- Returning to a physical workplace after COVID-19 brings with it a myriad of legal, employee, and public relations complexes for businesses.
- To ensure successful hybrid work, employers must answer critical operational, ethical and cultural questions;
- Action is needed to address the inequalities in the workplace exacerbated by the pandemic and longer-term remote working.
When corporate crises (pandemic or otherwise) arise, the companies that emerge stronger are the ones that can flexibly shape their businesses and employees to meet the new challenges they face. The unpredictability and extent of the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the world to adapt to a new way of working, sometimes practically overnight. Today more than ever it is necessary to rethink work and the way of working.
“Forget the normal … since the pandemic everything has to be checked”
– Dr. Margaret Heffernan, bestselling author and professor of practice at the University of Bath
The return to work
As some countries begin to relax their COVID-19 restrictions, companies need to think carefully about how to safely reopen their workplaces. For many governments, economic development is tied to the speed and success of the COVID-19 vaccination adoption, but how this will help employers varies around the world. In the US, employers are more likely to force their workers to vaccinate, but in many countries employers are legally unable to require workers to be vaccinated before they return to work.
In many European countries it is even illegal to inquire about the vaccination status of an individual employee. At the time of writing, the UK and French governments have mandated vaccination for workers in nursing homes or health care facilities, but these exemptions are very limited at the moment. For many employers, the issue of COVID-19 vaccinations is a Pandora’s box of legal and employee / public issues with the potential for discrimination, data protection, personal injury, labor law and violation of human rights claims. In practice, the reopening of the workplace must be gradual and careful, with social distancing and tightened hygiene protocols coupled with employee engagement and advice. If employers intend to use vaccination status as a condition of access to work they will need to review where this is allowed and may request a range of alternative options, e.g. B. Evidence of a negative COVID-19 test.
Hybrid working as the new norm
Flexible working is not a new phenomenon, but the trend towards more flexibility and teleworking has historically been mainly driven by (caregiving) employees. The sudden outbreak of the pandemic caused even the most reluctant employers to think about new agile work opportunities.
Many Fortune 500 CEOs were surprised to find that Working from home works. Although the projections vary, it is clear that there will be an increase in remote working, whether through individual choice or a change in company policy or strategy.
“More than 20% of the workforce could work three to five days a week as effectively as in the office. If remote work took hold at this level, it would mean three to four times as many people working from home than before the pandemic, with a profound impact on the urban economy, traffic and consumer spending, among other things. “
– “What’s Next for Remote Work,” McKinsey & Company, November 23, 2020
Before companies make radical changes to remote working policies, companies should consider the many interrelated legal considerations and factors, including labor law, employee taxation and benefits, health and safety, data protection and protection, and company law and taxation. Critical considerations for businesses include:
- Can the job (effectively) be done remotely?
- What (if any) limits are there for flexible working? Is it temporary or permanent or part time? Is it limited to the country in which the company operates? There are substantive tax, employment and immigration issues that arise from cross-border labor agreements. Is there a more flexible working time?
- Who bears the costs for home work equipment and expenses? What are the obligations of the company or the employee with regard to insurance and what controls does the company have to monitor compliance?
- Will the company monitor work performance and productivity while respecting employee privacy and private life? If so, how?
- How will the company monitor working hours, especially in countries like France, Spain and Italy, which have the right to disconnect outside of working hours?
- How is the company maintaining the culture and engagement with employees working remotely? Are those beginning their work journey getting the right level of supervision, guidance, and development opportunities?
- How will the company support those employees who find remote working challenging or unsafe, for example from a mental health or domestic violence perspective? What measures has the company taken to ensure the health and well-being of its employees? What training is there for managers and employees to identify early signs of problems and escalate or support a colleague who needs help?
- Do IT, data protection, “bring your own device” and other guidelines need to be updated or introduced in order to enable successful remote work?
Promoting Inclusion, Diversity and Equity (IDE)
Creating a diverse and inclusive workforce is a business imperative for global employers. It enables a broader talent pool and helps fill skills gaps, drive innovation, increase profitability and improve competitiveness. The pandemic and its disproportionate economic impact on women and ethnic minorities have brought inclusion, equality and diversity back to the fore on the corporate agenda, but if action is not taken, inequality can be exacerbated by the pandemic and longer-term remote working.
“COVID gives us the opportunity to highlight pre-existing social inequalities that have been exacerbated by a health crisis. So these inequalities existed before COVID, but they are intensifying right now and giving us cause to do more. “
– Ritu Bhasin, author and globally recognized expert on inclusion
How does a company use the power of inclusion to take advantage of a diverse workforce? A critical element of the diversity strategy is understanding workforce demographics and reviewing what is happening at each stage of the employment cycle to see if there are any unfair obstacles in the way. For most global corporations, such barriers are typically hidden, unintentional, or the result of historical legacies. Once these barriers are identified, take steps to resolve them – easier said than done when the barriers are created by deeply ingrained cultural norms. In many jurisdictions, actions such as diversity surveillance or positive action can be legally risky. For some companies, the legal risk of being on the wrong side of the law is a worthwhile sacrifice; others will want to take a different approach.
Alternative measures include checking that diversity training is up-to-date and up-to-date, soliciting feedback from employees (underrepresented or not) through anonymous questionnaires, and ensuring that the IDE strategy is top-down and through workplace Advocate is reinforced. Remember that IDE is not a static concept, it is a continuous journey. Organizations should take steps to have a solid program in place to monitor the impact of any action taken and be ready to adjust their approach if necessary.
The pandemic has dominated the news and our minds for over a year and has changed the way people live and work around the world. While the impact has been devastating in many ways, it has also stimulated positive change in the world of work by redirecting the focus on IDE issues and moving companies forward, leveraging flexibility and reinventing the future of work.