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Employees Working Remotely? Beware of These 6 HR Issues

Working remotely can be challenging for employees, leading to low motivation and feelings of isolation. Addressing common problems before they arise can keep your employees and your company productive.

Posted by Ann Snook on March 24th, 2020

Employees working remotely enjoy perks such as no commute, more flexible hours and better work-life balance. However, remote employees cite loneliness, lack of communication and distractions at home as their biggest struggles.

No matter how many employees work remotely or how often, some HR issues are inevitable. Taking the following precautions, though, can reduce your risk, keeping employees satisfied and protecting your company.

 

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1. Lower Productivity

 

Some remote employees say they experience boosted productivity. Without chatty coworkers, frequent meetings and the stress of a commute, they can focus and accomplish more tasks. They may also want to prove that they can perform well while working unsupervised.

However, remote work may actually lower productivity for some employees. One reason is that they can’t collaborate as easily with colleagues. In the office, in-person meetings and quick stops at a coworker’s desk make working together easy. Collaborating over the phone or email may slow the process and cause employees to feel frustrated.

Distractions in the home may also lower employee productivity. When they’re in the comfort of their own home, they may take more snack, nap or television breaks than they should. They may decide that a pile of dirty laundry or a sink full of dishes takes priority over work tasks.

Finally, there is no one to hold employees accountable when they work remotely. While many work fine independently, others need a supervisor looking over their shoulder to stay on task. Remote employees may start scrolling social media and before they know it, half the day is gone and they haven’t accomplished a thing.

Mitigate these risks by:

  • Encouraging managers to check in with remote employees frequently on their progress
  • Offering a number of options that make it easy to collaborate, such as video conferencing technology and an instant messaging platform
  • Asking managers to regularly check in with remote employees to ensure they stay on task

 

2. Poor Mental and Physical Health

 

Almost half of all remote employees say that the biggest downside is wellness-related. They feel unmotivated, lonely and like they can’t separate work and non-work hours.

Remote work can take a toll on employees’ mental health. They may feel isolated and disconnected from coworkers. Not seeing their coworkers and manager each day might make them feel worried about their performance or doubt their abilities. These feelings can even lead to anxiety and depression.

Working from home can affect physical health, too.  Not having to leave the house for work may lead to lack of exercise or poor diet. If employees worry about their job stability, they may experience insomnia, sleep disruptions and fatigue.

One cause of these issues is that many remote employees struggle to separate their work and home lives. They are  always “at the office.” They have constant access to work devices. As a result, they may feel guilty if they take breaks or don’t address a work problem right away.

Mitigate these risks by:

  • Encouraging remote employees to set strict business hours and “unplug” from work devices outside of them
  • Sharing information and resources about physical and mental health (e.g. therapists covered by your company’s benefits, mental health hotlines, healthy snack ideas, etc.)
  • Emphasizing the importance of good sleep habits
  • Offering fitness stipends to cover the cost of gym memberships, fitness equipment and workout classes
  • Offering incentives for employees who take regular, active breaks (e.g. log a certain amount of walking or exercise every month)

 

Keep your employees healthy and safe. Download our free coronavirus response checklist to make sure you’re taking all the important steps.

 

3. Ethical Issues 

 

Allowing employees to work remotely comes with the risk of a wide range of ethical concerns. For example, managers may have higher or lower expectations of their remote employees. They might think that remote employees should produce more since they don’t have to deal with commuting stress or office distractions. Alternately, they may give remote workers a smaller workload since it’s harder to communicate with them.

HR departments should also track how remote employees use their work devices. Without anyone to hold them accountable, employees working remotely may access sites or download programs that don’t fit with your company’s acceptable use policy. In addition, having their office at home makes it easier to use pricey company devices loaded with helpful software for personal projects.

Finally, business expenses can get tricky for remote employees. They might submit an expense report for anything from a pack of pens to a new printer to software, claiming they need it to complete work for your company. However, it’s likely that they will also use these supplies after hours.

Mitigate these risks by:

  • Communicating your acceptable use policy to all employees annually
  • Ensuring managers treat all their employees equally
  • Guiding remote employees on how to separate work and personal expenses
  • Using monitoring software to ensure remote employees adhere to acceptable device use

4. Time Theft and Sick Leave Fraud

 

While most remote employees are honest, working from home presents fraud opportunities for some. The easiest scheme to pull off when employees work remotely is time theft.

Without a manager checking in on them, remote employees could log in to your work system or track work hours that they actually spend doing something else. From watching TV to doing housework to having lunch with a friend, any time they log as work that’s not spent on work tasks is time and money lost for your organization.

Remote employees might also commit sick leave fraud. While in-office employees may also call in sick when they feel fine, it’s easier for employees working remotely. No one is around to question their symptoms or notice if they’re not acting like themselves.

Similarly, remote employees who feel ill might not take sick leave when they should. Rather than use up sick days, they may simply log into your system or track hours, but spend the day in bed.

Mitigate these risks by:

  • Requiring doctor’s notes for sick leave longer than three days in a row unless there are extenuating circumstances
  • Communicating sick leave and anti-fraud and theft policies to all employees annually
  • Use monitoring software to make sure employees are working during their logged work hours

 

5. Poor Team Dynamics 

 

Forming relationships with colleagues is one of the most important aspects of work. However, when employees work remotely, they can’t bond with their teammates face-to-face.

Because they aren’t in the office to learn their coworkers’ personalities and bond, they might feel disconnected from their team. Their only communications are impersonal emails or instant messages that often focus strictly on a business goal. Even with video call technology, they miss out on the small interactions that turn a group of workers into a team.

This disconnect might lead to lapses in communication and conflicts between team members. Managers not only have to handle their daily tasks, but also figure out how to connect remote employees with the rest of the team.

Mitigate these risks by:

  • Encouraging managers to organize weekly video team meetings that include their remote employees
  • Budgeting funds for team outings that include remote employees (if possible)
  • Sharing virtual team building activity ideas with managers

 

6. Low Morale

 

Because they can’t be in the office with their coworkers, remote employees may feel left out . They don’t get to experience your company’s culture, an element that is almost as important as the business you do.

Managers don’t know what’s going on with their remote employees day to day, just as employees working from home don’t know what’s happening in the office. Employees often share office news by word-of-mouth before official announcements are made, but remote employees are often the last to know company news.

When they can’t identify with your workplace culture or daily operations, remote employees may not feel as loyal to the company. They also can’t see the results of their work as easily. All of this may lead to low focus and morale.

Mitigate these risks by:

  • Live streaming company events (e.g. holiday party, company picnic, all-staff meetings) for remote employees
  • Encouraging managers to update remote employees on how their work is helping achieve the company’s goals
  • Informing remote employees about company news and announcements ASAP
  • Rewarding or recognizing employees for good work and time served at your company to incentivize remote workers to stay with you

 

Be Prepared if You Have Employees Working Remotely

 

Remote work comes with a unique set of HR issues. However, keeping employees involved, updated and appreciated can mitigate many of the risks to your company.


Ann Snook
Ann Snook

Marketing Writer

Ann is a marketing writer at i-Sight Software. She writes about issues related to investigations of fraud, employee misconduct, corporate security, Title IX, ethics & compliance and more.

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