Teleworking NOM: Yes to remote work, no to digital nomadism

Note published on August 9 in El Economista, Capital Humano [Human Capital] Section by Jimena A. Sánchez and Blanya Correal.
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The reform on teleworking matters of January 2021 came to impose rules under which employers and employees may provide services under this modality. Part of the obligations acquired by the Department of Labor and Social Welfare included the preparation of the Official Mexican Standard [NOM] on safety and health matters in teleworking.

A few days ago, this agency published the project for the Standard in the Official Gazette of the Federation; this project must be submitted for public consultation during a period of 60 days.

This project has the objective of preventing accidents and illnesses, in addition to seeking to promote a safe and healthy environment in teleworking. It establishes, in a detailed manner, what the obligations of the employers are and what the obligations of the employees are, and it is accompanied by five reference guides for a better and easier implementation of the modality.

The reference guides correspond to:

  1. The verification of working conditions
  2. The selection of candidates
  3. The recommendation of activities prior to teleworking
  4. The preparation of a teleworking policy
  5. Recommendations for choosing an ergonomic chair

In my opinion, the project is a great starting point for the regulation of this modality that for quite some time has transformed into a benefit and into a differentiating factor in the world of work. Nevertheless, we must be aware that many employers will not be able to provide their employees with the proper working conditions to continue in the teleworking mode, given that many factors derive from the space or place itself in which the services are to be provided.

The Standard establishes that the obligation of guaranteeing the safety and health of remote work will not be transferred to the employee, determining that there are at least three types of occupational hazards in this modality: physical, ergonomic and psychosocial agents.

In this sense, employers that wish to maintain this modality will have to ensure that the employee will be able to provide his services in a clean space with good illumination, with proper temperature and ventilation, without noise; that he will have a desk or table, a chair and proper accessories for the activity and that, in addition, the service will be provided respecting the collaborator’s privacy, with a gender perspective and will ensure compliance with the right to disconnection.

Considering all this, it would seem impossible to become a digital nomad, one of those that we see in the movies that inspire many of us to sell the house and buy a van to travel the world. I understand that a regulatory framework is necessary, and the employee must be protected, but no change is possible without the commitment and responsibility of both parts.

This type of regulations should be considered for a standard modality, in which teleworking will be conducted from the employee’s regular residence. However, we must keep an open mind toward that world of possibilities that arise when I opt for not having a regular place of residence and question ourselves: is that also teleworking? How will I provide the employee with the proper conditions if he spends one week in Zacatecas and the next two weeks in Oaxaca?

We should conduct awareness campaigns so that workers under this modality acquire better habits that mitigate occupational hazards. In other words, my employer may tell me that I should exercise for fifteen minutes every three hours, but it will actually be up to me to do this and avoid compromising my health. The true change when implementing these modalities lies within the person, not in the formalities that we establish to prevent unfavorable situations in the future.

Employers, for their part, must work to strengthen training mechanisms and in developing capabilities that allow collaborators to feel part of the company, even from a distance. Social isolation will also be a relevant effect to take into consideration.

For its part, from the perspective of Human Resources, this new labor regulation in progress represents a challenge not only in its implementation, but in the change in culture and mindset. From the resistance that we find today in collaborators toward the return to presential work to the difficulties of demonstrating in an inspection that elements that can hardly be controlled are complied with.

So, what is the way for ensuring teleworking with responsibility? Beyond the regulation, the center lies within the person. When we take into consideration that, in the end, teleworking is only one more modality for achieving results, but that behind it all, we have the collaborator in his personal and family environment, then we can go in the right direction.

For example, the Standard talks of a working space with proper temperature and ventilation: what does “proper” mean for each collaborator? And, in this case, how do we manage for this not to turn into an invasion of privacy of his family context?

Thus, in face of these elements, we can work on three aspects:

  1. Since we have already been working under the teleworking mode for two years now, collaborators have made personal and work adjustments in order to adapt and make it sustainable for themselves. These adjustments must be appreciated and taken into consideration before demanding changes because of the regulation.
  2. We need to involve the people in the decisions we make. Applying the regulation will entail multiple impacts that we need to map with the direct participation of those who experience them.
  3. We have to genuinely commit to the improvements. Sometimes the first reaction toward regulations is more focused on “how to pay lip service to it” and not so much on taking the opportunity of complying with it and, while doing so, adding to the improvement of climate and culture.

The regulation must evolve to the same extent in which the world of work evolves; the same applies to the culture of organizations.