When the pandemic hit, going into the office was off the table for many workers who opted to work from home rather than risk exposure to COVID-19. This was perhaps the first large-scale experiment in working remotely, and thanks to Zoom and other tools, it has for the most part been perceived as a big success. But working from home does take discipline and can lead to abuse in some situations.
One of the consequences of employees working from home for extended periods is the possibility of abusing those privileges. When managers and staff are separated by miles, it’s difficult to know for certain when abuse may occur. Signs to watch for include:
- No response to emails, telephone calls, or messages on communication platforms for extended periods
- Being unavailable for phone calls or videoconferencing
- Missing deadlines
- Leaving the home office without approval
- Customers complaining about a lack of response
Communication is key in any successful remote situation. Regular check-ins help boost employee morale and can deter workers from taking advantage of their situation in much the same way that the presence of a supervisor in the office encourages employees to focus on the tasks at hand. It helps when managers establish performance benchmarks and track metrics; doing so helps identify people who might be slacking off.
It’s equally important to set policies in order to manage expectations and identify unacceptable conduct. Communicating them clearly to staff is essential in preventing misunderstandings. The more detailed your company’s policies are, the better employees will know what is expected of them — and what they should avoid.
Among other topics, policies should address expected working hours and where employees with access to confidential information can work in order to ensure data is kept secure. Even so, a certain measure of flexibility is necessary to account for the nature of remote work. With so many schools moving to a mixture of in-person and virtual learning, childcare is an issue for many people. It’s a challenge that will inevitably affect work performance to a certain degree.
Address these and other scenarios by communicating openly with employees in order to better understand the specific challenges they are facing, and reassure them that you are taking their issues into account and striving to come up with solutions that will benefit both employee and employer.
The only time that a problem occurs is when an employee violates policy without a valid excuse. Identifying employees who may be abusing their remote work privileges is dependent upon tools; you are within your rights to monitor company-issued laptops and cellphones and keep track of when employees log in and out of these devices. However, doing so can feel like an invasion of privacy and lead to feelings of resentment over a perceived lack of trust. If you do institute this as a policy, be sure to be consistent in monitoring everybody’s activity, not only those employees suspected of abusing their privileges. This can help stave off discrimination claims further down the road.
The bottom line: don’t automatically assume an employee is abusing their remote working privileges. These are unusual and trying times, and often workers are guilty of no more than lacking the knowledge to be as efficient and productive as possible when working from home. Follow up often to gauge when scenarios like this are occurring, and be proactive in addressing and correcting problems before they turn into all-out abuse.