The coronavirus pandemic has given rise to the ‘work-from-anywhere’ trend, but what happens when remote employees are working from regions suddenly affected by natural disasters or conflicts?
When the pandemic began and people were relocating to different places, employers realized it was possible to conduct business as usual without employees being in a physical office, says Lianne Clarke, principal and vice-president of wellness, disability innovation and growth at Cowan Insurance Group.
“But there’s also a financial risk to somebody being in another country. There are a lot of pieces employers have to think about — are they covered under your disability program [or] your benefits program?”
As well, employers have a responsibility to support employees working remotely in a country when war or natural disasters break out, she says, noting they have to work quickly to find out where those employees are and whether they’re safe.
Clarke is seeing more employers investing in duty-of-care mobile apps so they know where workers are if disaster should hit. These apps can also alert employees to dangers — whether it’s a natural disaster or conflicts such as war, rioting and civil unrest — and provide them with the resources they need to find safety.
Software company PandaDoc had more than 170 employees in Ukraine when Russia invaded the country nearly two years ago. In a blog post, the company said after the conflict began, it immediately started working to evacuate its workers to get them to safety. During the very first days of the war, several of its employees from Ukraine were at a company meeting in Portugal. The organization prolonged those employees’ stay in Portugal for a week, then booked them places to stay for a longer period of time.
“From using Slack to remain in contact with our fellow Ukrainian Pandas and helping them find transportation and homes away from danger, to providing them additional emergency financial aid, to providing temporary housing for those who were caught with us in Lisbon and cannot go home, the entire PandaDoc company has united — it has been truly inspiring and moving!” said Leonard Callejo, the company’s vice-president of marketing, demand generation, in a LinkedIn post.
It’s also important for employers with remote workers around the world to invest in employee assistance programs, says Clarke, noting EAPs are a valuable resource that can connect remote workers with mental-health support and resources to cope with high-stress situations or to address post-traumatic stress. They’re also a vital tool in helping employees’ family members cope with emergencies and offer onsite crisis response services to help workers deal with post-traumatic stress. “EAPs have really transformed and offer so much on the platform and so many value-added services that employers don’t always take advantage of until they need it.”
As well, flexible work policies allow employees in impacted regions to take personal or emergency days when needed. Communication is also key, she says, noting it’s important employers communicate with employees about co-workers or colleagues affected by emergencies as some may want to lend their help and support by setting up donation pages and campaigns.