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How To Effectively Manage Employees Remotely and Legally


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Blame Everything on the Pandemic

The pandemic has changed the work landscape forever. After being ordered by governments to shut down offices during  the coronavirus outbreak, employers and employees had no choice but to face the reality of remote working. Working from home removed the restraints of being in an office or corporate environment. It also created the perception that employers’ rules do not apply because you are in your own space. Of course, there has to be a balance between employees’ home privacy and their role as employees. In order to navigate this balance, management styles may need to be revised and adjusted to suit companies that have adopted the remote working model in a post-pandemic world.

A Word to the Employees

It is a mindset shift and one involving a test of personal ethics. The rule should be that when performing one’s job from home, one should have office hours and carry out the work with the same standard of diligence- a change in premises is the only difference to this. While there may be some additional rules, such as checking in daily with a line manager and responding to all emails and calls only during office hours, a few old rules might also require some flexibility adjustments. For example, the employee’s meal breaks will need to be adjusted to accommodate the living arrangements., specifically  in cases where the employee has young children who need to have meals prepped and fed to them.

A Word to Employers

Considering the mindset shift for employees, it is incumbent on employers to be chiefly responsible for facilitating this transition as smoothly as possible. Reasonable requirements will ensure that employees are more likely to comply. From an employer’s perspective, it is both their responsibility and right to put in place reasonable stage-by-stage facilitation, which will also ensure that the employer can observe any shortcomings and review the transition process. Initially, relaxing disciplinary procedures for misconduct could go a long way in helping employees adjust. As employees settle in, the employers could then begin to emphasise these procedures with the aim of it ensuring productivity and efficiency from staff.

Sincerely yours. Really?

Working remotely highlights the trust that must govern the relationship between employer and employee. If there was a lack of trust in the workplace, remote work will only amplify this. This can be catastrophic or it may lead to a paradigm shift in the working relationship. From the employer’s perspective, it is reasonable to expect employees to work according to their contracts and follow rules and codes of conduct. It is also not out of the ordinary for employers to act accordingly and discipline employees when they fall outside these normative standards. Employers expect that employees to perform to the same standards of diligence that they would at the workplace. Conversely, while there are disciplinary procedures put in place by employers, these must be carefully dispensed in a remote work setting. There must be a latitude of trust in these circumstances that may not have existed before. The fact of the matter is, that the employee and employer’s relationship must be treated with a lighter dexterity than before.

The Contract is the Thing

Adjusting employment contracts might be a necessary evil to ensure that there is a uniform standard for all employees even outside the workplace. At the height of the pandemic, human resource departments everywhere had to keep track of different lockdown levels and regulations and adjust their employees’ remote work employment conditions accordingly. In terms of global mobility, employers will need to consider the employment laws of varying jurisdictions when dealing with the contractual arrangements that would be legally permissible and best suited to the employer’s needs. For example: dual employment contracts, secondments, employing staff directly through existing entities in the applicable jurisdictions, or using the services of professional employer organisations or employers of record. In addition, employers would need to ensure compliance with immigration laws, corporate and corporate tax compliance, as well as income tax, social security, remuneration and exchange control requirements.

Being Managerially Fashionable or Old School?

Managerial styles have to change or be adjusted to suit remote working. This may necessitate further training by the human resources department, and the purpose of supervision may need to be revisited. A manager or supervisor no longer has access to the employee where they can be physically monitored throughout the day. Privacy issues will prohibit employers from managing employees through software on their work computers. Meetings/feedback/check-in sessions may need to be more frequent.  While managers or supervisors can require that the employee responds to all emails and text messages during work hours, it would be equally important for the superiors to be available and responsive.

Flex the legality or flexibility?

Staying within the law has the connotation of being rigid. However, just because an employer has rules for or adjusted employment contracts to suit remote working, does not mean that there is no room for flexibility. Flexibility is necessary to facilitate the transition to remote work as well as to keep it running efficiently. Where an employee has violated rules or other employment conditions, there must be a greater effort to understand the circumstances before censuring them. There are various implications, such as the fact that the alleged misconduct took place in the employee’s home, which might be a sensitive issue and there could be other factors at play. Another example could be that employee might not have paid childminders and have unexpected intrusions and family emergencies that may compromise their performance. Simply put, the rules for remote working should be compassionately interpreted, and maybe more so than it would at the traditional office.

Remote is Here to Stay

The idea of the desk-bound nine-to-five position at the office is fading away, fast. Employers who are hesitant to embrace it fully have turned to the hybrid model where employees go into the office for a few days a week. Whatever the extent, it is the duty on employers to make sure that the same standards of employee management and discipline are upheld while balancing the employees’ need to make the transition from on-site to remote work. Conversely, employees also need to assist employers in holding themselves to the obligations of their employment contracts even when working away from the office. The bottom line is that working conditions need to be adjusted, and allowances made for personal circumstances. Compassionate management should be the management style to oversee employees remotely yet legally.

– Lisa Thomas


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