Associations Can't Afford to be Casual About Remote Work Policies



As the threat of the pandemic dies down (thankfully!) and offices begin to re-open, there is tremendous pressure on association executives to implement at least some kind of permanent flexibility for employees to work from home. There are compelling reasons for associations to adopt remote work policies; we just need to be thoughtful about doing so. This blog explores some of the reasons as well as key considerations for doing so. 

Normalizing remote work provides associations [at least] several key benefits. Among them are:

  • Greater flexibility and resilience to weather future crises that disrupt how business is traditionally conducted 
  • Positioning ourselves as attractive to new talent and potentially drawing that talent from a wider pool
  • Reduced expenses due to downsizing or elimination of physical office space
  • And, of course, demonstrating our responsiveness to the changing demands of our current workforce, which is perhaps the most pressing reason to adopt some provision for remote work. 

The current job market behooves associations to keep the talent we have and, in many cases, that talent is demanding the flexibility to work remotely. Satisfied employees are essential to a healthy organizational culture, and culture trumps strategy; ergo, satisfied employees are associations ticket to success. But...

Let's have a look at some things that need to be considered before associations jump into the deep end with remote work:

  • Culture - How will we cultivate a desirable organizational culture with a geographically distributed workforce? Develop the plan for doing so (perhaps in partnership with our staff or a culture committee) before implementing new, permanent remote work policies. 
  • Performance - Establish clear expectations regarding how association employees should engage in remote work. Can employees work from home while watching their toddlers? Is it okay to join virtual meetings wearing a ball cap and tank top? We cannot assume that employees will 'just know better' - expectations must be explicitly stated in writing, communicated to employees, and promptly addressed when a lapse occurs.   
  • Productivity - A shift to remote work increases the importance of having mutually established goals and performance expectations with each employee. This is in the employee and the association's best interests. A clear goal post lessons the likelihood of misunderstandings, disappointment, and accusations. 
  • Scheduling - Our remote work policy will need to address particulars about scheduling. For example, are employees expected to work regular hours, albeit remotely, or do they have flexibility on that? Do they need to be on-site or available remotely on certain days or times? Do hourly employees need to clock in?  
  • Tools - The crisis is over. A permanent provision for remote work means reviewing the tools available to employees and making sure they're set up for success with regard to hardware, software, internet connection, and support. While we don't have to outfit employees with a home office, we may want to look at issuing stipends or establishing a minimal package.   
  • Security - In all likelihood, your association addressed the security issues related to remote work during the pandemic but, before allowing permanent remote work, it's important to be sure. This requires a thorough review with our technology support and well as insurance provider. 
  • Tax and legal implications - Where our employees work from - and how frequently they work from a remote location- can impact the taxes to be paid as well as the legal obligation we have as employers. Associations must follow all laws local to where their regular employees reside/work. This issue may require a conversation with an HR professional if one isn't on staff. 

The decision to allow remote work on a permanent basis is not one that should be made lightly. As we explore this issue with our employees, it's probably a good idea to share this complexity with them and, perhaps, engage them in finding solutions.