hours than they used to in the office, due to the time saved on the daily commute and due to the higher comfort level of working at home."

SOURCE: Wilkie, D. (06 May 2020) "Taking Walks with the Kids Is One Perk of Working Remotely; Handling Their Meltdowns Is Not" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/people-managers/pages/newly-remote-workers-coronavirus-.aspx


Employees clock in more downtime when working from home

Did you know: since many employees have started working remotely due to the coronavirus, there has been an average of two hours of downtime, a day. Read this blog post to learn more.


Since stay-at-home and shutdown orders were enforced amid the coronavirus fallout, hundreds of businesses in the U.S. have turned to working from home to reduce exposure. But as the remote workforce expands, employers and employees have been faced with a new set of challenges — one of them being more downtime.

Remote employees average two hours of downtime per day, which is 20 minutes more per day than on-site employees, according to a new Paychex study, where 1,000 remote and on-site employees were surveyed about their daily downtime at work.

The transition to remote work has been beneficial to some workers, who have reported increased productivity due to fewer in-office distractions. When asked about the biggest reasons they decided to work remotely, 79% of remote workers responded with increased productivity and better focus, according to a study by Owl Labs, a video conferencing technology company.

But other employees may be negatively affected due to supervisors being unable to physically monitor downtime, says Joey Morris, a project manager at Paychex.

“The two most popular reasons for downtime were that employees completed work too quickly and that the availability of work was inconsistent,” Morris says. “Interestingly, nearly one in three employees said they chose to make downtime during their workday, making this the third most popular reason.”

The study found three hours of down time a day was considered too much, leading to boredom and other negative effects. Workers are more likely to leave a job due to excessive downtime than to be terminated for it, Morris says.

“This kind of excessive downtime was related to lower rates of job satisfaction, salary satisfaction, and employee retention,” he says. “More than one in 10 employees said too much downtime was responsible for leaving or being let go from a position.”

However, downtime can have some benefits, too. Thirty one percent of employees said they chose to make downtime during the day, and 23% said their work wasn’t urgent. Thirteen percent said they could ask for more work, but chose not to.

Taking breaks at work is important to make employees feel more engaged and productive, according to a survey from Tork, as North American workers who take a lunch break every day scored higher on a wide range of engagement metrics, including job satisfaction, efficiency, and likelihood to recommend their company to others.

The top ways in which employees spend their downtime at work are browsing the internet, socializing with co-workers, texting or messaging, eating food and browsing social media, according to the Paychex study.

While employers may want to reduce downtime and increase employee efficiency, results from the study indicate it is important to maintain a balance, Morris says. Having too little downtime was nearly as bad for employee satisfaction as having too much.

“Efficient management of employee time is not only important to a business' bottom line, but it is also important to employee satisfaction,” he says. ”Employees want to feel engaged when they come to work and there is an understanding that stagnation in any position can negatively influence one's career trajectory.”

SOURCE: Nedlund, E. (1 May 2020) "Employees clock in more downtime when working from home" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/employees-clock-in-more-downtime-when-working-from-home


Worker burnout is soaring. Here’s how to reach your employees before it’s too late

Did you know: 77 percent of employees have experienced burnout at their current job. With the coronavirus causing employees to change the way they work, that number may be standing firm. Read this blog post to learn how to reach your employees before they become burnt out during this pandemic.


Coronavirus has caused a total upheaval of the workplace, forcing the majority of companies to work remotely. As workers balance their professional responsibilities with increased stress and anxiety, the risk of burnout is soaring.

The typical signs of burnout in the workplace include missed deadlines, declining relationships, absenteeism and poor performance, and 77% of employees have experienced burnout at their current job, according to a 2019 survey by Deloitte. Ninety-one percent said that feelings of stress and frustration impact their work and personal relationships. The abrupt change in routine caused by coronavirus has pushed more workers to feel the strain.

“Global crises can affect the economy and the job market — even employees who don't deal with mental health issues might need behavioral health support during this time," says Dr. Rachelle Scott, a medical director of psychiatry at Eden Health, an insurance provider. “And in times of high stress, burnout may be accelerated.”

Burnout, when not addressed, can lead to more serious mental health issues. Now characterized as a psychological syndrome, 59% of people diagnosed with burnout were also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, and 58% were diagnosed with depression, according to a study by Frontiers in Psychology, a medical journal. These mental health diagnoses negatively affect workplace productivity and the company’s bottom line. Burnout is estimated to cost $125 to $190 billion in lost productivity and healthcare costs, according to Gallup.

And while now is a critical time to work collaboratively and communicate openly, even those close virtual quarters can spread feelings of stress and burnout faster than normal.

“Burnout is likely to pop up from employee to employee and affects all levels,” Scott says. “If an employee is burned out, others may have to pick up the slack. And if the employee quits, it takes time and money to replace them.”

Employee healthcare programs can be the first step to identifying the early signs of burnout and addressing a treatment plan, says Matt McCambridge, chief executive officer of Eden Health. A company’s healthcare plan needs to allow employees to have relationships with both a primary care provider and a behavioral health provider within the same network.

“Primary care physicians will be the first people to hear about employee burnout, so the better they know their patients, the earlier they can notice these changes," McCambridge says. “Health plans need to integrate primary care and behavioral health, where a PCP can recommend a behavioral health person within their own practice."

Without the ease and accessibility of comprehensive care, companies and their employees are missing out on essential benefits and cost-cutting measures.

“Unless people can get the services directly, you're not providing the benefits you should," McCambridge says. “Comprehensive health care reduces burnout and reduces cost by 9-17%.”

Beyond healthcare measures, employers should take the lead and be cognizant of changes with their employees, says Kathleen Harris, the former vice president of benefits at WarnerMedia. Offering support through programs like remote lunches or video one-on-ones with managers can help foster a sense of understanding and compassion.

“Employees need that time to have open and honest conversations and raise their issues to their manager," Harris says. “While you can't change company culture overnight, you can put policies and programs in place. Celebrate the wins and give them acknowledgement.”

Without addressing burnout early on, managers and employers are missing an opportunity to provide care to their employees, before it’s too late.

“There are multiple opportunities to step in and support those employees before they get to rock bottom,” Eden Health’s Scott says.

SOUCE: Place, A. (03 April 2020) "Worker burnout is soaring. Here’s how to reach your employees before it’s too late" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/worker-burnout-is-soaring-heres-how-to-reach-your-employees-before-its-too-late


Remote Work Policies Should Now Stress Flexibility

While employers are in the midst of distributing guidelines for employees working remotely, it's important for management to also outline policies and procedures for working remotely. Read this blog post to learn more.


Organizations are implementing remote-work arrangements for their employees due to the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak—many for the first time—and need to be able to outline expectations and guidelines for working outside the office.

Generally, remote-work policies cover eligibility, working expectations, legal considerations and technology issues, but, during these extraordinary circumstances, flexibility is paramount.

We're undergoing one of the biggest changes in history in how people work, said Brian Kropp, chief of research in the HR practice at Gartner, a research and advisory firm in Arlington, Va. "We have a set of people who have never worked from home who are now doing it full time. We also have a set of managers who have never managed people working from home. Under these circumstances, the policies shouldn't be thought of as managing productivity, but more a set of guidelines and norms for people managing and working in a brand-new way."

Kropp said that employers should design their remote-work policies around outcomes, not workflows and processes. "The idea is that employees are expected to accomplish their goals, but how they do it and when they do it is flexible."

Just applying a traditional telecommuting policy to all workers during this unprecedented situation will lead to problems, Kropp said. "Look at your current policy and see what makes sense in this situation, and, if you're not sure, lean toward flexibility and trust as opposed to measuring and monitoring your employees. If employees are not given flexibility, it will be harder for them in their personal lives and they will feel that they are not trusted, which will come back to bite the organization when we come out of this."

Gregory Abrams, an attorney in the Chicago office of Faegre Drinker, said that being flexible with remote workers right now is not only good management practice but necessary, considering the quickly changing legal landscape.

"Clear policies are always advisable, but employers must be ready to adjust quickly as circumstances change," he said, noting that new Department of Labor guidelines could affect remote work. "Policies should clarify that expectations are subject to change quickly and unexpectedly given the current climate."

With flexibility as a guide, there are certain core elements of working from home that should be addressed in a written policy.

Define Eligibility and Duration

First, companies should define whom the policy covers and when it applies, as some workers may still be required to be at the worksite and others may not be able to work remotely. Employers may want to clarify whether the policy is only in effect during the coronavirus-related shutdown.

Kropp advised employers not to promise a definitive date to return to the office or termination of the telework policy due to general uncertainty about the duration of COVID-19.

A remote-work policy should include a clause that it may be discontinued at will and at any time.

Working Expectations

Experts agreed that evaluation of remote workers' performance should focus on work output and completion of objectives rather than on time-based performance.

"There are managers that think their employees are sitting at home watching TV all day instead of in front of their laptop working," Kropp said. "The mistake that these managers make is that they are confusing a remote-work policy with a performance management problem. The same employee who sits in front of the TV all day instead of working was probably already not working to his full potential in the office. That employee is not engaged, or the manager is not effectively providing direction."

An appropriate level of communication between employees and their managers should be spelled out in the policy, including expectations of availability, responsiveness and what modes of communication are to be used.

"When you're not meeting with team members in person, creating processes for collaboration and communication are key," said Rebecca Corliss, vice president of marketing for Owl Labs, a Boston-based telecommunications company. "Consider what types of communication tools work best in situations like manager one-on-ones, team all-hands meetings or employee learning and development activities."

Kropp said that, traditionally, there has been an expectation that video calls and meetings from home would be professional and "office-like." Companies are realizing that can be difficult with what's going on now, he added. "A lot of workers are parents with kids at home or taking care of an older parent. A kid will show up crying during one of your WebEx calls. It's going to happen, so companies are relaxing the constraints around what 'professional' and 'office-like' means. Obviously, you can't walk around in your underwear during a video call, but 'appropriate' rather than 'office-like' is a better way to show understanding of the struggles everyone is experiencing."

Legal Issues to Grant

Remote workers are entitled to the same legal protections that in-office workers have, Corliss said. "Working remotely can present some added challenges that need to be addressed to ensure your company is legally compliant," she noted.

One of the most obvious compliance areas to address with remote employees is recording the hours of workers not exempt from the overtime requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

Employers must ensure that hourly employees know "the number of hours they are expected to work, what they should do if they need to work outside of scheduled work hours, how to report time, and how to communicate about unanticipated overtime," Abrams said. "There are legions of cases where nonexempt employees allege that they worked off the clock while at home, and you can see a similar scenario playing out during this crisis."

The policy should be clear that all nonexempt telecommuting employees are required to accurately record all hours worked using the employer's time-keeping system. Hours worked in excess of those scheduled per day and per workweek should require the advance approval of a supervisor. But even if employees are instructed not to work more than 40 hours a week, they still must be paid overtime if they do.

"Set up a process to report hours for hourly remote workers," Corliss said. "To avoid high overtime costs, select times that employees should and shouldn't be working. With clear guidelines, they won't be able to work outside of these hours unless they have permission from their manager. This makes it easier to avoid employees accidentally working more hours than intended."

Abrams added that states have various laws about meal breaks, rest breaks, and how many consecutive hours one can work, and remote work policies need to be mindful of those as well. There could also be Americans with Disabilities Act issues, he said, if accommodations need to be made for remote workers.

Employers are also responsible for remote workers' health and safety. Some companies prefer or require an employee's remote work environment to be approved prior to working remotely.

Injuries sustained by an employee in a home office location and in conjunction with his or her regular work duties are normally covered by a company's workers' compensation policy. Remote employees are responsible for notifying the employer of such injuries as soon as possible.

Technology and Supplies

Remote workers need the right tools to complete their work. Employers need to be clear about what equipment and resources they will provide, whether laptops and videoconferencing tools or payments for office supplies, phone calls, shipping and home-office modifications.

Who pays for home technology is up to the company, but a policy should set expectations to make sure everyone is on the same page, Kropp said. "Both employees and employers must agree on what each is expected to deliver. For example, some companies will pay for high-quality home Wi-Fi, and others are expecting that the worker already have it at home."

For many employees, a laptop and a Wi-Fi connection might not be enough, Corliss said. "You'll also need policies and tools in place for remote team collaboration and communication, like live chat, synchronous screencast recording, live video conferencing and more to ensure technology doesn't get in the way of an effective and meaningful work relationship. Slack and Google Hangouts can act as a virtual water cooler, where employees can discuss the status of a project but also debrief on TV shows, share GIFs and bond over their favorite music."

Companies also should specify the level of tech support they will offer to remote workers and outline what remote employees should do when having technical difficulties.

Employers need to pay extra attention to securing the technology their remote workforce is using. The COVID-19 pandemic is providing plenty of new opportunities for cybercriminals to exploit unsecured technology systems, overworked information technology (IT) staff and panicked employees who are new to working from home.

"In the course of developing communications to employees, examine existing policies closely, such as confidentiality, information security, business continuity, BYOD," said Joseph Lazzarotti, an attorney in the Morristown, N.J., office of Jackson Lewis. "If companies have specific requests, for example if they don't want employees working on public Wi-Fi, then that should be stated in the policy."

SOURCE: Maurer, R. (02 April 2020) "Remote Work Policies Should Now Stress Flexibility" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-news/Pages/Remote-Work-Policies-Should-Now-Stress-Flexibility.aspx


How HR leaders can make remote work pain free

As employees begin to transfer from office desks to kitchen tables, their bodies will begin to experience pain that may be foreign. Due to several state governments creating laws about closing down businesses and emphasizing social distancing, working from the comfort of the home may become the new everyday norm. Read this blog post to learn helpful tips on how to stay healthy during this period.


In response to the COVID-19 crisis, workers around the world are leaving their office chairs and desks for couches and kitchen tables. As HR professionals work to keep employees healthy and productive while they're at home, back and neck pain from these ad-hoc arrangements will quickly become another challenge to tackle.

Back pain is extremely common — 80% of us will experience it in our lifetimes. Even under normal circumstances, research has found that back pain in the workplace can make it more difficult to focus and make decisions. And stress and anxiety can make the experience of pain even worse.

“Problems come up when you’re sitting in one position for too long slouched down, or with your back rounded forward,” says Jim White, exercise specialist at Fern Health, a company that provides digital musculoskeletal pain programs to employers. “This can overstretch the ligaments in your spine and put strain on your spinal discs, which protect your vertebrae from rubbing together.”

HR managers can help support employees working remotely by recommending how any workspace can be made safe and comfortable. White suggests the below tips, whether employees are working from their own home office or are making calls from the couch.

Check your posture. Posture alignment makes a big difference, White says. A daily posture checklist should include:

  • Align elbows and wrists. When sitting and typing, elbows should be at ninety degrees and aligned with the wrists. Shoulders should be relaxed and level.
  • Straighten up. There should be a straight line from the top of your head to your back. Don’t let the pelvis rotate forward – this creates a curve in your lower back that contributes to pain.
  • Check your chair. If you’re sitting in a chair that isn’t designed for an eight-hour workday, try placing a rolled-up towel behind your lower back. Living room couch your best option? Arrange pillows so your lower back is supported, and try not to sink in and slouch if your couch is particularly soft.
  • Keep the top of your computer screen at eye level. Positioning your computer too high or too low can contribute to neck and shoulder pain. If you’re sitting on the couch, put a pillow on your lap to raise the screen and protect your legs from your device’s heat.

Get a change of scenery (without leaving the house). Create your own “standing desk” by sending a few morning emails from the kitchen counter or a high dresser. And throughout the day, listen to your body. If your lower back feels stiff when you stand up, or if your feet or legs “fall asleep” while you’re sitting, these are signs that you’ve been in the same position for too long.

Continue to exercise. Without commuting or having access to the gym, it can be difficult to keep activity levels up – but it’s critical. Exercise increases blood flow to the muscles and is one of the best ways to combat pain, says White. Aerobic exercise can also help tackle anxiety, which makes pain worse.

Try simple stretches throughout the day. One perk from working from home is that employees most likely have more privacy and can take a quick break for a big stretch or even a few yoga poses. Try two or three of your favorite stretches from below and try to stretch every hour or so, White recommends. Just note that they may not be safe or tolerable for everyone.

  • Pec stretch: Stand in a doorway and place your forearms on each side of the doorframe. Push your chest forward slightly so you feel a stretch in your chest and between your shoulder blades. Hold for as long as is comfortable, up to 10 seconds. Repeat as tolerated, up to three times.
  • Child’s pose stretch: Start on a mat or towel on the floor on all fours. With your big toes touching, spread your knees apart and sit back onto your feet as best you can. Hinge at the waist and extend your arms in front of you or next to you. If you can, touch your forehead to the floor. Hold for up to 15 seconds.
  • Chair rotation: Sit sideways in a chair. Keeping your legs still, rotate your torso to the right and reach for the back of your chair with your hands. Hold your upper body there and hold for up to 10 seconds. Repeat on the other side, up to three times.

A comfortable workspace is critical to a productive day, especially in places that aren’t designed for the nine-to-five. During this chaotic time, HR leaders can provide guidance on creating a space that supports back and neck health, and helps employees avoid the added stress and distraction of being in pain.

SOURCE: Ryerson, N. (23 March 2020) "How HR leaders can make remote work pain free" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/how-hr-leaders-can-make-remote-work-pain-free