Going virtual with the workforce

Many companies have adjusted well to remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some found it to be a positive change and have even decided to adopt a fully remote workforce.  Their motivations are clear – savings in real estate and occupancy costs, the ability to access the right talent anywhere, and productive employees who don’t miss their commutes.

As more firms plan to make their next job postings national, you may be wondering what you might need to update in your HR practices to make it possible for your employees to live, work, and thrive anywhere. Here are a few considerations:

Legal or tax considerations – When your employees live in a different province than your main operations, you should ensure their payroll is set up for deductions according to the province where they reside, not your own location. Workers’ compensation rules and rates also differ and you need to be compliant in the province where the work is being completed. All this can add complexity, but is necessary for a distributed workforce.

Vacation and stat holidays – Vacation minimums and statutory holidays differ by province.  Saskatchewan, for example, requires each employee receive a minimum of three weeks’ vacation after a year of service, while Manitoba only requires two weeks. As you add employees outside of your own region, be sure you check legislation and comply with vacation minimums.

Many organizations seek a unified approach to vacation and stat holidays.  Best practice is to ensure equitable treatment, so you may need to offer more than the minimum in some provinces in order to offer a consistent and fair approach across all of your employees. 

Compensation practices – One of the biggest questions for employers with staff across the country is how to compensate employees in different regions. Although it can sometimes be harder to find talent in smaller markets, you may be able to acquire them with more affordable compensation because the cost of living is lower.  

This type of question needs to be informed by your compensation philosophy – if you have one, now is the time to revisit it and update it if necessary to include this decision. You can do one of two things: 

  • Assess market rates across the country and pay your employees according to the market rate where they live, or
  • Provide the same compensation ranges regardless of where people live across the country, as long as they are performing the same job. 

There are benefits and drawbacks to both approaches. The most important thing is to stand by your decision and communicate it appropriately as you establish compensation for new hires. If you don’t have a compensation philosophy established yet, this is a great time to create one.

When employees are working from home on a permanent basis, you need to outline the services and equipment that you require them to have, like a minimum speed internet service, a printer, or a land-line. Best practice is to provide reimbursement, or expressly state that remuneration is inclusive of any home-office costs for remote employees. Any existing employees that transitioned from in the office to working from home are likely to expect reimbursement or a raise to compensate for any mandatory costs. Ensure you write your policy before communicating your choice.

Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S) – Employers are legally responsible for ensuring a safe workplace, even when employees are working from their own home. How will you do that? At minimum, you should have ergonomic information and wellness tips that are relevant for working at home. If you are establishing a fully remote workforce, you may decide to invest in a specific office furniture and equipment package that can be shipped anywhere in the country, or to include an ergonomics assessment that can be conducted by a local OH&S consultant in your remote onboarding process.

Collective bargaining agreements – If you are hiring outside of your market for unionized roles, best practice is to consult with your union to understand if they feel the practice may need to be discussed. Understanding any impact to your collective bargaining agreements is key to establishing any new processes.

Remote locations – If you can hire employees from anywhere, you may want to consider whether remote locations are suitable, or if you want to require that employees still live in a reasonably accessible area. There are two reasons to think of it – access to reliable and affordable communications networks, and the ease and cost of transport to a major airport.

Companies that have been distributed for some time can attest to the benefit of occasional group meetings and team-building events. Once we are on the other side of this pandemic, the ease and cost of transport for each employee to get from their home to head office or an event facility needs to be considered. 

These basics are a great starting point to build a plan for your transition to a remote workforce.  One of the most important pieces of your plan, however, may be evaluation. Shifting permanently to working from home can alter almost everything – company culture, productivity, and how your employees manage conflict.  Be ready to evaluate – not just if your employees like the change, but also how they are performing as a team, your organization’s productivity, communication, and retention. Additional training, different policies, communication tools, or performance management practices may be necessary to ensure your success in fully remote work. The faster you can pivot to meet those needs, the more effective your team will be.

If you are looking for further resources and support, speak to our HR experts at People First HR, a People Corporation company.

Written by Deanna Lanoway, Vice President, Strategic Human Resource Consulting.