Remote work arrangements provide additional options for the education industry as they manage COVID-19 exposures and illnesses.
Six months ago, flexible schedules and remote options were not common in most education entities. As a result of the pandemic, employers are realizing their employees can be productive and engaged while working remotely, even in education.
As schools prepare to welcome students back in the fall, it’s tempting to return to our standard work arrangements. Before hastily making that shift, employers may want to consider the benefits and flexibility remote work options offer for the employer and the employee.
Under normal circumstances, many employees (e.g., teachers, child nutrition workers, custodians, bus drivers) were unable to perform the essential duties of their jobs remotely. While some jobs still fall in this category, the number is fewer than it was in the past. We know remote instruction will be needed to respond to COVID-19 closures, to ensure social distancing, and to accommodate parental choice to keep children home.
Remote work opportunities can be used to enhance existing recruitment tools and help the employer be more competitive with the private sector. This option also broadens the applicant pool and provides inclusivity by increasing the number of candidates from various socioeconomic levels, geographic locations, and cultural backgrounds, which improves the employer’s diversity.
Employer benefits from work-from-home arrangements include:
- Lower cost for overhead and facilities and continuity in operations
- Expanded options when making an American with Disabilities Act (ADA) accommodation
- Improved performance and increased productivity
- Reduced absenteeism and increased employee morale
Employers will have to make several staffing determinations based on their instructional model, including the following:
- Which teachers will need to work remotely to properly educate students in the virtual instructional arrangement
- Number of teachers required for remote instruction
- Employees needing an alternative work arrangement or flexible schedule because of high-risk health factors, lack of childcare, or other circumstances
- Positions required for onsite support or not conducive to alternative work arrangements or flexible work schedule
An Alternative Work Arrangement Request Form is available in the HR Library to assist HR in determining an alternative work arrangement or a flexible schedule. A fair and consistent process should be established to assess the position and individual’s suitability for remote work or flexible schedule. This form considers the position and employee characteristics and includes input from the supervisor and HR approval.
A remote work option has been associated with a better work-life balance. This is in part due to the flexibility provided by the arrangement. While some restraints may be put on the work schedule by an employer, an employee can maneuver through their day tending to work and personal tasks if their work is not compromised. Starting a load of laundry, dropping a vehicle off at an auto repair shop, or attending a school event can be accomplished without impacting productivity.
Avoiding a morning or an afternoon commute can reduce an employee’s stress level, reduce the chance of an auto accident, and reduce an employee’s carbon footprint. An employee will realize savings due to less money spent on gas and vehicle wear and tear. An employee can incorporate exercise and home-cooked meals into their routine with time saved, resulting in improvements in mental and physical health. With these added benefits, the employee is more efficient and effective in their work tasks.
Remote work expands housing options in areas where housing is at a premium or unavailable. This is a benefit to the employee and employer, especially in locations experiencing housing shortages.
A remote work environment does not require a costly wardrobe and even when a virtual meeting is required, shoes and dress pants or a skirt may be optional. Make-up, hair products, and cologne may not be used as often for a remote worker. In addition, less money and time may be spent eating out, resulting in better meal choices.
Virtual meetings tend to be more efficient and less time-consuming. A home office environment results in less interruptions and fewer distractions and increases work productivity.
Flexibility is key for HR administrators to deal with employee issues during these unprecedented times. The use of alternative work arrangements and flexible schedules can provide this flexibility. Like many employment decisions in the education industry (e.g., nonexempt vs. exempt employees, professional vs. paraprofessional, 10-month vs. 12-month employees), treatment is not always equal. The inability to allow all employees to work remotely should not be a reason for denying this option when necessary or viable.
As employees return to work, a phased-in approach is still the best. Providing remote work options for those individuals who are productive at home helps the overall organization. It also limits the risk of exposure for essential workers unable to work remotely and is key to a safer and healthier work environment.
In the future, these types of arrangements likely will outlast the pandemic and become normal practice. Variable work arrangements may also become more prevalent where staff may alternate workdays onsite and offsite.
HR can seize the moment and use this opportunity to enhance recruitment, meet employee needs, and increase overall effectiveness of the organization.
Karen Dooley is a senior HR consultant at TASB HR Services. Send Karen an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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