Managing your remote workforce: Interview with Amanda Jones, SIRVA
Employers around the world are straddling a bridge between yesterday when most employees at most companies were physically present at work, and tomorrow, when a vaccine or effective treatment will open the possibility of a safe return to the traditional workplace. Yet even when that happens, remote work will have earned a permanent place in the employment mix.
In this interview with People Matters, Amanda Jones, SVP of Sales & Account Management in APAC & Middle East, SIRVA shares some of the tools and suggestions on managing your remote workforce.
Q: What kind of impact have organizations seen on the 'ways of working' in the last one and a half years, due to the disruption and uncertainty brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic?
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in global changes regarding just about every aspect of how we work, forcing organizations to reconsider what their future workforce will look like. As a result, organizations are either testing varying degrees of new working models or preparing to establish one, by asking themselves:
- What their new model will be?
- Should their employees to return to their physical offices?
- Is a fully remote model a better choice?
- What are the implications of a hybrid model, in which employees work from home part of the week and in the office for the remainder of that week?
- Can the business run effectively if employees work from home most of the time, but come to the office for meetings and presentations?
Ultimately, for organizations to move forward, they will have to be agile, adapting and innovating new ways of working depending on their business type, the number of employees or business units, the size, and footprint of the organization, company culture, and the organization’s tolerance for risk.
Q: It has been over a year and a half that most organizations have had to operate remotely. While this was initially a need of the hour, how can one implement a sustainable remote workforce for the future?
In light of the many challenges inherent with managing a remote workforce, careful planning and consideration will be key when developing a sustainable remote workforce framework, which includes:
- Stakeholder Input and Buy-In: It is important to assemble an internal, multi-faceted team that includes such functions as mobility, corporate tax, human resources, compensation/benefits, payroll, talent management, and data security/IT to secure and communicate a company-wide level of support and foster adherence and alignment with company goals.
- Determining Which Employees Qualify for Remote Work: There are some roles that may require occasional face-to-face time in an office, others that can be successfully performed 100% remotely with the right technological support and equipment, and still others that may require a greater in-office presence.
- Levels of Work-From-Home Support: Someone who is working from home a few days a week as part of a hybrid model won’t require the same level of support as someone who works from home full time, lives out of town, and needs to travel cross-border to complete his/her role requirements. While both approaches may require company-supplied equipment and technology, the latter will require additional, extensive support for tax and immigration compliance and travel.
- Employee Travel, Benefits, and Perks: Depending on the circumstances and role, expense coverage that might be considered includes the shipment of goods, destination assistance, tax consultation, and possibly tax preparation and/or immigration services.
- Employee Tracking: As a result of the pandemic, many companies realized that they didn’t have an adequate process or procedures in place to accurately identify where all of their employees were located in real time. This will continue to be a concern for companies that implement remote workforce models, since tracking their locations will be crucial to duty of care, identifying potential tax or immigration compliance issues, and the prevention of triggering the establishment of a business entity in a location where the company had no former presence. Technology that requires the employee to self-report where they will be (and when they will be there) should be considered as a part of workforce management plans. To assist businesses in this challenge, SIRVA has developed two separate technology platforms to address employee requests for remote work location approval and for monitoring business travel. For business travelers, we offer Traveler360, a platform that provides employers with real-time access to knowing where their employees are in the world at any given time. To process requests for remote work locations, SIRVA has developed a separate platform that intakes those requests and, in turn, raises any red flags regarding potential immigration issues and/or tax obligations that could be triggered.
- Duty of Care: Duty of care can be defined as an organization’s responsibility to protect its employees and ensure their safety and security. Though duty of care should always be a consideration in mobility and remote workforce planning, the pandemic has added both weight and scale to these concerns. Organizations planning remote workforce management may expand their definition to include guidance regarding compliance (immigration, tax, payroll, etc.), security resources, safe housing options, suitable healthcare, and mental health resources.
Q: In the era of the global workplace and dispersed teams, how can managers promote a cohesive culture?
Organizations will need to evaluate what their workforces will look like going forward. For many, there may still be support for in-person interaction, face-to-face collaboration, and being a part of an in-office community. In physically distanced scenarios such as fully remote or hybrid models, however, building a cohesive company culture can be a bigger challenge. Setting recurring meetings, providing mentoring partnerships, and communicating clear company and work policies all have heightened importance in a remote workforce model. Companies can also cultivate a cohesive culture by facilitating flexibility and elements of choice within their remote workforce plans and communicating company values to each and every one of its employees.
Q: With complete financial and economic recovery appearing still distant, organizations will need to keep cost control measures in effect. With that background, how do you see cost structures impacting a remote workforce?
Cost structures will evolve over time. As organizations tackle the challenges of economic recovery, we will likely see savings in certain areas and greater investments in others. For example, a company might see a reduction of overhead costs with fewer people working physically in the office, but have to consider compliance costs for a work-from-anywhere scenario. Some companies are considering cost of living adjustments as a tool to control cost when employees decide to move to areas with a lower cost of living. While many organizations are exploring the implications, it is currently a controversial topic.
Q: The potential costs of remote work—especially burnout—are as real as the benefits. How can employers continue to develop programs and policies that create an empathetic culture centered on employee engagement & wellness?
Creating a sense of team engagement can also be more challenging in a remote-work scenario, but it can be achieved through planning. Clearly communicating company mission statements and team goals provides a strong start, along with scheduling plenty of face-to-face time for both professional planning and team building – via virtual or off-site social gatherings. This can all greatly contribute to a sense of team unity and engagement. Managers should also be mindful that many remote employees may feel pressure to prove that they are actively engaged by responding to messages and requests immediately, every time they receive them. This can drain an employee’s energy quickly and may also take valuable focus away from projects that require a degree of uninterrupted attention. To avoid burnout and facilitate better workload balance, managers might consider providing teams with uninterrupted segments of worktime, in which privacy is respected as a time to focus on priority projects. This can be scheduled for the group or on an individual basis, depending on team needs and manager preferences, but should allow employees to “disconnect” from direct messaging or emails without fear of being perceived as unresponsive.
As work-from-home or remote work arrangements have intensified, so has the impact of work on our personal lives. Organizations need to proactively identify their overarching cultural challenges and holistically design or enhance support systems that address the specific forms of anxiety and physical health issues their employees face. For example, at SIRVA, we introduced a new Employee Assistance Program (EAP) at no extra cost to the employees to address issues employees and dependents may face, ranging from emotional and physical health to grief and loss, and/or parenting during the pandemic. The services are available virtually and in-person, with 24/7 support delivered by a network of established health providers in each country.
Q: What are some forward-looking imperatives that will enable companies to plant the seeds for long-term value creation from a remote model of work?
Organizations can start by assessing their pre-existing workforce management plans. By identifying what went well over the last year, and where they may need improvement, they can uncover valuable insights and opportunities for transformation. Next, they should set clearly defined work-from-home parameters, should the organization choose to move forward with establishing a remote workforce approach. Finally, designing and documenting a thorough program with clear and comprehensive guidelines – a program that keeps a close eye on location-specific compliance issues and that is clearly communicated to all staff members – will be key.
To know more about how you can manage your remote workforce, download this white-paper by Sirva that addresses the benefits of moving to a remote workforce, associated challenges and considerations, and guidance regarding establishing and managing a work-from-home program.