Long-term remote work (telework/WFH)

Published on : 02/10/2020 02 October Oct 10 2020

The news headlines have been full of predictions regarding the future of the traditional office space. “The office is dead!” “Corporate real estate is doomed!” “No one will ever return to the office!”

While we at Flichy Grangé Avocats cannot predict the future, we do realize that many businesses, big and small, have resorted to remote work during this pandemic, with a strong percentage deciding to continue such operations into the coming months. It has proven popular with a majority of employees, and allows business to keep running despite the propagation of the virus.

Maybe your business is operating at a mixed regime: alternating with one day in the office, one day from home, or dividing the week in half. Maybe you’re only asking essential workers to come into the office while others fulfill their work tasks from improvised home desk spaces. Or possibly, your entire workforce is at home, à la Twitter.

Whatever the rhythm or set up that you consider optimal, there are some risks and sensitive issues to be aware of. We’ll be addressing these in future letters and articles over the coming months, but here are some of the key ideas:

Work/life balance and working time: it’s easy for the lines to be blurred when your workspace and your living space are one and the same. Family time, childcare, rest and the right to disconnect are all muddled during this uncertain period.

Physical and mental health: Many employees have made do with improvised home offices, and so lacked the appropriate material and ergonomic desks/work chairs that are essential to ensuring a safe and comfortable environment. This can lead to physical ailments and stress.

Also, employers may see their liability recognized for accidents that happen in the employee’s home…during remote work.

Businesses should double check their insurance policies and the benefits allotted to workers, in order to verify that everyone has appropriate coverage.

Professional expenses: Unfortunately, the French labour ministry itself was contradictory about the rules regarding reimbursement of remote work expenses! This did nothing to help workers and bosses, still wondering who pays for the many costs and equipment that are needed to work from home: Wi-Fi connections, printers, electricity, but also the occupation of part of the residence for professional purposes.
Consequently, employers should be clear about what can be reimbursed and what is left to the expense of the employee and should put in place explicit policies communicated to all staff, and compliant with the provisions of the French labour code.

Equality among employees: certain employees will have an easier time working from home, depending on their personal living situation and family care obligations. Are they sharing Wi-Fi bandwidth, a desk space, and also balancing parental duties?

Keeping the connection: with a workforce that is spread out over kilometers and time zones, it’s possible that teams will feel disconnected. This can be particularly challenging for managers who will feel that their processes (monitoring, checking-in, providing feedback) are thrown off kilter by the lack of face-to-face interactions and time in the shared workspace.
It’s essential for managers to maintain contact with their teams, by fully embracing new technologies that offer innovative ways of checking and collaborating. Zoom, Teams, Skype, WhatsApp, Slack, Sms, email, phone calls…there have never been so many ways to communicate. Used wisely and while respecting their private life and personal time, these can preserve team spirit and the cohesion that so many employees thrive on!

Personal data protection:  The use of personal computers and phones for work purposes raises potential personal data issues and concerns, as well as privacy and confidentiality risks if the material does not come with appropriate security measures to ward off hackers or other malignant actors. Employees should be provided with the right material for their safety, but also that of your company and its clients!
 

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