An employer’s guide to implementing telecommuting during coronavirus pandemic

With the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), many Colorado businesses are forced to enable their employees to work from home. But employers may not be set up for remote work or lack awareness about how to make it work for an extended period of time.

The majority of Pinnacol’s workforce frequently works remotely with no disruption to serving customers or conducting normal business operations. Last year, we launched a program encouraging employees to telecommute during hazardous weather conditions or illness recovery. Our telecommuting hours jumped by 49% from January to June 2019.

“To start, you need to prepare your people and leaders and make sure you have the right technology,” advises Barbara Brannen, vice president of human resources at Pinnacol who’s led the project.

While not every business or position allows for remote work, thinking creatively about how work gets done can create necessary flexibility. It’s important to begin implementation sooner rather than later, and practice, practice, practice — so you’re prepared before a crisis. Use our tips to develop and carry out a new remote work policy.

Start with remote technology

Begin by talking with your internal information technology team or external support vendor. “Identify what your processes are and what’s key to running the business, and if you have workarounds you can use to work remotely,” says Brian Lindley, Pinnacol’s associate vice president of IT. Address each component individually.

Hardware: Employees may need laptops. Lindley recommends testing log-ins and updating operating systems immediately if employees already have company laptops. If your workforce uses primarily desktop systems, look for an external vendor that can give you quick access to laptops.

Software: Videoconferencing, collaboration and communication apps can stand in for in-person discussions at the office. Begin using these programs now, even if employees are still in the office, to troubleshoot any issues and acclimatize employees to using them.

Security: Companies worry about data security when employees telework, especially when new policies evolve quickly. “Employees might send files home via email so they can work on their home PCs,” notes Kelly Lutinski, CPA, Pinnacol’s chief risk officer. “Remind employees of the confidentiality of that data and delete it later.” Other security reminders include:

  • Don’t leave laptops visible in cars.
  • Password-protect all files.
  • Shred sensitive documents at home or return them to the office post-outbreak.

Communications: You don’t want employees to expose their personal phone numbers when they call customers. Hand out company-sponsored phones or use an app that disguises the outgoing phone number.

Steve Boyd, help desk supervisor at Pinnacol, says employees should gather essential information at work, such as email or phone contacts, and make it available remotely too. “Focus on anything you need to communicate,” he says.

Define procedures for workers

Examine companywide policies and adapt them to account for remote work.

Update working agreements: Employees should work the same core hours and be accessible to avoid interruptions for your customers. If certain tasks can’t be done at home," determine if there is a way to put those processes on hold or postpone them,” Lindley says.

Figure out who is and is not eligible for remote work: Facilities managers, security teams, janitorial staff and more may have to keep working at the office. “You need to provide those workers with additional support to minimize risk,” Lutinski notes.

Limit interaction with the public: To protect employees at the office, introduce additional safeguards that limit their interactions with others:

  • Rent an off-site mailbox for deliveries.
  • Provide hand sanitizer and gloves for customers entering your office.
  • Add a dropbox where people can leave payments instead of coming inside.

Managerial changes

Overcommunication can ease the early transition period, Brannen explains. “Check in with your employees and be available to answer their questions,” she says.  

Believe in your employees: Lutinski says managers should “start from a position of trust” that the telework process will succeed. (Studies suggest this faith will be rewarded; two-thirds of employees are actually more productive at home than at the office.)

Address issues privately: When a workflow problem pops up, handle it proactively, on a one-to-one basis.

Offer managers training: Discuss safety and deadlines. Teach effective communication methods to offset the lack of facetime, such as having employees check in at certain times or setting clearer expectations for work-life balance.

Support your team in meaningful ways: If local schools shut down and employees become both caregivers and workers, review child care options. Revisit use of paid time off. Loan, grant and paycheck advance programs can also aid workers during a difficult time.

Discuss fears about COVID-19: Brannen notes people may be worried. “Give your employees perspective on the situation with the best information available to you through trusted sources,” she says.

View in Spanish.

Download Here