HR is a complex and ever-changing field. Professionals constantly need to ensure their organizations are following local and national laws and regulations. Especially during a pandemic, businesses regularly find themselves having to adapt to change.
While staying up to date with new COVID-19 regulations, companies need to keep their employees in mind. Tiffany Castagno, CEO of CEPHER LLC, says that prioritizing federal mandates is important, but “[a]t the same time you have a workplace culture to maintain.”
“I’ve been advising my clients to really understand how their employees feel,” Castagno says. “What is the perception that you want people to have in the workplace when it comes to health and safety?”
Following COVID-19 guidelines is essential from a legal standpoint, and it’s just as important to enact policies that suit employees’ needs and business values.
“Employers may feel that they’re doing all that they can do, but employees feel that just following the CDC guidelines or county health department might not be enough. Leaders need to try to reconcile that, so everyone feels safe and comfortable in the workplace,” adds Castagno.
That said, it’s well within the rights of an employer to have rules in place in addition to local and federal mandates. If a business feels most comfortable with a vaccine-or-test mandate, private businesses can put one in place, regardless of whether federal law applies to them.
Return to Office vs. Telework
Remote and hybrid work is quickly becoming the standard. Seventy-four percent of professionals anticipate that remote work will be the new normal, so leaders need to assess what work plan best suits their work. The key is finding a balance between corporate success and employee safety.
For example, if employees work best in collaborative settings and in-person interactions are needed, a return to office may be necessary. In contrast, if leaders find virtual meetings to be productive, a hybrid option is possible. Completely remote work options could be the best option for employees based on their comfort with COVID-19 precautions and other needs.
Hybrid work is likely to be the most common compromise due to its flexibility. Still, leaders need to reassess their processes, policies, and procedures.
“It’s a unique opportunity for employers to say, ‘Okay, how have we been doing things? What’s working, what’s not?’” Castagno says. “Employers really need to hear the voice of their employees and make sure that’s matching what client expectations are too, and that employees are comfortable with that aspect as well.”
While remote work is a safety precaution, it’s also a privilege for those who are able to work from home. As the future of work grows more digital by the day, managers need to assess how to keep track of employee productivity, and many are considering performance management technology to monitor their remote workforce.
Though these tools are growing in popularity, they shouldn’t be used in a punitive way. Meaghan Murphy, attorney with Skoler Abbott, says, “You want to find the balance between overly micromanaging employees, but not letting them get away with everything. You still have to manage performance.”
Management technology can only go so far before betraying employees’ trust. Leaders can consider it as an option but should also use preestablished methods to track employee success. Check-ins, coaching sessions, or weekly meetings are just as useful in keeping workers on track and happy.
Leaders should also keep in mind that the transition to remote work has been easier than many imagined. According to a PwC survey, 52% of employers and 34% of employees reported improved productivity while remote. Seventy-nine percent of employees report success in being productive while working from home.
HR professionals should check that there are policies in place for feedback and management and that their workforce is making use of them. Flexibility, understanding, and communication are essential in performance management, especially in the midst of a pandemic.
Takeaway for Employers
In adopting policies related to COVID-19, leaders need to make sure employees are at the forefront of all changes.
“Frankly, there’s a lot of change fatigue going on because things are shifting so rapidly,” Castagno says. “HR leaders should be very planful about change and the rate at which change is happening.”
Overall, HR professionals need to be attuned to their employees’ needs as they adapt to the changing conditions of the world. By keeping workers in mind, leaders will be more successful in maintaining compliance.
For more information on HR compliance in 2022, watch our on-demand panel discussion.