A Guide for Business Owners and Managers
The question I get the most these days as an HR professional is how to approach flexible work options. Remote work, hybrid model, working from home, flex schedule, compressed workweek, etc. The pandemic has unleashed various ways of working and because it has been going on for almost three years now, it has become the norm or at least an expectation. This new reality brings a lot of questions with little answers to Employers that are trying to run a business. It has changed the way recruitment is being done with the number one question being asked by candidate being can I work from home or from wherever I want?
Your legal obligations:
It is important to know that as an employer you have no legal obligation to offer flexible work options unless it is:
- a reasonable accommodation under the Human Rights Act,
- it is a provision in your Collective Agreement if you have one,
- if flexible work arrangement is in the employee’s employment contract or;
- if you have a current flexible work option policy in place.
In May 2022, Statista conducted a survey of all active business establishments listed in the Business Register that have an address in Canada and have employees. The respondents were asked what their expectations were regarding remote work for their business for the next three months. The survey took place between April 1, 2022, and August 6, 2022. Business owners in Ontario expected that 59.5% of their workforce will be working on-site exclusively.
What really matters:
But what really matters when deciding to offer flexible work options is your business and its ability to operate efficiently and generate revenue. As the employer you have the right to decide the operating model that is the best to generate revenues for your business. Of course, there are many advantages to offer flexible work options such as happier employees, fostering diversity and inclusion, retention, talent attraction, expanding your business offerings, client satisfaction, etc. The choice is yours to define what that balance between operational requirement, client service level and talent management is for your business.
If you don’t know if you should adopt a flexible work options model, reflect on the principles below. These might help you define what flexible work options may work for your business model.
1. What operating model do you want to run?
Do you wan to run a fully on-line, virtual office? Do you want to be a hybrid model of virtual and in office? Or do you want to be in the office 100%? The choice should be based on your business model and your client needs and wants.
2. Business Operational Requirements.
To define the business operational requirements, take all the job descriptions you have and assess them for the following criteria under a fully remote, hybrid or in office model. Do not think of the person holding the position, if they are a good performer or not or if they can do the work remote or not. Just think about the task and if those can be done in other ways.
Criteria for the assessment: Percentage of time during a typical working week.
Percentage of time that is client facing (defined by your business service model of walk-ins, appointments, etc.).
Percentage of time that in person meetings or in person collaboration with co-workers is essential (defined by mandatory in person meetings or set times to collaborate with other in person).
Percentage of time using the employer software on a secure server (software and server that would not be available outside of the office setting or would be at the greater risk of data leak or privacy breach if accessed on an open server).
Percentage of time needed to access important information such as client files, data, etc. (defined as when the information is only available in the office).
Percentage of time using the equipment of the employer that can only be access in the office (defined as secure scanner, equipment needed to perform the work that cannot be available in a home setting).
Percentage of time supervising employees that are on-site.
There could be more criteria based on the nature of your business.
The higher the percentage to these questions, the most likely that your business would be more successful in a in office setting versus a remote or hybrid model.
Other questions to ask yourself about the position that may not be quantifiable in percentage but none less important to answer are:
Is the designated work location defined in the employer’s policy, collective agreement, or employment contract in general?
Can the provision of the service to the client be negatively impacted if the work is done remotely?
Will the safety of the employees and the public be affected by the work being done remotely?
How important it is for this position to be expose in person to leadership of the organization to build relationship, networking, influencing, receiving coaching and mentoring?
How often this position would need to travel to the assigned office location if working remote? This may lead to extra cost if you need this person to come in the office often and they live far away.
There might be more questions to add depending on the nature of your business.
3. Communicating the business operational requirements to your employees.
It is critical to communicate the business requirements to your employees and how the decision to offer flexible work options or not has been made so they understand the reasons behind the approval or denial of request for flexible work options. Give them a safe space to come forward with their concerns, either be how they will manage childcare, transportation, cost of working in office, etc. It is important that you listen to them and see if there is any support you can provide. If you are returning to the office post pandemic, do it in a gradual way with plenty of advance notice to employees as to when they must report to the office. Give them time to readjust their lives and be flexible and patient.
4. Duty to accommodate:
All employers have a duty to accommodate up to undue hardship for situations that are covered under the Human Rights Act. Flexible work options can be a way to accommodate an employee. Accommodation based on the Human Rights Act need to be documented and sometimes required information from other professionals to ensure that the accommodation is suitable for the employee. We recommend the assistance of an HR professional to assist you with any accommodation requests.
5. Personal preferences:
Personal preferences such as wanting to be home for the children when they come home from school, preferring to work in the comfort of their home, etc. are personal preferences and are not deemed accommodation under the Human Right Act. Therefore, you do not need to accommodate employees for those. It is their responsibility to find ways to address those personal preferences. However, you should inquire as to how you can best support the person and listen to their concerns. Maybe there are some ways that you can alleviate the stress that sometimes is put on by juggling family and work life.
6. The difference between equality, equity, and fairness:
Regardless of what you choose, your employees may feel that your choice was not equal, equitable or fair. Understanding the definition of each one of these terms will help you make the right decision and explain to your employees the difference. Equality means the state of being equal, and equity adds the element of justice or fairness; it’s possible that “equal” treatment does not produce “equity” when conditions and circumstances are very different (Equality vs. Equity: What is the Difference? | Merriam-Webster). This mean that in choosing flexible work options you must ensure that you apply fairness in providing your employees with all the tools, resources, and opportunities to be successful. Being equal does not always lead to fairness because not everyone needs the same tools, resources, and opportunities to be successful. Here is an example: the employees at the reception desk must answer walk-in clients or welcome clients that come in person for appointment. Therefore, there is a need to have the person performing that task on-site and they cannot do this work remotely. On the other hand, the administrative employees that do the accounting and billing rarely interact with clients and when working from home during the pandemic demonstrated a higher level of concentration and less error in data entry. Therefore, that group could benefit from a hybrid model of remote and on site. Both groups are not doing the same work or have the same level of interaction with clients, therefore should not be treated the same. Where you would apply fairness and equality is within each group by ensuring that if you offer flexible work options within that group that everyone that is suited for it have access to it.
7. Manager and Employee flexible work options reality check.
Before you offer flexible work options, it is important to receive manager and employee’s perspective on the feasibility of such an option. Performance management discussion where expectations are clearly communicated and documented need to happen at that stage, so employees understand what is expected of them and in what fashion.
These are the question that you could ask:
Can the employee meet short notice tasks and urgent work assignment from the remote location?
Will the flexible work agreement impact co-workers as well as their respective workload?
Will interpersonal relationship with co-workers be affected because of the flexible work agreement?
Will building relationships with new co-workers be affected by the flexible work agreement?
Is the person able to work autonomously, without direct supervision?
Can they manage their workload and deliver quality products or services timely without being monitored?
Is their current performance conducive to remote work or should they be in the office and benefit from close supervision?
There are more questions to ask depending on the type of services you offer and the type of workforce you have.
8. Have proper agreement in place.
All flexible work arrangement must be in writing to ensure its validity, to protect the employee and the employer. At the onset of the pandemic many flexible work arrangements were done without paperwork, it was a reactive situation. Now that we are post pandemic, a documented and signed agreement is needed. The agreement can be for hybrid or fully remote, flexible schedule (different schedule for start and end of day), compressed work week (working more hours every day of the week to get one day off with pay every second week) or any other options that you decide to offer. Your agreement should be reviewed every year to give you and the employee a chance to make changes if the arrangement is not viable anymore or if the needs of the business have changed. We recommend the assistance of an HR professional to draft the agreement.
9. Be careful with:
Remote work in other countries. Your employee may ask to remote work from a sunny location during the winter months. Do your research and engage with experts on international employment law, taxation, workers compensation, contractual law, immigration etc. Many countries will ask you to register as a business and to pay taxes or be part of the unions in their country if you have employees working there. If you have a collective agreement in place, make sure you validate the jurisdiction of the union, many unions can only represent unionized employees in the province where employees are working and the country in which they are allowed to.
10. Get help!
Seek the guidance of an HR professional to help you along the way of flexible work options. Imagine Human Resources Consulting can help and have resources available for you. Contact us for a free consultation!