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Virtual Workplaces: Technology and HR Considerations

Posted May 16, 2013 01:45 PM
Nonprofits that are set up to take full advantage of cloud-based technology are better able to adjust to the the current COVID-19 conditions.
Virtual Workplaces: Technology and HR Considerations

Photo by Bruce Clay

The need to work from home during the current health crisis gives us an opportunity to incorporate remote work when possible and give employees more flexibility.

Workplaces of the past

Let’s roll the clock back 20 years. Work was someplace you had to go. All of the information you needed for work was gathered in your office. Work depended upon mailed and distributed documents and information exchanged in one to one phone call or at face to face meetings.

Information was communicated through carefully crafted memos and letters created by secretaries or word processing staff. Meetings were set up by calling everyone... generally several times. When you were not sure about a fact, you had to find a book, wander the halls to find someone to ask, or call the library’s information line.

If you were not inside the office, there was very little work you could do. Offices and the constraints of office hours were unavoidable. Now they are optional.

Cloud-based email, chat, file sharing, databases and other programs can now be accessed through any computer and most phones. The cycle time for a communique among a group is minutes, not weeks. If there is something we do not know, we can get an answer in seconds. Doodle polls have replaced telephone tag.

So why are so many of us still going to work each day? As nonprofits we are supposed to be healing the world. Virtual offices are one way to do that.

New: HR & Technology Support for Remote Workers

When there are either personal health concerns or community health risks, work-from-home options are an important strategy. Given the sudden shift required nationally, we have partnered with Tech Impact in Philadelphia and developed a new website ( that provides you with many technology and HR resources to move to remote work.

Utilize tools available through Google and Microsoft 365 that support remote work.  For example:

  • Use chat for internal communications (Google Hangouts or Teams on MS 365).
  • Set up a virtual private network (VPN) to share files remotely or move your files into Dropbox, Google Drive, or Sharepoint.
  • Use conferencing or video conferencing for phone calls.
  • Move in-person trainings to webinars.
  • Use online tools that allow employees to track hours and easily account for flexible work time.

Flexible Hours and Workplaces

Offering flexible hours and workplaces will help you attract and retain good staff members and support staff when there is a community health risk.

Technology also makes it easier for us to offer family-friendly workplaces where

  • A parent can pick up a child after school, attend a teacher-parent meeting, or go on a field trip.
  • A person with an acute or chronic illness can take breaks that allow them to better manage their health.
  • People with communicable disease can stay home and avoid contact with others.

Telework can care for both our people and the environment by avoiding hours of rush hour traffic. Just why do we ask people to drive for two hours each way to come to the office by 8:30, five days a week, and then add another two hours to their day in the evening? Flexing hours or allowing for work-from-home days can make a difference to staff satisfaction, productivity, and Mother Earth.

So let’s throw off the past. The office is not the only place where work can happen. Offices are expensive. What if we laid off our office space instead of our staff when dollars are tight?

Remote work benefits

Research on remote work, including a meta-analysis of many studies that covered nearly 20,000 employees, has found that there are many benefits to employees and to employers:

  • Better work-life balance
  • Less stressed, happier employees
  • Higher staff morale
  • Higher productivity
  • Decreased absenteeism
  • Lower office/overhead costs

There are some cultural factors to consider:

  • Staff who are required to be in the office for some reason may be jealous of those allowed to work from home.
  • Additional communications and high value time together are needed to keep remote workers connected to other staff members and to the organization.

Some organizations worry about productivity. The question “How do we know ‘they’ are working when at home or working off site?” can be countered with “How do you know they are working when they are in the office?” In fact, studies have found that people are generally more productive when working off site.

Legal considerations

Make sure that you have policies and procedures in place, including an agreement with the employee about working from home.

  • Review your personnel policies to incorporate changes that include remote work. If you do not have policies, contact a human resources consultant to prepare personnel policies.
  • Have employees sign a remote work agreement that includes an attestation that they have a functional and safe workspace at home.
  • Make sure you have procedures in place to track hours, report overtime, and to guard against unauthorized overtime for nonexempt employees.
  • Employees are covered under workers' compensation when working at home, so any conditions that could increase the risk of injury should be addressed.
  • Privacy and confidentiality requirements need to be addressed since computers are often less secure in homes.

Want help?

Cloud-based technology is a key factor in making remote work accessible to more people and more successful as an organizational strategy. Software and equipment costs are lower, and collaboration and communications are much easier. Do you need a travel guide to the cloud? Give us a call; we can help you evaluate options for cloud-based office technology, databases, and collaboration.

The 501 Commons Human Resource program can also advise you on personnel policies that support remote work and flexible hours.