Small businesses are receiving an influx of work-from-home requests due to COVID-19. As an SBO, accepting or denying requests should depend on a variety of factors.
Here's what you need to know:
- Something many businesses of all sizes are figuring out is exactly which positions work just fine remotely
- If a position can be done remotely, and your employee is suited for remote work, then it's a win-win
- Fewer people in the office means a safer work environment during coronavirus and also less overhead
- Make sure you’re following all guidelines regarding in-person work, including at the state and local level
- There are some positions and employees that don’t “work” remotely. It’s critical that you’re compliant when denying these requests
- Some businesses might take a hybrid approach to reopening, requesting employees to come in some days but work from home on others
Your business is reopening, but as a lot of small business owners have discovered, not every employee is happy about it. There are a number of reasons employees may not want to come back to work right now — some of them health-related (such as living with an immunocompromised person) and some of them financially-focused (like giving up an extra $600 unemployment check per week).
You’ll probably also experience an influx of requests from employees to work from home. Whether or not you accept such requests depends on various unique factors based on your business, the position, and the employee.
It’s in your best interest to establish parameters for working from home right now, knowing that such a topic will almost certainly evolve as we continue to situate into this new normal.
Here are some considerations as you draft such a document or think more about a specific work-from-home request.
Can an employee perform the position well from home?
Something many businesses of all sizes figure out during shutdowns is exactly which positions work just fine remotely. Ultimately, if a position can be remote and the employee filling that position proves they can do such work, this can be a win-win for all. Fewer people physically in the office doesn’t just mean a safer work environment during coronavirus but also less overhead.
Ultimately, if a position can be remote and the employee filling that position proves they can do such work, this can be a win-win for all.
Is the employee a good fit to work from home?
Just because a position can be remote doesn’t mean every person can handle virtual work. Another thing COVID-19 has taught us is exactly who can do remote work and who can’t. It is, of course, nobody’s fault if a specific in-office employee realized during shutdowns that remote work life just isn’t for them.
If you’ve already gotten a glimpse of how poorly an employee performs as a remote worker (but they’re a rock star in person) this is a very important factor to consider.
What are the reopening requirements of your state?
Different states and even regions have various regulations for reopening. These details might include how you handle remote workers. Make sure you’re following all guidelines, including at the state and local level. This alone might be a major factor in responding to those work-from-home requests.
Read more: Which U.S. States are Reopening?
Consider extenuating circumstance if employee is forthcoming
It’s critical that you ensure you’re compliant when denying these requests, and an updated HR job description can help you as you face work-from-home requests and approve or deny them.
Of course you wouldn’t (and, legally, can’t) ask an employee if there are specific health reasons for their wanting to stay at home. However, if an employee openly shares details with you — such as the fact that they’re immunocompromised or take care of an elderly parent who lives with them — it can be impossible not to let compassion play a role in your decision.
At the heart of this matter is both abiding by legal guidelines and making sure you treat everyone fairly. This can quickly become a sticky situation, which is a reminder of how important it is to have help with your HR needs.
At some point you’ll likely end up having to deny some requests. There are simply some positions and employees that don’t “work” remotely. It’s critical that you ensure you’re compliant when denying these requests, and an updated HR job description can help you as you face work-from-home requests and approve or deny them.
Here are a few reasons you might deny a request:
- The position doesn’t work at 100% remotely
- The employee isn’t as productive when they work virtually
- Simply put, if you legally can require someone to perform a job on-site, that can be reason enough to deny a request
A hybrid approach could be helpful
It’s very unlikely that any specific job will look like it used to any time soon. We’re all adjusting, including business owners and employees. Some small businesses might take a hybrid approach to reopening, requesting employees to come in some days but work from home on others.
This can help decrease the odds of spreading the virus while still offering employees some degree of remote work. Obviously, this won’t work for every position or person, but it’s an approach some companies are using, including major corporations like Intel.
Small business owners have never been in a position like this before. Typically, requests to work from home are few and far between, usually based on a new addition to the family or other circumstances that don’t happen very often.
Now, faced with a barrage of requests, small business owners are wrestling with how much compassion to show and how much they need to put the best interests of the company first. Updating your HR protocols and working with HR support services can help with a smooth transition while keeping you and your business protected.