4 Key Takeaways on Remote Work and Returning to the Office

March 4, 2021 | Reskill Your Workforce | 4 min read

We are now a year into the pandemic, and the only thing that is completely clear is that there is a lack of clarity on when the workplace will begin to look more normal. Last month, Skillsoft gathered a panel of experts for a webinar to discuss “Compliance Considerations to Prepare for Returning to the Office.” The conversation was based on the findings of a recent Compliance Week survey that asked compliance officers about their views on remote work and their plans for returning to the office. The webinar featured colorful perspectives from attorney Amy Foote from StoneTurn and the author of the report, Amy McDevitt from Compliance Week. Here are four key takeaways from that important discussion.

The Future of Work is Hybrid

Data from the report indicates that the future of work is very likely to include a hybrid (some onsite, some remote) element. Respondents indicated there is an overwhelming desire to return to the office, but maybe not full time. In fact, only 23% reported they would want to go back to the office full time, while the largest cohort, 62%, indicated they want to return partially remote (two or more days at home). An additional 12% indicated they wish to remain fully remote.

With the productivity of remote employees still high, we may see a long trend of hybrid work. Overall, survey respondents felt their productivity wasn’t impacted by moving to remote work. Of the respondents, 46% reported they were more productive, and 32% said they were equally productive working remotely. Only 20% indicated they felt less productive at home.

The Discussion about Harassment Needs to Change

It appears from the data, that working from home has changed conduct on messaging platforms and video meeting applications. Of the respondents, 21% reported experiencing inappropriate conduct on these platforms since the start of the pandemic. While this doesn’t represent most respondents, it does represent an increase over pre-pandemic conditions and should be a cause for concern. In the words of panelist Amy, “You do not need to have in-person interaction for discrimination or harassment to occur. And one of the areas that I think companies should focus on, which may come as no surprise, is inappropriate online communications.”

While the definition of harassment or discrimination hasn’t changed, working from home has changed how people approach their work. They feel more casual and comfortable working in their familiar home environment, exacerbated by the tools we use, which mimic social media. This creates a tendency for remote workers to treat co-workers as online friends.

To get ahead of this, employers should review policies related to discrimination and harassment and make sure they are up to date with current law, highlight examples of what constitutes harassment in a remote work environment, and are top of mind for your workforce. Offer your employees full or modular training courses to focus on certain areas that are a risk for your company.

There’s Room to Make Remote Work Better

It appears that remote work is expected to be the status quo for the foreseeable future. Those responding to the survey had mixed answers, with 35% predicting early to mid-2021 and an additional 37% of respondents not bothering to venture a guess.

Despite this, 52% of respondents reported that they have not had training for working remotely, even after a year of working from home. Giving employees the tools to be successful is instrumental to keeping them happy and productive. Training to prevent risk, particularly in a remote, hybrid, or changing work model, should be on the radar as well. An obvious area for focus is IT and cybersecurity. Companies should design and implement long-term plans to address the issues related to a partially or fully remote work environment and clarify employees’ role to protect data.

Employers Need to Have a Plan

Bringing employees back to the workplace physically will present challenges for employers. To combat these challenges, employers are best suited to try to get ahead of the issues. In the survey, respondents indicated concerns about employers not having a formal plan, with specific concerns around how employers will account for all circumstances.

Establishing policies and dealing with individual circumstances for employees are difficult issues, and the earlier you document your policies and get buy-in with the senior management team, the better. Employers need all of their senior management to agree, so there is complete consistency in implementing any policies. When asked about doing this, Amy added, “It’s really a huge task for companies and compliance departments because you first have to be in compliance with every law that is applicable to you. But you also have to manage, from an HR standpoint, everyone’s unique, individual circumstance.”

As companies are considering their plans, some things they should be thinking about are:

  • Floorplans. The company may need to change the floorplan to accommodate social distancing and capacity rules.
  • Vaccination policy. The company should decide whether or not it will require vaccinations.
  • Accommodations. The employer should consider how they will accommodate high-risk individuals.

As the COVID vaccinations roll out and employees begin to return back to the workplace, there is a lot to consider. These four areas of concern are a great place to start. For more information on how to address them, watch our on-demand webinar.

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