What About Virtual Overtime? How the New Rule Will Impact Mobile Work

What About Virtual Overtime? How the New Rule Will Impact Mobile Work
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The final updated rules for overtime have been released by the Department of Labor and are set to take effect in December: That means a lot of employees who were previously exempt will suddenly qualify for overtime pay. And, when it comes to members of remote workforces, compliance with these laws is about to get somewhat tricky.

Related: Do New Overtime Rules Make Telework Too Risky?

Specifically, remote employees have long been accustomed to a flexible work day. They don’t necessarily track their hours and often don’t even work set schedules. As long as they complete their work and meet their deadlines, the actual hours don’t matter. But, under the new overtime rule, this way of working can spell trouble.

Indeed, the whole mindset of our virtual workforce needs to change to stay compliant. Here are some things to consider when addressing company policies:

Impact on employee satisfaction

The simple solution to staying compliant with the new overtime rules is to begin -- if you haven't already -- tracking employee hours. By establishing clear records of when nonexempt employees work, you as their employer will be able to accurately compensate them for their time.

But of course you already know the problem here: When everyone is working different and irregular hours, time-tracking gets complicated. The knee-jerk reaction may be to put full-time remote workers on a schedule or move part-time remote workers back to the office.

And that won't work. The reason is that remote workers, even those working remotely only part time, are used to their flexible schedules, and they’re not going to go back to working 9-to-5 without a fight. What's more, those 9-to-5 schedules aren't a smart strategy: Employees with flexibility in their workday report higher levels of job satisfaction and reduced levels of burnout and psychological stress, according to a study conducted over 12 months at a Fortune 500 company with 700 employees and published in the February issue of American Sociological Review.

Those in the survey who reported flexible schedules also felt more in control, felt more support from leadership and were more likely to say they had sufficient time to spend with their families.

What to do if you're an employer with flextime workers: Instead of removing that flexibility, use HR software and tools to accurately track employee hours. Employees can virtually clock in and out to maintain their sense of autonomy and still be appropriately compensated for their time.

Impact on telepressure

So, now, employees will begin tracking their time while they work, and that will be great. Your company will be in compliance. But what exactly constitutes "work"? What if teleworkers check their email before bed? Or respond to a message while eating dinner? Do they need to track that time?

Related: Here's How the New Overtime Rules Will Affect Entrepreneurs

Whether employers realize it or not, employees are connected to their work in some way, even when they’re technically off the clock.

According to an April 2015 study reported in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, most employees surveyed said they feel the need to check emails whenever and wherever they are. And that can add up to a lot of overtime, whether it's documented or not.

In fact, 91 percent of employees work more than 40 hours a week at least some of the time, according to a study conducted by Staples in March. At least 7 percent of those respondents cited employer expectations as their main reason for working after-hours.

What to do about irregular schedules: Even if employees work irregular schedules, set clear expectations of when they should be working. What hours do they need to be available?

Whether employees work remotely some or all of the time, it’s essential to ensure that they don’t feel pressured to work more hours in the week just because they have the means to do so.

Dissuade employees from doing minimal tasks after hours since this time is difficult to track and is in a gray area for compliance. Refrain from contacting employees on their “off” hours so they won’t be tempted to complete work off the clock.

In addition, establish a clear definition of “work,” so employees know what time to track. For example, a few minutes spent checking an inbox may not need to be tracked, but responding to a client email might be trackable time.

Implementing new policies

Remote working is deadline-based. So, what happens when a project takes longer than expected and an employee needs to work later to meet deadline? Should he or she stop working to avoid overtime costs and miss the deadline, or earn overtime and make the deadline?

That's not an easy question to answer, and employers will need to determine which is more important to them. Is it more valuable to meet client expectations and pay overtime, or to avoid overtime pay at all costs?

What to do about extended deadlines: One potential solution is to introduce even more flexibility into employees' schedules. If they need to work later one day, allow them to work fewer hours the next day. That way, they'll still be working 40 hours each week.

Whether employers want to keep team members on a strict 40 hours-a-week schedule or allow for some overtime, be clear about work expectations and how employees are to act in these situations. For example, maybe they should check their hours for the week before staying late, check in with a manager or always leave at their end time, no matter what work is left.

Related: Do You Have a Plan to Survive the Proposed Overtime Rules?

Fill all employees in on flexibility and work policies and keep the information in an easily accessible place. Use tools like AirMason to build an updated employee handbook that employees can access from any device to guide flexible work.