Learning To Build A Stronger Teams In A Virtual World

Their positive attitudes carry an edge of lighthearted humor that paints the HR field with a ‘can do’ attitude for tackling challenges and employment law changes.

Andrea Conrad, Numbers 4 Nonprofits Inc

Many of us are starting to think about what our workspaces will look like when we are able to return more consistently or completely to the workplace. These options include returning full time to the office, continuing to work remotely, or a blend of the two.  No matter which option your organization chooses for its new normal, leaders will need to focus time on retaining talent by nurturing workplace culture and offering professional development opportunities to team members.

As you nurture your workplace culture, consider surveying your team members to learn what helped them be successful in their work and connect with their coworkers while working remotely. When considering professional development, evaluate your current practices and how they can be adjusted to fit and support your new work environment. If your team members will be working virtually – fully or partly – consider how you can offer them virtual coaching and professional development. Employees have proven that they can work, grow, and learn successfully in a virtual world.

Life-long learning is important to all of us at Lake Effect, so we have adapted our in-person workshops to engage with a virtual audience. We love training in-person, but we have found that we also connect, engage, and share knowledge as effectively over Zoom or Microsoft Teams. We realize that Zoom fatigue is real, so we have shortened our workshops to 1-2 hour sessions. To continue to support our clients, partners, and their employees, we offer a variety of in-person and virtual workshops in the following areas:

  • Aligning Strategic Plan & HR
  • Coaching
  • Communication
  • Conflict Resolution
  • Crisis Management
  • Culture Building
  • Employee Development
  • Legal Compliance
  • HR Compliance
  • Management Training
  • Performance Management
  • Respectful Workplace
  • Team Engagement

State Employment Laws to Consider with Remote Workers

Employers across the country – from small nonprofits to multi-national corporations – are grappling with whether and how to maintain a remote workforce with employees in multiple states. There are distinct advantages to allowing employees to work from their home, wherever that may be, and opening the applicant pool to a remote workforce. (See our previous blog on how to sustain company culture with a remote workforce.)

When evaluating remote employment plans, it is critical for employers to review the state and local laws that apply to workers outside of Wisconsin. Many of those laws apply even if an employer has only one part-time employee working in the remote location. Below are some of the important legal issues to consider:

  • Paid Sick Leave. States and municipalities across the country have enacted mandatory paid sick leave laws, most of which apply to all employees working in the particular state, county, or city. An employer’s PTO policy generally will comply with the paid sick leave law if the PTO provides a specified minimum level of benefits. However, employers should review the specifics of any relevant paid sick leave laws, including the laws’ required notices to employees. Those notices may need to be included in a handbook and/or with paystubs.
  • Paid Family and Medical Leave. At least nine states and the District of Columbia have also enacted mandatory paid family and medical leave laws that apply to all part-time and full-time employees working in the state or district. The leave programs differ in the amount of leave that must be provided, benefits, eligibility requirements, required notices, and how the programs are funded. Employers should review these laws if applicable and ensure their leave policies comply.
  • Employee agreements. State laws vary dramatically as to the enforceability of non-competition and non-solicitation agreements. Most states require these agreements to include limitations on their geographic scope and length of restriction. Some states also require employers to give the employee something, such as a bonus or promotion, in exchange for signing a non-compete or non-solicitation agreement while others require specific language be included in these agreements. Some states prohibit all non-competes (D.C. is currently considering such legislation) while some prohibit non-competes with employees who are paid below a specified wage threshold. To reduce the risk of an employee agreement being struck down by a court, it is important to review the applicable state laws and incorporate all requirements.
  • Pay history and criminal background checks. When recruiting nationwide, employers should ensure they are complying with the growing number of laws limiting or prohibiting inquiries into an applicant’s pay history or criminal background. These laws were largely enacted to create more opportunities for women and people of color. They also reflect HR best practices. Inquiring into pay history and/or criminal background may unnecessarily limit the applicant pool and hinder efforts to create a more inclusive workplace culture.
  • Anti-harassment training. At least six states, including Illinois, require employers to provide anti-harassment training to employees and supervisors working in their state. Other states encourage, but do not require, anti-harassment training. Even if not legally required or encouraged, we recommend employers provide anti-harassment training at least every other year.
  • Business Expenses. As more employees are working from home, employers should review their business expense policies for compliance with the laws of the state in which employees work. For example, California and Illinois have specific laws on what business expenses must be reimbursed by an employer.
  • Drug testing. Drug testing laws vary from states such as Minnesota, with strict policy and process requirements to states such as Wisconsin where the laws are more lenient. Employers who require drug tests also should take into consideration whether the recreational and/or medicinal use of marijuana has been legalized in the state where the employee works. Over 30 states and municipalities have legalized marijuana in some form.
  • General employment laws. Each state has enacted its own general employment laws covering, for example, minimum wage, other wage and hour requirements, workplace safety, workers’ compensation, unemployment insurance, and anti-discrimination. Employers should review these laws and ensure their employee handbook, policies, trainings, and practices are in compliance.

Lake Effect is here to answer your state and federal employment law and HR questions related to a remote workforce. We continue to monitor important legal and HR developments, as well as COVID-related updates from federal, state, and local authorities. Please keep watching our blogs and emails for these important updates, as well as discussions of how compliance meets culture. To dive into these issues, contact us at info@le-hrlaw.com or 1-844-333-5253.

'Tis the Season

This year has taught us lessons we could not have imagined a year ago: lessons on time management, work-life integration, and overcoming professional and personal hurdles. Even in the best of times, the end of the calendar year can be extremely busy for many organizations. For individuals, this time of year also brings hectic schedules and other stressors, both emotional and financial. Additional challenges presented by the pandemic, social unrest, and the recent contentious election will likely make December 2020 a uniquely difficult time.

As we head into this month, we encourage you to take a step back and think about what you expect from your teams, and what you can offer them in return.

  • As more organizations continue with a remote work force, it becomes easy to assume someone is available and checking in at all hours of the day. Learn to respect employees’ off-hours by honoring their boundaries and implementing strategies that allow them to disengage and focus on other aspects of their busy lives:
    • Empower employees to honor their own boundaries by committing to not working during their off hours.
    • Set clear expectations for employees and supervisors about work hours and non-work hours and encourage all to respect these times.
      Encourage employees to use their “out of office” messages in email or voice mail during non-working hours.
    • Consider whether your emails to staff who are on vacation need to be sent immediately. Does the email involve an issue that can wait until they return to work? Even if you don’t expect them to respond to you at that time, sending a message during non-working hours can have a negative effect on employees trying to disengage.
    • Use the Delay Delivery option on email. This tool allows you to draft a message while it is fresh in your mind but delays an employee’s receipt of that email until they resume work hours.
    • Make sure your non-exempt employees and their managers understand that all work time – even checking and responding to quick emails at night – is work time that must be tracked and compensated.
  • Think about other ways you can support your employees individually and collectively at this time:
    • If your benefits plan comes with an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), now is a good time to share the information again with employees to remind them of the services that are available to them. If employees do not have access to an EAP, consider partnering with local non-profit agencies that may be able to provide different resources and support. For example, United Way 2-1-1 is a national hotline that connects people with resources in their own communities and is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
    • Does your organizational have a culture that encourages mental and physical wellness? Consider organizing a challenge to incentivize self-care or arrange for group exercise times.
    • Coordinate fun group activities such as cookie recipe exchanges, secret gift exchanges, or donations to a non-profit your organization supports.
  • Show support for your employees in tangible and intangible ways:
    • If your organization has a budget for it, consider sending a “Thank you for getting us through 2020” gift, gift card, or bonus with a personal message written to each employee.
    • Surprise employees with an extra half day off one afternoon; encourage them to take the time to do something nice for themselves.
    • Check in with your employees individually; ask them “Are you OK?” and mean it. Listen to their concerns.

By necessity, you spend most workdays focused on the needs of your organization, clients, and other stakeholders. This month, we encourage you to take some time to focus on your employees, one of your most important assets. It’s been a hard year for so many. Let’s grant each other some grace to finish out the year strong, and together we can welcome 2021 with renewed strength.

Engaging & Retaining Employees, While Navigating FFCRA & FLSA

Five months after quickly transitioning to a “temporary” virtual workplace, many employees are still working at home. They are also managing caregiving and work responsibilities, as well as their own physical and emotional wellbeing. Employers are now struggling with how to adapt short-term fixes into sustainable, longer- term solutions that will engage and retain a virtual workforce.

In the face of this challenge, consider incorporating the following practices into your workplace culture to support your employees’ wellbeing and fulfill your organization’s mission and strategic initiatives.

  • Maintain flexible scheduling. As home and work priorities shift, employees may be more productive and focused during non-traditional business hours or blocks of time during the day, including evenings and weekends. When team members work different hours, encourage them to communicate and be transparent about their schedules. This will promote a productive workflow and strengthen working relationships.
  • Continue virtual work. If your team has proven they can be successful working virtually, continue to provide this flexibility. This may give those employees who need or want to work from another location an opportunity to spend the summer at their cabin, rent a VRBO, or stay with out-of-town family or friends for an extended time.
  • Welcome the interruptions. Intentionally or inadvertently, we have met (or heard in the background) our coworkers’ furry friends, kids, family, and roommates. We’ve had an opportunity to visit our coworkers’ homes through the lens of our computer cameras during video conferences. Rather than begrudging the interruption, welcome this opportunity to get to know one other as individuals, not just coworkers.
  • Encourage employees to collaborate on pod learning and/or caregiving responsibilities. As many school districts have decided on some version of virtual learning, employees may want the opportunity to work together to create pod learning or shared childcare. Connecting employees in this manner may provide them an opportunity to work alternate days or times. In addition, consider converting unused conference rooms to temporary classrooms or playrooms, just be sure to check with your worker’s compensation carrier.
  • Promote wellness benefits and other wellbeing resources. Work closely with your benefits broker, understand your current organization’s wellness benefits, and educate your employees on these offerings. During your annual renewal, consider additional, lower cost, but high health reward benefits to better support the wellness needs of your staff. These benefits may include an employee assistance plan (EAP) or subscription services to wellness apps, online yoga classes, coffee clubs, or other services that support wellness activities for your entire employee population, even those who do not participate in your health, dental, and vision plans. Focus as well on virtual activities your employees can engage in together, such as company-wide or departmental fitness or step per day goals.
  • Encourage use of paid time off. We might not be planning our once-in-a-lifetime vacation this year, but there are many adventures awaiting us locally. Remind employees of their PTO balance and encourage them to take time to recharge, this may include helping them efficiently tackle their work tasks so they can enjoy the time away. Add some fun and promote their time away by sharing pictures of their adventures on an internal shared site.
  • Support your wellness/social committee. A wellness committee is usually made up of a group of employees that are passionate about wellness and engaging their coworkers in some office fun. This group may be able to plan virtual celebrations, arrange for group wellness activities, or delivery company branded gifts to employees’ homes, like customized face masks and small hand sanitizers! Include gift certificates to encourage employees to support local restaurants and shops.
  • Review processes and procedures. Update processes and procedures to be more efficient and relevant in your current work environment. Review expense reimbursement procedures to determine if you should start reimbursing for employees’ virtual expenses, such as cell phone, internet, hotspot, or office supplies/equipment.
  • Evaluate leaders’ job duties and responsibilities. In addition to leading people, leaders have their own job responsibilities and deadlines to meet. Provide leaders more time to lead during these uncertain times by transferring job duties that may provide others a growth opportunity. You may find that after updating processes and procedures to be more efficient, employees may have more capacity and would welcome to learn a new skill.
  • Continue coaching and development efforts. Employees want and need frequent feedback and recognition, especially during times of change and uncertainty. Consider adapting your process to better suit your current workplace situation to ensure supervisors are frequently communicating with direct reports. Encourage managers to check in with their teams to find out how they are doing, if they need additional resources, and to remove any roadblocks.
  • Keep calm and communicate. The COVID-storm has not passed yet, keep communicating frequently with your employees. Now, more than ever, employees want to know how COVID-related changes are impacting the organization and themselves. Discuss with employees the direction of the organization, how they can support the organization’s initiatives, and when they achieve their goals.
  • Be true to your organization’s mission. When considering how to adapt your workplace, remember your guiding star – your organization’s mission, vision, values, and strategic plan.

If you have questions about managing and engaging a virtual workforce, leave requests, or other FFCRA or FLSA related questions, the HR and legal team at Lake Effect can help.

We are closely monitoring the impact of COVID-19 on the workplace. Keep watching for blogs and emails from your Lake Effect team for important legal updates and HR best practices. The attorneys and HR professionals at Lake Effect HR & Law are ready and willing to help. Contact us at info@le-hrlaw.com or 1-844-333-5253.

Safer at Home Extended - Preparing for Your “New Normal”

In the wake of Governor Evers’ extension of Wisconsin’s Safer at Home Order until May 26th, we are all eager to return to our normal ways, but what will our normal be after the quarantines lapse? What can we learn from this experience? What do we want to carry forward as part of our “new normal,” both personally and in the workplace?

Many people have discovered that they enjoy the flexible work schedule and wellness habits that they can incorporate while working at home. People have enjoyed sleeping in (minus the COVID-19 related dreams), eating healthier, taking walks in the afternoon, spending more quality time with the kids, working during their most productive time of their day, and implementing other work/life balance habits that were difficult to attain in the past. Some organizations are facing very dark days, reducing staff and pay, and anticipating future challenges. In the face of it all, however, organization leaders have expressed pride in the innovation, collaboration, resiliency, and flexibility of their teams over the past few weeks.

What can we learn from this? What can we adopt and incorporate to improve work performance, relationships and overall job satisfaction? Ask yourself and your team members what went well during this time and how you can continue to support new-found innovation, creativity, engagement, collaboration, and resiliency. Use this challenging experience as an opportunity to capture the best parts of your organization’s new normal and strategize now to prevent your organization from falling back into old, bad habits.

In addition, take some time to review your emergency and business continuity plans, handbook policies and procedures, and benefit plans to ensure that your organization is better prepared to manage future catastrophic events. You may want to consider some of the following:

  • Implement an employee assistance plan, including free and confidential assessments, short-term counseling, referrals, and follow-up services to employees who have personal and/or work-related problems including work-life stressors, family issues, financial concerns, relationship problems, addiction concerns, etc.
  • Implement a financial literacy and advisory program for your team to improve financial literacy, planning and security.
  • Establish an internal Emergency Action Plan and communicate it to staff on a regular basis. Consider testing the plan with impromptu drills.
  • Integrate flexible work schedules and virtual work opportunities that can minimize commute times, reduce transmission of infection, encourage healthy habits, and enable team members to spend more time with family. Expand leave policies to include care for close friends and non-traditional family members.
  • Expand bereavement leave policies to include loved ones beyond immediate family members. Consider providing more than a few days to grieve or plan a funeral.
  • Modify the way you coach and manage employees’ performance to move away from micromanaging to a results-based methodology.
  • Move to a (more) paperless work environment to support virtual team members and improve organizational preparedness during unexpected disruptions or workplace closings.
  • Review and enhance IT security to protect the information of your team members, organization, and clients/customers.

The legal and HR team at Lake Effect is closely monitoring the impact of COVID-19 on the workplace and will continue to provide our clients with updates as they are available. Check out our COVID-19 resource page for all of our pandemic-related legal updates and HR best practices. The attorneys and HR professionals at Lake Effect HR & Law are ready and willing to help. Contact us at info@le-hrlaw.com or 1-844-333-5253.

Lake Effect HR & Law, LLC
(844) 333-5253 (LAKE)
info@le-hrlaw.com

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