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New Rules to Support New Work Options

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Flexibility doesn’t mean anything goes. At the National Association of Tax Professionals, staff’s overwhelming wish to continue remote work prompted a break from its traditional past. A formal telework agreement with each remote employee places essential guardrails around NATP’s new way of working.

The pandemic put many things into perspective and busted through sacred cows, including the blind adherence to a compulsory five-day, in-person workweek. “It changed our internal mindset to what’s possible,” said National Association of Tax Professionals HR Leader Janine Diana.

Like many associations, NATP shifted on a dime when the pandemic struck, and staff began working virtually within days. It had a fairly traditional culture previously, but leadership soon understood that going back to tradition after the crisis subsided was not likely to be a viable option.

To get a better grasp on what its future workplace would look like, NATP conducted several staff surveys. “Staff was instrumental in helping challenge our own paradigms that we’ve had over the years to really think about what the future holds,” Diana said.

The surveys revealed that staff was apprehensive about returning to the office full time, and they overwhelmingly liked the flexibility of working remotely. “We wanted to hear their message,” Diana said. “Our staff is extremely valuable to our success.”

Diana sought to gain perspective on their responses by researching what other organizations were doing, while also balancing NATP’s needs and what its leadership wanted. “We opted to provide quite a bit of flexibility,” she said. “When you have the hard facts from a survey sitting right in front of you, and 90 percent of the staff says working from home is of high value,” it was hard for leadership to ignore that message.

At the same time, guardrails around more flexible operations would be needed to support consistent staff management and maintain the organization’s performance. To that end, Diana drafted a formal telework agreement that employees must sign in order to take advantage of the remote work option.

“Staff was instrumental in helping challenge our own paradigms that we’ve had over the years to really think about what the future holds.” —Janine Diana, National Association of Tax Professionals

Policy Provisions

The policy requires that employees work in person at NATP headquarters two days a week. For telecommuting days, the agreement outlines several key policies that govern remote work.

Core hours. NATP employees have some flexibility in setting their work hours, although the policy defines core hours as between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Central Time. It requires that workers remain accessible by phone or internet during those hours no matter where they are working, and it notes that they are expected to respond to communications as promptly on remote days as when they are in the office.

Dependent care. While many employees choose a flexible work arrangement to better balance work and family needs, remote work “is not a substitute for dependent care,” the NATP policy states. Employees must agree that they will not provide dependent care during work hours. “You need to fulfill your role, no matter where you are,” Diana said.

Workspace and equipment. Under the agreement, the employee provides the address of a specific remote work location—99 percent of participants have chosen their homes—and must document it with photographs or a video. NAPT outlines specific requirements for the workspace, including having a secure, safe, and ergonomically sound environment, with locked cabinets for confidential files. NATP may supply a computer, software, and other equipment for the remote office, or employees may seek approval to use their own equipment.

Legal issues. Employees are responsible for determining any legal and zoning implications around maintaining a home office; the policy encourages employees to consult with a tax professional or attorney for guidance. The policy also includes a waiver of liability claims against NATP If anyone is injured in the employee’s workspace.

To support its newly flexible operations, NATP made a significant investment in technology, Diana said. The IT team focused on acquiring more advanced tech tools to facilitate seamless remote work and installed better virtual communication technology for conference rooms at headquarters.

Despite their preference for remote work, staff members also enjoy getting together in person. The in-office requirement is not about checking a box and saying, “I’ve done my two days,” Diana said. It’s geared toward finding opportunities to maximize staff time together. NATP promotes in-person team meetings, and some departments have moved more of their meetings to in-office days to encourage teamwork.

“At the end of the day, the key goal is collaboration,” Diana said. Employees “are looking forward to getting back those pieces they were missing.”

Lisa Boylan

Lisa Boylan is a senior editor of Associations Now.

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