Virtually or remotely working (from home) can be very challenging to both employees and employers.
During this pandemic, typical work procedures and arrangements must be modified and be adaptive to the new reality.
Here is some guidance and tips to both employees working at home, and employers who now must lead them remotely.
IF YOU ARE WORKING REMOTELY OR AT HOME:
- maintain structure;
- plan your day, as if you are going to work (follow your morning routine, try to do the same things you would ordinarily do when starting your day, subject to your other responsibilities at home, like trying to parent children at home due to the school closures;
- make adjustments, if needed, to the hours you ordinarily would work in the office, because of child care and other responsibilities you may now have, because you are sharing equipment with a partner who is also working from home, or for any other reason;
- keep your employer updated on your success with your arrangements for working remotely - they will appreciate you doing so;
- set up a designated space for working;
- if you are struggling with the transition, focus on the benefits (i.e., how much commute time are you saving? Consider gas, transit, coffee, or parking savings, too);
- use technology to stay present and connected - structure your daily schedule to accommodate communication with co-workers – find new ways to maintain connection, to help prevent feelings of isolation;
- subject to the emergency orders and healthcare officials’ recommendations, take the time to get fresh air and exercise; even in times of self-isolation, a physically distanced walk can help maintain sanity and good health;
- if you feel like you need more guidance when working from home, initiate regular check-ins with your manager to provide more structure;
- good, regular communication with your employer and co-workers is essential;
- try not express your frustration or dismay by email or texts – talk through issues by ‘phone or virtually; and
- give yourself a break, especially if you have children at home for whom you care – don’t be too hard on yourself; you’re only human!
IF YOU ARE MANAGING EMPLOYEES WORKING REMOTELY OR AT HOME:
Leading remotely can be challenging – some guidance to be successful:
- check in regularly with your employees – make them feel comfortable and connected;
- schedule regular team meetings or virtual sessions, as well as one-on-ones, to maintain the flow of work and communication;
- e-mail and instant messages can lack tone and create misunderstandings - lead by example by not jumping to assumptions and address potential conflict immediately;
- even if you have known your employees for years, work to maintain strong relationships from a distance;
- express appreciation for your team, acknowledge birthdays and other special events or occurrences;
- encourage your employees maintain work-life balance and wellness – help them set boundaries to ensure the home is not an around-the-clock workplace;
- set clear start and finish times for yourself, as well as breaks that would normally occur in the office;
- let your employees know when you will be “out”, or taking a break;
- take advantage of e-mail, instant messaging and virtual technology to facilitate different ways to communicate;
- turn video on for one-on-ones and team meetings - help your team feel more present and engaged;
- shift to a results-focused mindset, rather than a time-focused mindset by setting clear performance goals; and
- facilitate more flexibility with schedules, and less anxiety for parents that may be having to split their time between managing children and work.
ONTARIO’S HUMAN RIGHTS (FOR EMPLOYEES):
Remember that employees in Ontario are protected by Ontario's Human Rights Code (the "Code") in terms of the COVID-19 pandemic. Currently, those protections include:
- it is discriminatory to treat employees who have, or are perceived to have, contracted COVID-19, in a negative manner, for reasons unrelated to public health and safety;
- employers have a duty to accommodate employees in relation to COVID-19, unless it would amount to undue hardship based on cost, or health and safety;
- employers should not treat employees in a differential manner over COVID-concerns, unless these concerns are reasonable and consistent with the most recent advice of medical and public health officials;
- unless an employee can provide a legitimate reason why he or she cannot work, employers have a right to expect they will continue to perform their work. If an employee is required to self-isolate for legitimate reasons, the employer can explore alternative options to allow the employee to continue to work;
- employers may not discipline or terminate individual employees who are unable to come to work because medical or health officials have quarantined, or advised them to self-isolate and stay home because of COVID-19 concerns;
- employers should accommodate employees who have care-giving responsibilities to the point of undue hardship, which may include working from home, reduced hours or leave without pay;
- employers should take requests for accommodation in good faith and avoid requiring medical notes to justify employee absences where such notes are unnecessary; and
- it is not discriminatory to lay off employees if there is no work for them to do because of the impacts of COVID-19.
Employers should also remind employees that it is unacceptable to treat other employees or members of the public differently, or assume they might be infected with COVID-19 on the basis of their race, place of origin, citizenship, ethnic origin or ancestry.
Assuming that someone has the virus because they happen to have exhibited one of the symptoms of the virus and because of an assumption about where they are from based upon how they look would most likely be considered discrimination.
If an employer were aware of this differential treatment and chose to do nothing about it, they could be exposed to liability since employers are in most cases vicariously liable for the actions of their employees.
Differential treatment related to this virus is not permissible.
Employers should likely go further and communicate that any employee who behaves in such a manner will be subject to corrective action and, possibly, discipline.