Resource Library

Managing Remote Employees: Understand, Mitigate the Risks

Manager plugging into his team a remotely working female employee to share a task with an on-site male employee.

Date: December 2022

Managing remote employees brings a unique set of challenges that may affect employee focus, productivity and creativity. Employees who work remotely may develop a feeling of isolation while those who remain on site may see themselves as being treated disparately.

Although telecommuting may be new to public entities, it is not uncommon in other sectors. Building on this knowledge, public entities can take advantage of well-developed best practices to make the situation successful for both management and employees, as well as reduce the risk of having to deal with an employment claim in the future.

Successfully Managing Remote Employees

Members are encouraged to consider the following best practices as new work structures and telework policies are implemented to create an environment for success between management and employees.

1. Create structure and set clear expectations early:

  • Have well-documented policies and procedures for remote work arrangements, and ensure that employees understand them clearly.
  • Have identifiable and measurable deliverables and goals, and describe how deliverables and goals will be tracked.
  • Be certain that expectations and boundaries, especially those that are new or different, are memorialized in a telework agreement to avoid a later misunderstanding.

2. Focus on communication: Purposeful, deliberate and frequent communication is essential.

  • Determine which communication technology and techniques best fit your needs.
  • Although it is important to demonstrate engagement with a team, overcommunication or micromanagement may be perceived as a sign of distrust and cause employees to be less productive and engaged.
  • Adapt the length of meetings to keep them concise and purposeful, with a short list of key messages, to keep employees focused and on message.

3. Provide ongoing training: When employees are not on site, access to training has a tendency to be curtailed.

  • Be certain that remote employees have meaningful access to the same training information as their on-site peers.
  • Because remote employees do not have the same opportunity for informal face-to-face interaction with supervisors, such as simply walking over to a supervisor’s desk to ask a question, be deliberate and timely with any needed feedback, especially constructive feedback.
  • As always, memorialize these discussions in writing where appropriate.

4. Avoid distractions at home: Ensure that remote employees have a dedicated workspace, free from distractions, before placing them in a remote setting. Although the occasional dog bark or child interruption may be unavoidable, it should be the exception, not the norm, especially with citizen-facing employees.

5. Treat employees equally: A flexible arrangement, such as different hours of work, may be necessary to allow an employee to work from home. However, understand the potential for a claim of disparate treatment if on-site employees are not afforded the same opportunity for flexibility. Conversely, if there is training or activities that involve on-site but not remote employees, the same considerations apply. Discuss these topics and potential issues with human resources.

Remote Office Technology

Even though employees may be working remotely, management must ensure that IT equipment and services are secure and satisfy the member’s obligation to protect data and information.

1. Determine the most effective technology: Employers need to ensure that the technology available to remote employees will enable them to be effectively connected to the systems needed to complete their work. If remote employees are asked to provide their own equipment, determine: 1) how the employee will be compensated and technical support will be provided; and 2) what system features and security are required. These considerations apply to any piece of equipment used for business purposes, including mobile devices.

2. Be ready to manage technology problems: Although many employers have a dedicated IT resource, certain employees may be too geographically dispersed for this arrangement. Have a pre-arranged solution available so that when a technical problem emerges, employee connectivity is promptly restored, so employees can accomplish tasks and objectives.

3. Ensure data security and privacy: Securing private data is a significant responsibility for public entities. Maintaining data security in the face of real threats, such as hackers, activists and employee errors, is a challenge that everyone in the organization must work to overcome. These same considerations apply, perhaps even more, when employees are working remotely. Review MCIT’s publication Essentials of Data Security for Public Entities for more information.

Considerations for Employees’ Home Offices

Whether an employee is working in an employer’s office or telecommuting from a remote location, following ergonomic and safety best practices are essential in the work space for the employee’s health and safety.

How an employee uses the work space and where office equipment is positioned can help make an employee more comfortable and help reduce potential strains. Likewise, an office chair that is adjusted to fit can provide better support and comfort. Over time, performing tasks at a workstation or sitting in a chair that is not appropriately adjusted can lead to discomfort, strains or other injuries to muscles and tendons. Once injured, an employee is much more likely to re-injure the area in the future.

MCIT’s pamphlet Your Guide to a Comfortable Workstation offers more information.

Learn More

MCIT offers additional information regarding managing the risks of remote workers in the following publications, all available in the Resource Library:

MCIT risk management and loss control consultants are also available to address members’ concerns. They can be reached toll-free at 1.866.547.6516.