Has your organization gone partially or completely remote?
The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated many workplace trends that had been in motion for years, including the growing use of cloud-based tools, like videoconferencing, to connect employees regardless of location. Global Workplace Analytics estimated that over half the U.S. workforce might work remotely multiple days of the week by the end of 2021.
While remote work is generally good news for operational flexibility, it’s also a big potential HR compliance challenge. From onboarding and HR training to updating the employee handbook and complying with ever-changing laws in areas like tax withholding, HR professionals often have to navigate a confusing maze of complications related to remote work.
But there’s still a clear way forward. Let’s look at some proven tips for ensuring HR and legal compliance across remote work environments.
Tip No. 1: Evolve your onboarding capabilities
How can HR departments promote team culture and cohesion among remote employees? It starts with rethinking onboarding.
Introductory meetings, as well as more casual events like virtual happy hours on Zoom, can be highly effective replacements for in-person HR functions — as long as they’re well designed. To keep onboarding proceedings on track, be sure to:
Streamline your processes and tools
Don’t overwhelm new hires with lots of lengthy, back-to-back sessions and numerous disparate tools to use. After all, information overload is one of the most common onboarding problems for new hires.
Instead, prioritize only essential topics and try to do as much as you can with the fewest number of tools. Consider also:
- Setting a firm time limit on meetings to avoid Parkinson’s Law.
- Offering new hires a variety of options for onboarding sessions, including video and voice-only calls.
- Adding in breaks and different types of events (e.g., a one-on-one chat) to prevent overload and burnout.
Digitize handbooks, forms and document delivery
Employee handbooks are important to HR compliance, as they contain key info about remote work policies and expectations. Digitizing them and making them easily but securely available on an intranet or portal helps telecommuters stay in the loop. Similarly, forms should ideally be delivered electronically. Digital forms are easier to distribute, correct, and manage than their paper equivalents, especially across remote locations. Use a guided process to ensure consistency and that each employee gets the forms they need, when they need them.
Create a standardized onboarding plan and offer individualized support as needed
Having a consistent onboarding plan in place can boost new hire productivity by more than 50%. But sometimes you may need to take extra steps to ensure remote employees are getting the best possible experience. Setting up a special Slack channel to chat with current employees can be helpful. It’s also a good idea to do periodic video check-ins and have project goals to work toward.
Tip No. 2: Focus on tax withholding based on employees’ remote locations
Remote work means employees may operate in locations where your organization has no brick-and-mortar presence or other history. As a result, HR departments may face a larger tax withholding footprint, with numerous applicable state and local laws to keep track of.
For example, an employer in one state with a remote employee operating in another could be subject to the latter state’s taxes on income, gross receipts, sales, and usage. And that’s before even getting into local rules on unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation. Moreover, workers with jobs based in New York, and several other states, may still need to pay taxes there, despite having temporarily set up shop somewhere else due to COVID-19, per The Wall Street Journal. Meanwhile, other states have temporary put their taxation regulations on hold due to the pandemic.
Consider regular HR audits of your employees’ remote work locations, along with professional assistance in tracking the complex patchwork of ever-changing regulations. CIC Plus eases these concerns by automating providing updates to all state tax withholding forms and uses an employee’s work and home addresses to ensure the proper tax forms are completed.
Tip No. 3: Ensure all necessary HR compliance forms are delivered to employees
Before year-end season, take this time to encourage electronic delivery of tax and ACA statements to lower your HR compliance production costs and also speed up processing. Note, however, that employees will need to opt in and approve of electronic receipt of their W-2 and ACA statements.
New this year for W-2s is that employers must use the form for reporting any wages paid for emergency sick leave or expanded family leave from April to December 2020 under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. These wages may also be reported on a separate statement, which should be delivered simultaneously and in the same way as the electronic W-2 itself, or alongside the paper form.
If you need to deliver new policy and HR compliance forms to remote employees, the CIC Plus Compliance Library can be your go-to platform. It allows you to quickly and easily add, distribute, manage, and store all state-required compliance forms in one convenient location.
Tip No. 4: Balance data security with user experience
Remote work inherently complicates company cybersecurity. With devices and applications now outside the corporate firewall, it’s a tough balancing act between ensuring that sensitive assets are safe and not compromising everyone’s productivity with onerous security restrictions.
According to Wrike, 1 in 5 companies hasn’t issued official security guidance to remote employees, many of whom may try to access and share confidential information via less safe personal applications. In this context, it’s important not only to educate remote workers on company security policy but to provide secure, easy-to-use portals through which to access the data they really need.
On the education and policy side, requiring measures such as two-factor authentication and virtual private network usage can mitigate risk. In terms of delivering a better user experience, a secure portal and guided experience for accessing HR and payroll forms will save employees, as well as HR professionals, considerable time and frustration.