Risks of unregulated remote work.

Remote or hybrid work has many advantages. But also some risks. Focused on those that affect employee, we could summarize them in three:

  • Increase in working hours. The available studies tell us that part of the commuting savings is invested in starting the workday earlier or ending it later. An increase in working hours can have harmful effects.
  • Less connection between team members. Working from home produces isolation as it reduces human interaction, which is especially relevant in tasks that require more coordination.
  • Excess of technological connectivity. The opposite phenomenon to the previous one, the result of being always connected to a screen, going from one meeting to another.

Concept and content of digital disconnection.

When these new ways of working remain active for a long time without a clear regulation, these risks can end up becoming real problems that affect the health of employees and the culture and competitiveness of the company. To prevent it, there are multiple techniques. Perhaps the most relevant is the management of leaders’ learning so that they can assume the new skills needed to lead remotely.

For some time now, digital disconnection has been configured as a rising worker’s right. The digitization of jobs has contributed to this, when they provide their occupants with almost total mobility both in space and time. Thus, at the concept level, we are facing a labor right of employees not to connect to any professional digital device or company software -computers, corporate mobile phones, etc.-.

First element: Purpose

Every Change Management project must be started with a purpose. Each organization has to decide why it is interested in building a digital disconnection policy. Some will do so out of the need to create a work environment that encourages the attraction or retention of talent. Others because they are concerned about the well-being of their employees. There will be those who feel that a regulation of this matter could lead to an improvement in productivity, by reducing the stress levels of the teams. Others simply want to comply with the norm and approach the issue from an eminently legalistic perspective. The first step is, therefore, to reflect on the ultimate purpose of what you are going to do. Depending on that purpose, you will build one project or another.


Second element: Scope

Just as remote work affects different types of employees differently, digital disconnection affects different members of the workforce differently. Of course, there are different internal services that may have a more restricted application of this disconnection. Imagine, for example, that the non-convening of meetings beyond 5 am is established as a general measure. PM and we have workers in charge, for example, of maintaining the systems at night. We will have to adapt the application to these groups. Treating the exclusions to the rule is always delicate, but precisely for that reason it is very necessary.

Third element: Measurements.

We enter the core of the project here. What measures can we apply to help this digital disconnection of the workforce? Some of them will directly affect the law and others will have a greater impact on the generation of a favorable corporate culture. Let’s look at some examples.

  • Communications outside of the day or on vacation. They can range from setting time slots for disconnection, holidays and weekends, to policies for managing senders of emails (courtesy copies, mainly). In vacation periods, for example, they may incorporate the obligation to set ‘absent from the office’ as an organizational management measure.
  • Call for meetings. In remote environments it is very important that meetings coincide with synchronous work time bands. The usual thing is to set exclusion times (for example, not to call meetings after 5:00 PM). However, it is also used to establish unique channels and rules for calling and managing exceptions (common in multinational environments).
  • Good practices. It is about activating training and awareness actions that lead to a sensitive culture on the matter. In this way, slogans are launched such as reducing the number of meetings as much as possible and minimizing travel or reducing the number of summons to those that are strictly necessary to fulfill the purpose of the meeting. On the other hand, a maximum duration of meetings can be set (combined with policies to turn off the lights in physical or virtual rooms) and messages about the importance of ensuring compliance with schedules.

Fourth element: Governance.

This type of project requires the implementation, in parallel, of an internal circuit with which to communicate cases of non-compliance or incidents. These incidents can be managed by a single body, for example the HR department. But they can also be by a collegiate. In this case we can organize it in the form of sole representation of the company or joint representation of the workers. In the latter case, it is very necessary to have an operating regulation prior to its start-up (it is especially important to set maximum resolution times, due to the implications that this may have).

Let us not forget to set a validity period for the pact itself. This will allow us to report it and rewrite it if we see that it suffers from defects.

The importance of the ‘negotiation factor’.

Finally, I will refer to the way in which a document of this type can be produced. When affecting the rights of workers, it is usually the result of a negotiation with the workers’ representatives. As in any collective bargaining process of this type, it requires patience, a left hand and also a lot of determination.

Author: Ricardo Alfaro

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