Why employers are focusing on remote work, the election

With COVID-19 cases surging once again and the changing political tides about to happen at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, a new survey by Littler employment law firm found that, as 2021 approaches, employers are fittingly concerned about employee wellbeing/mental health and the impact of the 2020 presidential election.

The Employer Pulse Survey Report from Littler, based in San Francisco, was completed by nearly 1,100 in-house counsel, HR professionals and C-suite executives, a full seven months after the remote-work pivot driven by the coronavirus pandemic and just weeks before the 2020 presidential election.

A clear majority of those surveyed are understandably somewhat concerned about the pandemic’s impact on employee mental health and wellbeing (81%), with 75% feeling the same about maintaining company culture, collaboration and employee loyalty. Employers report making a range of moves to address employee wellbeing during the pandemic, including offering more flexible work schedules (73%) and providing mental health services and employee assistance programs (68%).

According to the research, the reality of the extended remote workplace clearly has taken hold. Among respondents who have maintained a largely remote workforce during the pandemic, the majority are continuing remote work (57%) or gradually bringing employees back on a voluntary basis (25%). Only 18% are reopening and requiring more employees to return.

“Addressing issues stemming from continued remote work–via technology tools, more flexible policies or otherwise–is a real opportunity for employers to better engage their employees and prioritize their health,” says Alka Ramchandani-Raj, a leader of Littler’s COVID-19 Task Force. “At the same time, they must be prepared to navigate new compliance risks, whether they connect to policies that may give rise to discrimination claims, wage and hour issues or any number of other areas.”

According to Michael Lotito, co-chair of Littler’s Workplace Policy Institute, a Biden presidency will undoubtedly bring the aforementioned regulatory changes that impact the workplace. For instance, employers reported they are bracing for workplace policy changes under the Biden administration, with 50% expecting a rise in OSHA enforcement, along with changes in such areas as paid sick and family leave requirements (74%) and measures to address income inequality (64%).

See also: How HR can get ahead of the president-elect’s agenda

“How those initiatives move forward will depend on a number of factors that remain to be seen, but that doesn’t mean employers should wait to act,” Lotito says. “They would do well to start preparing for potential regulatory changes and to ensure the voice of the employment community is heard as the new administration confronts the numerous challenges that lie ahead.”

Other findings in the report include:

  • More than half of employers surveyed (56%) say they are struggling to navigate the various laws that apply to time off, scheduling and accommodation requests from employees with children whose education and care are affected by COVID-19.
  • Amid renewed calls for racial justice and equality, supporting employees and addressing racism in the workplace emerged as an area of concern. That concern was especially pronounced among companies with over 10,000 employees, as 43% say they are extremely or moderately concerned about this issue (compared to 27% of all respondents).

On the HR technology front, with COVID-19 accelerating tech’s already prominent role in how companies operate, many employers report using technology or digital tools to manage their workforces during the pandemic. For instance, 55% of all respondents (and 70% of those whose companies have over 10,000 employees) are now using technology-driven recruiting and hiring tools.

Click HERE to take HRE’s What’s Keeping HR Up at Night? survey.

Tom Starner
Tom Starner is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia who has been covering the human resource space and all of its component processes for over two decades. He can be reached at hreletters@lrp.com.