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The Impacts of the Vaccine Mandates on the Workplace

As of January 2022, the federal vaccine mandate will require all businesses with a hundred or more employees to impose coronavirus vaccines, or implement weekly testing. This news has already sparked debate and friction in workplaces across the country. According to the New York Times, this requirement has left many companies on the cusp of fielding calls from wary employees.

COVID-19 has been at the omni-center of countless business decisions since March 2020, with encouraging employees to work from home perhaps being the most obvious one for businesses across the globe. But the new vaccine mandate shouldn’t stifle your plans for encouraging your employees back into the office. Instead, the vaccine mandate should simply become a part of your leadership and HR discussions, in-sync with your company’s return-to-work mandate.

If you’re wasting too much time debating the vaccine mandate, you’re wasting precious business hours that could be devoted to staying competitive instead.

Our Guest: Ed Dischner, Proxy Technologies

In this episode of the #WorkTrends podcast, sponsored by Proxy, I was joined by Ed Dischner from Proxy Technologies. Ed discusses shifting workplace priorities to focus on what really matters, without losing sight of COVID-19.

An expert in his field, Ed has years of experience in Enterprise Sales of Workplace Tech Solutions. Previously holding executive leadership positions at Tealium; a customer data platform, and BlueJeans; a video conferencing provider. Ed also spent 6 years at Salesforce, as it scaled its operations from IPO to two billion in revenue.

I asked Ed about some of the biggest problems faced by businesses when verifying vaccines and employee health status. Ed suggests that vaccine mandates uncertainty and maintaining employee safety are at the forefront.

“Is there going to be a mandate?… There’s a little bit of chasing a ghost on regulation,” Ed comments. “We want to make sure that we’re coming back into a workplace in a safe environment. We’re going to do everything we can.”

Best Practices for Vaccine Mandates

Ed then goes on to talk about how employers can learn about best practices for vaccine mandates. He believes that employer opinion on vaccine mandates typically splits into two separate camps.

“One is just saying, ‘Okay, it’s owned by HR.’ … And it’s really a third party or an industry-recognized organization with a lot of content,” Ed says. “The second group, or cohort, is that there’s a committee. Whether or not that’s workplace solutions, and whether or not that includes HR. And we’re increasingly seeing risk and legal involvement.”

Ed notes that there’s implications across it all, especially when you go cross-departmental. Not to mention, when you take into consideration the number of offices your business has, and how many countries you are in, there’s all the local, regional, and national regulations to take into account, too.

What Companies Get Wrong About Vaccine Proof

Proxy recently published a White Paper identifying some of the key things many companies get wrong about vaccine proof. Ed has experienced some of them first hand, from both an employee and consumer point of view, and shares his thoughts with us:

“So, the first one is just asking for physical cards as proof,” says Ed. “That’s maybe one way that a 10-person company can do it, but there’s no way that a 10,000-person company can do it, especially with being remote.”

Ed goes on to discuss another error – daily temperature checks – and questions whether body temperature falling within a certain range is reasonable enough assurance that employees are protecting themselves and each other, in and around the workplace.

“The third one I kind of alluded to is using spreadsheets,” Ed continues. “It’s good for the first day. It’s not good for three months in, eight months in, and how you’re going to continue to scale this with more and more people coming in.”

But, as Ed points out, the tricky thing with spreadsheets and data is not only where to store all of it and ensuring it is constantly up-to-date, but it’s also the issue of consent. Health information belongs to each individual, so as much as employers may like the visual verification, they may not necessarily need or want to retain each individual record.

Incentivizing a Return to the Office

In response to some of the things companies get wrong about vaccine proof, Ed rounds off his discussion by sharing a positive incentive to encourage employees who have been vaccinated back into the workplace.

“If you want to come back to the office and you have a negative test, or you’ve done your vaccination certificate or a certification, then guess what? We’re going to give you $10 every day for you to be having a subsidized lunch,” Ed suggests. “It kind of gamifies some of the things that aren’t necessarily considered fun or games.”

I hope you enjoy this episode of #WorkTrends, sponsored by Proxy. Listen to the podcast here. You can learn more about shifting your workplace priorities to what really matters in light of the proposed vaccine mandate, by reaching out to Ed Dischner here.

The Near Future of Work: What’s Next for the Office?

More than a year after the COVID-19 pandemic first upended work and life, business owners, HR leaders, and workers are continuing to adjust to an ever-evolving situation.

Now, as offices reopen and vaccinated workers are brought back into a centralized workplace, the big question is:

What can we expect from the near future of work?

Is it “back to normal?”

Some organizations, such as Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan, are steadfastly going back to their pre-2020 normal.

Other companies are bringing employees back to the office on a part-time basis, while some are going full-time remote. One example is Quora, which announced early during the pandemic that it was switching to a remote-first culture for good.

What’s the best way forward?

The clear answer is that it depends on the individual company. More importantly, it depends on the individuals within your company.

Think about it this way:

We have lived alongside coronavirus for more than 18 months. Employees have been expected to upend their daily routines and find a way to work from home productively while adapting to the terrifying enormity of the health crisis.

It took a great deal of coping, adjusting, and compromising.

As a result, our perception of “normal” has shifted. And the expectations and needs of workers have changed, too.

Unsurprisingly, many people aren’t happy to go “back to normal.”

“The great resignation”

One study found that nearly three in 10 employees (29 percent) would quit their jobs if they were told they were no longer allowed to work remotely.

That’s why the current situation is being dubbed “the great resignation” or “the resignation boom.

Even now, amid continuing uncertainty, people are willing to leave their place of employment in favor of greater flexibility.

Ignoring employees’ needs will only risk demotivating staff, eroding company culture, and increasing turnover.

Is WFH here to stay?

Although working from home is far from perfect, it’s impossible to ignore the benefits of remote work.

Trusting employees to work remotely is empowering.

This leads to motivation, loyalty, and productivity. In fact, studies show that people who worked from home during the pandemic maintained, or exceeded, productivity levels.

The real question is, do your people actually want to work from home?

One study found that 89 percent of people want to work from home at least some of the time after the crisis ends.

However, the same research found that it is actually flexibility that most workers are interested in, not a wholesale rejection of the traditional office model.

Only a relatively small proportion of workers–one in four–would switch to a completely remote work model if they could.

Remember that these are general studies. What happens in your company depends on your own research.

As noted in a recent TalentCulture blog by HR specialist Cheryl Halverson: “It’s imperative to understand employees’ needs and hopes for this new world of work. You can achieve this through active listening via focus groups, ongoing employee pulse surveys, employee advisory groups, and honest discussions between managers and direct reports.”

Armed with these insights, Halverson recommends using them to co-create “an envisioned future.”

This is a future where employees are involved in the development, understanding, and communication of that future so they can adopt, advocate for, and believe in it.

Moving forward, flexibly

For those companies that choose a flexible future, this can manifest itself in various ways.

Hybrid work

Considered the best of both worlds, a hybrid model combines two or three days each week working from home with the rest of the time in the office. This provides plenty of in-person collaboration with the benefits of a reduced commute and home-based flexibility. Some studies show that the sweet spot is two days of remote work each week.

Hub and spoke

Rather than bringing workers back to a central office, employers can utilize coworking spaces or other branch offices to provide a workplace that’s near their employees’ homes. By decentralizing, workers can still enjoy a reduced commute but are free from any home-based distractions.

Full-time remote work

Some companies have shifted to a full-time remote work policy. It’s an extreme move, but after more than a year of working from home, these employers have had plenty of time to fine-tune their strategy.

Alternative options

Some companies that continue to work remotely may want to keep a central office, mainly as a collaboration hub for team meetings or simply to “keep up appearances.”

However, retaining an office lease for the primary reason of keeping a physical presence is an expensive option.

As an alternative, some companies are now switching to a virtual office solution.

A virtual office provides companies with a head office address, a place to receive mail, and access to on-site meeting rooms and private offices when required.

However, the cost is considerably lower because the company doesn’t rent physical office space full-time. Instead, they only rent the address.

When physical space is required, it’s available on a pay-as-you-go basis.

This way, companies can keep an active presence in a specific location without the cost of maintaining a physical office.

The virtual office model has been around for decades, but in response to the pandemic, the popularity of virtual office centers has grown considerably.

The near future of work

Going forward, we can expect to see a medley of workplace models and trends.

Rather than a dominating trend, the future of work is a sliding scale.

At one end is the full-time corporate office, at the other is home-based remote work, and somewhere in the middle is the hybrid work option: the happy medium.

Various strategies accompany this sliding scale, including the use of virtual offices and on-demand meeting room rentals.

What’s absolutely clear is that, following the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the future of work is being influenced by those who really matter: your people.

You have the opportunity to co-create a new, positive culture and a stronger future for your company.

What comes next depends on your individual organization and the individuals you employ within your organization. Finally, the choice is where it belongs: in the hands of the people.

 

This post is sponsored by Alliance Virtual.

Photo by Neeraj Kumar

Workplace COVID-19: An Employee Tested Positive — Now What?

There are more than 107 million recorded COVID-19 cases worldwide. As economies begin progressively reopening after lockdowns, it’s increasingly likely that workplace COVID-19 will hit your business; that one or more of your workers will test positive for the virus or show symptoms that make them suspected cases.

Here’s what to do if that happens…

Keep the Employee Away from Others

You could hear about an employee testing positive for COVID-19 in several ways. Maybe they call you during an off day, say they’re feeling sick with symptoms often associated with the virus, and are getting a test in a few hours. Or maybe someone feels fine when showing up for a shift but develops symptoms during the workday. In either case, you must isolate that person as quickly and thoroughly as possible.

If they are not currently at work, instruct them to stay home according to the protocols recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That organization says people with COVID-19 should remain at home for ten days after symptom onset and once they’ve been fever-free for at least 24 hours. Moreover, the person should notice a general improvement in symptoms during isolation.

However, the CDC also clarified that some individuals might require isolation for up to 20 days. Such cases typically occur in patients with severe cases or those with compromised immune systems.

When a person develops symptoms at work, send them home immediately. If that individual needs to wait at work, such as until someone they live with arrives to pick them up, it’s ideal to isolate them in a closed room not typically used for communal purposes. The above rules about isolation apply to them, too.

Know What You Can and Cannot Do to Learn About an Employee’s Condition

When an employee becomes a suspected or positive case, your first inclination may be to learn as many details as possible about the circumstances. Similarly, you might consider having them produce a negative COVID-19 test result before returning to work.

First, bear in mind that the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has a long list of frequently asked questions that clarify what you can and cannot do under the law in these situations. For example, you cannot ask an employee if their family members have had COVID-19 or been in close contact with infected people. However, it’s OK to broaden your question to determine whether the employee has been near a possibly infected person.

Moreover, you cannot single out an employee and subject them to a screening test or questionnaire without a reasonable belief based on objective evidence that they have the virus. For example, maybe you’re in the break room and notice an employee coughing frequently.  Or perhaps an employee tells a colleague that they haven’t been able to smell or taste anything all day. In those cases, the employee’s common symptoms meet the criteria for objective evidence.

There are also many variations over return-to-work testing. The EEOC and CDC permit but discourage requiring a negative test before allowing an employee back to work. Though, state and local ordinances may prohibit making an employee get tested before coming back to work.

Understand the Applicable Labor Laws

It’s also necessary to understand the labor laws associated with workplace COVID-19 and remember that some vary by location. For example, Pennsylvanian workers must report their illnesses within 21 days of onset to receive full workers’ compensation coverage.

Federal laws in the United States also changed recently, so employers are no longer legally required to provide family and medical leave to COVID-19 patients. However, companies can voluntarily provide it to workers through March 31, 2021. The associated employer tax credits also remain in effect until that date.

If you hadn’t taken the time to learn about how COVID-19 affects labor laws yet, now is a great time. Research what laws apply to your company at the local, state, and federal levels.

Follow Recommended Cleaning Protocols

COVID-19 required many businesses to adopt stricter cleaning measures. You should follow those all the time, of course – but be diligent after hearing that an employee tested positive for the virus.

Follow procedures recommended by the CDC and determine whether you need to close your business to carry them out. Hopefully, you already have a cleaning plan. If not, again – now is an excellent time to develop a company-wide sanitization plan.

Closing your business may be something you want to avoid, especially if it causes media attention. However, consider that people will be more likely to perceive you as responsible if you take prompt, decisive action rather than putting others at risk.

Determine Whether You Will Inform Workers

You may find it surprising that no federal laws require you to tell other workers about a positive case associated with a colleague. Additionally, only three states require employers to give such notifications.

However, even if there is no legal obligation for you to provide the information, keeping quiet could have unwanted consequences.

Many employees report hearing the news from co-workers and feel their bosses betrayed them by not disclosing the details. Bear in mind, too, that there are different steps to take if you know someone was in close contact with a sick worker. You may not deem it necessary to tell the whole workforce, but informing people who were near an infected individual for an entire workday is the right thing to do. And in the process, as an employer, you are helping stop the spread and are doing everything you can to keep people safe.

Workplace COVID-19: Quick Action Minimizes Complications

It can be unsettling when you hear that a worker has COVID-19. While taking action, show humanity and genuine care to the infected person and any other affected parties. A short phone call to check on the employee during their recovery shows them and the whole workforce that you care as much about the people doing the work as the tasks they perform.

The better prepared you are for workplace COVID-19 infections, the easier it will be to effectively handle those incidents. Besides following the suggestions here, stay abreast of recent developments that may impact your plan and your course of action. The pandemic is an evolving situation, which means public health guidelines may change with relatively short notice.

Stay informed. Remain prepared. And act swiftly.

 

Gustavo Frazao

How to Establish a COVID-19 Safety Policy

The spread of COVID-19 is changing how we all operate, and businesses are no exception. With cases mounting across the United States, we’re watching the “world’s largest work-from-home experiment” unfold. Many companies that normally work in office spaces are requiring employees to work remotely, including Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Twitter, and my own company, Influence & Co.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s General Duty Clause, employers are required to provide employees with workplaces free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm.

During any infectious disease outbreak, we have a shared responsibility to prevent spread. And if a company fails to take the necessary steps to protect team members? More employees may fall ill, leading to increased absenteeism and decreased productivity. Illness costs American employers $530 billion in lost productivity each year under typical circumstances. Putting in place policies that protect employee health is essential right now. In fact, this is the best way for companies to protect themselves and to retain their existing teams.

Employees who don’t have paid sick leave will be torn. They’ll need to choose between staying home to prevent spreading illness and supporting themselves and their families. So evaluate your policies. Specifically, ensure they provide adequate support during situations like the COVID-19 outbreak.

Now is the time to review your policies to ensure they promote a safe workplace. React now — because you need to — and in doing so, you can build trust with your employees. You can also set up your company to respond to similar threats in the future.

6 Considerations When Updating Policies

At Influence & Co., we’ve taken some steps to make sure our employees know what to expect while we need to adjust our work policies.

One of our core values is “treat others with trust and respect,” so in light of that value, we already trust our people to do their work remotely when needed. Because of this, it was easy for us to take the next step of requiring all three of our offices to begin remote work full-time.

When you begin updating your company policies to lessen the impact of COVID-19 among your workforce, consider the following questions:

  • Can the work be performed remotely?
  • If work can be done remotely, are there tools you can use to prevent the disruption of communication and collaboration? No? Then do you have the resources to purchase, implement, and train your staff on the new tools?
  • If going fully remote isn’t an option, what are ways you can reduce the number of employees in the workplace at any given time?
  • What are the expectations you have for employees regarding the changes?
  • Is additional sick leave available? If yes, what must employees do?
  • Are these updated policies temporary, or will they be kept in place indefinitely?

Considering these questions will help you make the right decisions for your unique workforce, and help you maintain clarity and structure for your team.

9 Steps for Revamping Workplace Policies

While revamping your company’s policies in light of COVID-19, here are some steps you can take to create a supportive, safe work environment for employees:

1. Stay Calm

This is one of the most important things you can do. With the always-on media cycle and social media, your employees are being bombarded with information (and misinformation) about COVID-19. Keep your workers grounded and build trust with them. How? By providing the facts and letting them know what steps you’re taking to protect them.

2. Knowledge is Power

Review applicable laws and regulations, such as the Americans With Disabilities Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, and those set by OSHA. And stay up-to-date on the latest information from reputable sources, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, and the departments of Labor and Health and Human Services.

3. Consider Remote Work and Mandatory Quarantines

If possible, allow employees to work remotely, and consider mandatory quarantine under certain circumstances. To avoid the spread of illness throughout your workplace, allow everyone to work from home if that’s a possibility. Also, if any employees have recently traveled to geographic locations with known cases of the illness, have been in an airport with flights to and from those locations, or have been in contact with anyone who’s been diagnosed, consider implementing a mandatory quarantine.

4. Be Forthcoming

Inform employees about health concerns and steps they should be taking in the workplace to reduce spread. Armed with insights from the above sources, provide employees with accurate information on COVID-19, how it’s known to spread, and how they can prevent transmission. Make it clear where they can find disinfectants in your workplace, how to properly wash their hands and how often, and what other steps they can take to ensure the workplace stays sanitary.

5. Provide Updates

Notify your entire team of any temporary changes to policies or expectations. Send an email to your entire team outlining important information, like prevention measures you’re taking to ensure a safe workplace, temporary policy changes, healthcare policy updates, and details about the illness and how it’s passed from person to person. I sent an email to our team that you’re welcome to customize for your own company — just click here to access it.

6. Require Full Disclosure

It’s important to request that employees disclose whether they’ve been diagnosed with COVID-19 or have been in contact with someone who has. Should you receive such notice, it will be necessary to let your company know that a contagious illness may be present in the workplace. Maintain all information about the employee’s illness as a confidential medical record in compliance with the ADA.

7. Reduce In-Person Meetings

Decrease the number of in-person meetings, or eliminate them altogether. Utilize the wealth of technology at our disposal to have essential meetings without the risk of spreading illness. Google Hangouts Meet, Cisco Webex (a client of ours), or a good old-fashioned phone call are great options. Our marketing team has even been experimenting with doing brainstorm sessions in its Slack group and has seen great results.

8. Schedule for Distancing

Adjust scheduling so fewer employees are in the same space at the same time. If in-office workers are essential, try to stagger the times when employees need to be in your workplace to reduce exposure. This also means large events that would normally bring lots of people together should be postponed.

9. Review Your Mental Health Policy

Health goes beyond the physical. Employers should care about their employees’ mental health as well — especially during a time when everyone seems to be in crisis mode. Review your mental health policy, and make sure employees are aware of the mental health resources at their disposal.

An infectious disease outbreak can touch businesses in so many ways: Employee health, company culture, productivity, and revenue may all become concerns where company leaders had none before. Thankfully, there are tangible things companies can do to protect employees. Take these steps into consideration as you’re re-evaluating your company’s policies to ensure you’re providing a safe workplace for your team.

Photo: Jéssica Oliveira

Observing Workplace Compliance During a Crisis

News surrounding the coronavirus pandemic is developing at such a breakneck pace that by the time you read this article, the data in it will probably be outdated. As of this writing, there are more than 186,000 cases of COVID-19 worldwide. In the U.S., 49 states and the District of Columbia have reported more than 4,500 cases of coronavirus and 88 deaths. 

Managers and employees likely have worries about everything from job security to the risk of contracting the virus at work. Some private and public employers have begun shifting onsite employees whose jobs can be done remotely to working from home for the foreseeable future. But what if someone’s job can’t be done remotely? What happens when they exhaust all their sick time and other paid time off? Should an employer pay them even when they are furloughed?

It depends on whether they are an exempt (salaried) or non-exempt (hourly) worker. According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD):

Under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, employers aren’t required to pay hourly workers for time not worked, even if that is through no fault of the employee. If an hourly employee gets sent home, and their job can’t be done from home, their employer only has to pay them for their actual hours worked that week and subsequent weeks.

But the law requires salaried employees to receive their full salary for weeks in which they perform any work, with limited exceptions. This includes even minor work such as checking email and voicemail. A private employer may require exempt staff to take PTO in the case of an office closure, provided the employees receive pay equal to their guaranteed salary. 

So technically, an employer can stop paying an employee, whether hourly or salaried, if the employee is required to stay home for an extended period of time and his or her job can’t be done from home. Of course the ethics on that are a bit shakier. 

Further, some employers may have to comply with federal and state advance-notice requirements of up to 90 days for workers regarding furloughs and layoffs in certain circumstances (the WARN Act). But it isn’t yet clear if and how this applies to COVID-19-related layoffs.

WHD encourages employers to consider flexible leave policies for the sake of “community mitigation,” offer alternative work arrangements such as teleworking and additional paid time off, and consider strategies such as staggered work shifts to promote social distancing. 

Employees’ rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act

Employers covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) must provide employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for their own personal illness or to care for children and other immediate family members who are ill. In addition to other criteria, employees must have worked for the employer for at least 12 months to be covered by FMLA. Your state also may have its own laws covering sick and family leave.

What if an employee’s child has been dismissed from school due to coronavirus fears and they have to stay home with them, even if the employee is not ill? While coronavirus so far seems to be bypassing the youngest of the population, there’s currently no federal law covering private sector employees who have to take off from work to care for children, and employers aren’t legally required to provide leave—paid or unpaid—to employees caring for dependents who have been dismissed from school or child care.  

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control says the virus appears capable of spreading “easily and sustainably” from person to person, but data shows that most people do not become seriously ill from it. Reports from China, where the virus originated, found that about 80% of cases were “mild” and led to full recovery. Of the 70,000 cases there, about 2% were in people younger than 19.  

“This seems to be a disease that affects adults, and most seriously older adults” from age 60 up, the CDC says. The highest risk of serious illness and death is in people older than 80 years of age and people with serious underlying health conditions. But given the potential for significant spread of illness in a pandemic, WHD urges employers “to review their leave policies to consider providing increased flexibility to employees and their families.” 

Furloughs and remote working

Some employers such as the hard-hit airlines have already begun asking workers to take voluntary furloughs. In the event of a mandatory quarantine or furlough, employees may choose to use sick leave, vacation or other PTO if their employer’s policies and applicable state law permits. If an employee is sent home, certain jurisdictions may require “reporting time” pay to compensate the employee for reporting to work even if work wasn’t performed or the employee didn’t work a full shift.  

If an employer requires staff to work remotely, the company is supposed to furnish employees with all the necessary tools for that, including laptop or PC, mobile phones, and other equipment, or reimburse employees for the cost.  

Employers also need to consider liability issues. Not having adequate policies in place to manage issues arising from communicable illness could expose them to significant legal risk, according to Harvard Business Review. If an employee becomes infected at work, employers may face OSHA penalties depending on the circumstances or be exposed to workers’ compensation, unfair labor practices, and other claims. Businesses such as restaurants also have to consider liability to third parties.

Staff with symptoms of infection should be sent home or instructed to stay home. If remote work is not feasible for their staff, employers could implement other measures to reduce close interpersonal contact, such as canceling in-person meetings and conferences, staggered or “shift” work as previously mentioned, and even changes to the office layout. Such measures could help protect workers from infection and the organization from liability. Companies should also consider extending or expanding benefits and protections for employees on leave who exceed their PTO allotment.

Regardless of their official leave policies, it behooves businesses to be more generous about paying furloughed or quarantined employees than the law requires them to be — not only for the sake of their business’s health and that of the community, but as part of being good corporate citizens. 

However, it seems that for now, all government can do is strongly appeal to employers to pay their furloughed or quarantined employees, but it can’t force them to. (Congress is reportedly considering some sort of paid-leave bill, but it is still in the works.) And in the meantime, employers are urged to do as much as they can to help their workers who must stay home. It’s not only beneficial to public health and the workforce’s own health, ultimately it will benefit the business as well.

Photo: Kevin Bhagat

Remote Work During Coronavirus: Leadership Matters

Bottom line: employees, last I looked, are people. And we need to protect and support our people during this incredibly tough time. We’re all facing phenomenal degrees of uncertainty as we navigate uncharted and scary territory. We don’t know how bad it will be, how long it will last, or what it will take from us. Anxiety is as common as oxygen right now, and peace of mind as hard to come by as n95 masks. But as you shift your workforce to remote, here’s one small consolation to think about. This is the future of work.

I’m not talking about the pandemic. I’m talking about being able to rely on the power of your work culture and the agility of technology to flex to a different reality. For all of us, the challenge is maintaining continuity without disruption or stoppages, but that’s more complicated than just a punch list of to-dos. There are many companies already doing this, and my own firm has been proudly and very successfully remote for years. So here’s some simple advice. It’s not about technology, but about culture, behavior and human nature:

Exceptional Times Call for Exceptional Tact

Empathy is a word bandied about a lot these days. Now, right now, we’re in a global crisis in which understanding that we are part of a larger social community and being able to imagine being in each other’s shoes may literally improve our chances for survival. 

Your employees are going through incredible stress right now: suddenly facing the prospect of children out of school; trying to figure out how to keep their elderly parents safe; coping with empty supermarket shelves and worse. This is not the best time to take someone to task for being three minutes late to a meeting. 

The More Distance, The More Training

Taking the leap into a digital workspace should not be done alone: whatever your platform, lean on the provider to give your employees all the training they need to feel comfortable. Particularly if your workforce is going to be scattered far and wide, they’re going to need to all be up to speed — and dismal adoption rates on new technologies can often be traced to one simple factor: fear. 

People are facing enough of that, so give them everything they need to comfortably make the switch. And that means tailoring coaching so that even the most technologically insecure member of any team is confident enough to participate. Remote workforces depend on everyone being able to access, communicate and use the technology equally. But that means some need a lot more guidance and help than others. They should never feel penalized for it. Don’t expect everyone to take a single tutorial and know how to navigate. 

Solicit Feedback on Your Work Culture (and Take it to Heart)

Your remote workforce may not have agreed with your assessment of the workplace culture when they were in the same building, but being physically near each other and within a shared workspace often makes up for flaws in the culture. Not so when your workforce is remote. After everyone heads home to work, and as everyone starts using the remote platform that’s bringing them together, conduct some clear and honest surveys to get their feedback on what’s lacking in your work culture. Ask people for their opinions and concerns and give them the time, space and ears they deserve and need to speak up. Listen carefully, and listen well. You need that feedback to find the weak spots — and there won’t be a single organization that doesn’t have them. 

What I have found is that if you don’t bring these issues out into the open, they will fester and compound in the remote environment. But if you solicit employee feedback and then don’t take action on that feedback, you’ll make it worse. Start by reporting the results of your surveys and questions back to your people — and turn it into a clear and shared effort to make things better for all. Be transparent, and be proactive. Both of those traits are even more critical in a remote workplace culture.

Find Your Ambassadors

There are going to be people in your organization that truly care about the success of going remote. These are not brand ambassadors, they’re process ambassadors — those who want to make sure this transition is effective and successful. Good! Instead of assuming their reasons as self-centered, or questioning their motivation, don’t. It may be to their benefit (right now, of course it is) to get their teams and colleagues working smoothly via the remote platform. But that also means you’re aligned in that goal, if not for exactly the same reasons. That’s fine. Alignment is a matter of coming together around shared interests, and finding common ground.

Instead of second-guessing why someone is a team player, actively, clearly acknowledge your appreciation. You need more eyes and ears in a remote organization, as it’s too easy to let communication slide — and there is literally less visibility. Your ambassadors will not only champion the cause and inspire others to make the effort, they can also relay when someone’s having an issue, or has a concern — and make sure you’re aware of it. Why? Because they care. Accept it.

Don’t be a Stranger

Remote leadership is a contradiction in one sense: leaders need to be clearly involved, engaged, and accessible to their people. Don’t be a stranger. Be there more than you think you need to be there, and never appear to be disinterested or busy in meetings. And be present for everyone, whether that means you reach out to everyone in a quick video chat, a daily message and a question all can respond to, a virtual roundtable Q&A, or simply providing your email. Your people need to hear your voice, read your texts, and see your face.

The bigger the organization, the harder this can be to carry out. But take advantage of your tech and communications platforms to make it happen — you knew I wasn’t going to fully ignore how important technology is, didn’t you? Use video, use chats, use virtual conferencing, texts, intranet, messaging, IMs — whatever you already have present in the day-to-day functions of your workplace, optimize them now. I’d work with your teams — not only in HR but in marketing as well — to craft a plan for your presence. Reach out to your managers about what they need from you and when. The same way you consider frequency when it comes to recognition (short, sweet and often is far more effective than rare and overlong), create a cadence of messages and outreach. Stay in your employee’s daily routines. This will matter more than you realize. 

The Last Thing

The last thing you want your remote workforce to have to go through is feeling like they have left the office and that’s the end of their connection to the company. For so many in the workforce on all levels, the rug is being pulled out from under us. But If you approach remote leadership with a real commitment to staying human and staying present, this is just the beginning. And when this is all over, and it will be, your whole organization will be in a far better position to meet the future of work head on.