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August 9, 2021

Amid vastly changing work environment, Stanley Black & Decker to shift one-third of office employees to remote work

PHOTO | CONTRIBUTED Stanley Black & Decker's New Britain headquarters.

Post-pandemic operations at Stanley Black & Decker will look a lot different from pre-COVID times, both figuratively and literally.

The toolmaking giant has shifted one-third of its office employee positions — 10,000 worldwide, including about 350 in Connecticut — to entirely remote work, with another third working hybrid and the rest remaining in the office five days a week, said Stephen Subasic, the company’s chief human resources officer. To accommodate the new setup, the company is gutting its New Britain headquarters to add communications infrastructure.

“You’re talking about 10,000 employees on a global scale who will convert to virtual working, so it’s a pretty massive undertaking,” said Subasic, whose company employed 53,100 people worldwide, including factory workers, at the end of 2020. “We wanted to take advantage of this opportunity, where the traditional means of work, the paradigm, have really been shattered.”

Julia Lamm

As the fall approaches and an increasing number of companies welcome employees back to the physical workplace, it appears most workers aren’t interested in being in the office five days a week. A recent Hartford Business Journal/PwC poll of HBJ readers found 18% of the nearly 400 respondents want to work remotely five days per week, while 62% said they’d like to come into the office four days or less.

Employers and consultants say most office employees will likely return to work on a hybrid schedule, going into the office a few days per week, and working from home other days, with some positions shifting to fully remote. And the paradigm shift comes with new ways of recruiting and managing workers, as well as new issues likely to emerge for employers.

“I think a lot of companies that have publicly said, ‘hey, you can work from anywhere,’ [are] figuring out, ‘oh boy, doing that is a lot more complicated than we thought,’ “ said Julia Lamm, a workforce strategy partner with accounting and consulting firm PwC.

Increased flexibility

At Stanley, the switch to hybrid and full-remote work has been an intentional and thought-out process, said Ashley Baron, the company’s vice president of human resources.

After the manufacturer, like all businesses, was thrown into a remote-work situation via COVID-19, HR and other Stanley officials spent months analyzing each position within the company, including where it was located, to determine which jobs could be done remotely or require an in-person presence.

Stanley Black & Decker is reconfiguring its office space to make it more collaborative.

“A customer service role could likely be virtual because they’re taking calls all day, and entering things into a system, and they could do that remotely very successfully,” Baron said. “A role like an engineer would have to be hybrid/in-office.”

Stanley is currently advertising some jobs as completely remote, Baron said. Many of those applicants say they’re seeking out the position because their current employers want them back in the office, she added.

Another Greater Hartford manufacturer, East Hartford-based Pratt & Whitney, also recently announced plans to shift about 80% of its salaried workers to hybrid or fully remote, as the jet-engine maker shrinks its local office space by half. Chief Human Resources Officer Maureen Waterston said the increased flexibility will expand Pratt’s appeal to prospective employees, and remove geographical barriers for some job candidates.

“We are focused on attracting, engaging and developing a top workforce that’s diverse in background and experience,” Waterston said. “With this flexibility, we also anticipate an increased candidate pool for positions, and the ability to optimize our talent pool across the business.”

Remote worker turnover

PwC’s Lamm said companies she works with are expanding work-from-home options and fully-remote positions, since employees largely favor the flexibility, with executives running the spectrum of reluctantly acquiescing to enthusiastically switching over. But the changes have been a mixed bag with some pros and unforeseen cons.

In recruiting, for example, employers looking for remote workers can simply search for the best candidate, rather than someone who is both qualified and living within commuting distance (or willing to relocate), Lamm said. However, these workers can present other logistical obstacles.

Taxes are an issue, Lamm said. States collect income tax based on the physical location where work is performed. If a company doesn’t have a physical presence where a remote worker operates, it could create an added tax burden for both the employer and employee.

“We did have clients who started to open up, and said, ‘you can work from anywhere, except,’ and they would list two or three states ... that were requiring higher levels of tax, and the company just wasn’t ready to do that,” Lamm said.

Stanley Black & Decker simply started withholding employees’ state payroll taxes based on workers’ home addresses, Baron said.

Lamm said clients are also seeing higher turnover among remote workers, but companies are generally accepting that as a cost of doing business.

“Turnover might be one thing that you expect; that people are ready to jump somewhere else because they’re just not feeling that loyalty and commitment to that organization,” Lamm said. “I think what they’re doing is planning for higher turnover among those teams.”

Legal issues

Patrick McHale

Additionally, attorney Patrick McHale, a partner at Hartford labor and employment law firm Kainen, Escalera & McHale PC, said he can foresee litigation likely to emerge from the work-from-anywhere setup.

He’s already seen some workers’ compensation claims from employees who hurt themselves while working from home — locations that might not comply with standards set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Meanwhile, Connecticut employers that monitor remote workers electronically could violate state law.

“When people are working from home, businesses tend to want to check up on them … and that’s not legal unless you give employees advanced notice that you’re going to do it,” McHale said.

But the largest pool of employment lawsuits will likely come from workers suing their bosses for discrimination, because they allow some workers to preform their jobs remotely while requiring others to be in the office.

Employers might be able to preemptively protect themselves from these issues by writing and distributing to workers specific safety guidelines for home offices, and detailing electronic monitoring policies, McHale said.

Employers should also have specific reasons why certain jobs must be performed in the office and others remotely, McHale said. But it might be difficult in court for an employer to argue work-from-home isn’t a reasonable accommodation for an employee who asks for it, since that worker likely spent the past 18 months doing their job remotely amid the pandemic.

“Employers are going to be in a difficult position in explaining why someone needs to [physically] come to work,” McHale said.

At Stanley, Subasic, the chief human resources officer, said he thinks the company has thought through a lot of these issues, and has adjusted practices on things like maintaining communication among teams, and onboarding new employees.

Stanley employees often use Workplace from Facebook to maintain consistent communication and a sense of community, Subasic said. Meanwhile, at the New Britain headquarters and in locations across the world, the company is updating technology so that remote workers can interact with office employees on a day-to-day basis. Some issues may emerge, but upsides abound.

“A big focus for us in the testing of the new technology is we have to have an outcome that is a superior experience for our employees,” Subasic said. “[And] expanding our access to geographies and locations that were previously out of reach means we have a much broader access to some of the top talent in the country and in the world.”

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