‘You can use a face of a potato instead of your face’ - remote working has been discussed at SPBILF

A shift to remote working has exerted its influence on many fields of labour market and has put a number of complicated points before both Russian and foreign companies. It is, first of all, about continuous work organization, information security and employees’ comfort. These issues have been discussed at the session ‘Remote Working: Challenges and Solutions for Employers, Employees and Professionals’ of St. Petersburg International Legal Forum 9 ½.

Experience exchange in transferring major corporations on a remote basis and organization of work for key employees in office was the primary task for Russian and foreign experts. Elena Borisenko, moderator of the session, Deputy Chairman of the Board of Management at Gazprombank JSC, dwelt upon the experience of Gazprombank JSC.

‘It is extremely important for us that people would feel protected. It’s necessary to think not only about our clients and business but also about people who work with us to develop and maintain our business. We’ve performed the so-called categorization of our functions as well as of personnel. And we’ve defined those without whom we, unfortunately, can’t get along at the front line. We’ve created all the necessary conditions connected with epidemiological well-being: quartz treatment, face masks, protectors, regular testing, additional salary rises. We’ve defined groups of employees who are able to substitute them in case they are ill or unable to cope with their work. Thus, we’ve created reserve teams. And the majority of personnel is working remotely,’ said Elena Borisenko.

According to her, the company has now a whole set of documents dedicated to personnel categorization. Other documents necessary for the company transfer on a remote basis involve confidentiality and cyber-security issues as well as introduction of e-document circulation.

Alexey Kozlov, Member of the Management Board of SIBUR Holding PJSC, Member of the Management Board – Managing Director of the OOO SIBUR, said that the company has identified four challenges of remote working: a technological one, control of task execution, occupational health and emotional support.

‘We have more than 20 thousand employees in our company and for the first time there’s a unique polar situation: half of employees work remotely from home and the other half is working on site on a rotation basis. These team management methods are absolutely different. In the meantime we’ve evolved significantly in understanding these processes, the ways of working with remote and rotation basis personnel are absolutely different in this case. But what’s interesting, the risks we had been connecting with remote working (such as supposedly evident decreased efficiency because of decreased control over employees) haven’t proved to be true. And quite the contrary: we’ve got the situation when our employees started to dedicate more time to their work and we, as managers, have faced another goal of relieving of part of their work,’ said Alexey Kozlov.

According to the company representative, the so-called ‘hours of silence’ have become one of the decisions of ‘Sibur’. During the second part of the day on Tuesdays and Fridays no one is calling anyone and that enables relieving work of the personnel.

Not all employees have an opportunity to work remotely. At ‘Sibur’, for instance, those who work on production sites aren’t able to do that. Under the conditions of coronavirus outbreak rotation system has been created for them. Each shift is working for approximately two weeks and involves two teams which take over every 12 hours. They don’t meet each other and they are tested for coronavirus every time before the start of their work.

Legislation problems emerge in different countries. Caroline Fredrickson, Senior Fellow at Brennan Center for Justice, President Emeritus at the American Constitution Society,  has dwelt upon the issues which the USA citizens have faced. 

‘There were certain systems of benefits distribution and labor compensation of our wage workers. For example, other countries have healthcare insurance and other benefits that can be received because of  just being a member of society regardless of your job and your boss. There is a national healthcare system, there is a system of child welfare and so on. It covers all the employees: there are no specific differences between wage workers and independent contractors. However, this difference is significant in the USA: an employer is paying benefits to his employees and that constitutes huge expenses for him. They do not exist in case of work with independent contractors. There are such business incentives for many companies - shifting works which had been performed by company employees on to one time contracts without disrupting the structure of the company. It’s evident that in economy of free contracts the division between business management, administration and employees was quite significant,’ she explained.

This division is enhancing and it has certain disadvantages. Many people have lost their jobs and don’t get any unemployment benefits, some of them don’t have a medical insurance. However, some companies do provide such benefits even to their contractors, for example, Microsoft. Steven Crown, Vice President and Deputy General Counsel at Microsoft, said that the corporation had been one of the first in the USA to limit its employees’ migration. They try to preserve jobs if not for everyone, then at least for the majority. Thus, canteen staff is currently delivering food.

‘Technology is important but this issue is not the most complicated one. It seems to me that the most complicated issue is thinking about how we as executives find opportunities to take care of our employees and each other in this new situation,’ says Steven Crown.

Another issue discussed by the experts is reimbursement for expenses connected with forced remote working. Some need special technologies, some need electricity payments. According to Caroline Fredrickson, business has to reconsider its expenses and such compensation is to lie on its shoulders. And some companies are already paying their employees for the forced isolation.

Not only business and legal but also domestic aspects are important for remote working. They were raised by Vice President and Deputy General Counsel at Microsoft.

‘What is an appropriate attire for video communication? We tend to say that there’s an opportunity to relax. We have such technologies for a person who is unwilling to change his pajamas for something else. Using an avatar, for instance. You can use a face of a potato instead of your face, a smiling potato face with eyes for giving people a surge of joy and energy,’ said Steven Crown.

St. Petersburg International Legal Forum 9 ½: The Rule of Corona is taking place online on April 10-12th. Heads of Russian and foreign authorities, legal experts, scientists, politicians and journalists are taking part in virtual discussions. The main topic of the forum is dedicated to legal aspects of public and business life under the conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic.