COVID-19 stay-at-home measures and restrictions have forced many Colorado businesses to enact a work-from-home policy. But many employers may not be set up for remote work or have the tools and resources to make it work for an extended period of time.

The good news, however, is that it's possible. 

The majority of Pinnacol's workforce frequently works remotely, and there's been no disruption to serving customers or conducting normal business operations. 

Last year, we even launched a program encouraging employees to telecommute during hazardous weather conditions or when they needed to recover from an illness. As a result, our telecommuting hours jumped by 49% from January to June 2019.

While not every business or position allows for working remotely, it's important to begin implementing remote work policies sooner rather than later, so you're prepared for a crisis.

Thinking creatively about how you work can help you become more flexible and resourceful.

“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.


Ready to create a plan? Check out our three tips for developing and implementing a new remote work policy.

1. Set up remote tools and technology

The first step to instituting remote work is improving your remote tools and technology. Start by talking with your internal information technology team or external support vendor.

“Identify what your processes are, 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.


From there, work on addressing each of the four components of your IT set up:

Hardware

If your employees already have company laptops, Lindley recommends testing log-ins and updating your operating systems immediately. However, 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 get employees accustomed to using them.

Security

It's normal to be concerned about data security if your 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 remote work 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.

2. Outline telecommuting procedures and policies for remote workers

Examine company-wide policies and adapt them to account for remote work. Take the following steps:

Update working agreements

To prevent inconveniences for your customers, employees should aim to work or be available during the same core hours. If employees can't do certain tasks 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 ensure employee health, introduce additional safeguards that limit your employees' interactions with others. Consider the following:

  • 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.

3. Empower your management team to address remote work challenges

Over-communicating can ease the early transition period to telecommuting, Brannen explains. To ensure a steady stream of communication, “check-in with your employees and be available to answer their questions," she says.

Keep in mind the following tips:

Believe in your telecommuting 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 remote work training

Discuss the company's safety culture and work productivity goals. Teach effective communication methods to offset the lack of facetime, such as having employees check-in at certain times or setting clear expectations for work-life balance.

Support your team in meaningful ways

If local schools shut down and employees become both caregivers and remote workers, review your company's child care options and revisit the policies around paid time off. You may also want to look into loan, grant and paycheck advance programs, which can also aid workers during a difficult time.

Discuss fears about COVID-19 and telecommuting

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.


Setting up your business for remote work can be challenging, but the right strategy can help you make a successful transition. 

In addition to improving your technology for remote work, make sure you train your managers on effective remote communications and discuss new remote work policies with your employees, including workers' compensation and coronavirus prevention tips.

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