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Can’t We All Just Get Along?

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national association of realtors committee

Perception is Not Reality

Last week NAR held their Mid-Year meetings in Washington, as they have for many, many , years. And during those meetings, forums were held, committees met, actions were recommended, the executive committee reviewed the committee recommendations, and then the Bord of Directors voted on the suggestions.

One of the items, a rewording of a 4 year old recommended MLS policy, was referred to a work group for further study, (by a very close vote as I understand it) and the RE.net was enraged.  Tweets and posts were written decrying NAR’s actions.

Jay Thomson and Paula Henry, both of whom had flown to DC to speak in the MLS Policy and Issues Forum, were understandably upset,after seeing the alacrity with which NAR had addressed the concerns of the members by having staff reword the offending policy to (in my opinion) more accurately reflect the business purpose of the original rule.

The System Worked Properly

I have to lead here by saying that I would have preferred the Board of Directors to have passed the change, and made this entire thing a non-issue, but the governance of NAR worked perfectly.

  • A board enforced a policy recommended by NAR – as it should have.
  • Members who had issues with the policy spoke against it in the forum provided for the expression of member’s views
  • The committee charged with reviewing the matter debated the issues, came to a conclusion, and voted on measures to address the issues
  • The leadership of the committee (who did an outstanding job) made their report to the executive committee
  • The executive committed reviewed the matter brought before them and sent it forward to the Board of Directors.
  • The Board of Directors, debated the issue, and then , as required by parliamentary procedure, had to refrain from resolving the matter when a motion to refer the matter was made (motions to refer always taking precedence over a motion on the floor).

And because the matter has not yet been resolved, the existing rule stays in place until the matter goes through the same process once more.

What Happens Next?

Since the rule in questions has been in place for the past 4 years and the enforcement of the rule is left to the discretion of the local MLS, the issue may stay local to the market covered by MIBOR. Or it may not. Other MLS’ may choose to enforce the rule as MIBOR has, though the number of people who opposed the referral may indicate that there are a lot of people who view the wording issue as a minor error in wordsmithing that needs to, and will be addressed in San Diego when the governance of NAR meets again.

Through incredible effort on the part of staff and leadership, we almost turned the Queen Mary around on a dime. The issue was addressed with blazing speed for such a huge membership driven organization, and even though this outcome was not what I would have hoped for, I was and am incredibly proud of all of the people (staff, members and leadership) that worked on bringing this issue to the attention of the membership.

Hopefully in San Diego there will be more people at the Forum, state and local associations will have heard from their members, and their directors will be asked by their associations to vote to make the change that was suggested this time, or one with similar effect.

What Did We Learn?

If you were paying attention, you learned quite a few things;

  • NAR is incredibly responsive to the concerns of their members.
  • NAR staff is world class – each department touched by this issue, law and policy, technology, and communications all functioned to maximize the voice of the members
  • NAR forums are a place where any member has a voice equal to any other
  • NAR committees listen to what goes on in the forums
  • NAR leadership considers all of the information placed before them
  • And the majority rules in the final decision – but not until everyone is heard

It may be that last part that is really hard for each of us to get. That even though there are a large number of members who felt that they were defeated here, an even larger group of members prevailed. There really is no ‘them’ making decisions here, just a couple of different groups of ‘us”.

If we participate in the system, and make our voices and opinions heard, where they need to be heard, in the forums, the committees, and the BOD meeting, then our opinions will be the ones that prevail. And if not, maybe our opinions were not reflective of the opinions of the greater portion of our group.  (Even if we were correct-or at least thought we were)

Bill is an unusual blend of Old & New - The CEO Century 21 Advantage Gold (Philadelphia's Largest Century 21 company and BuzzBuilderz (a Social Media Marketing Company), He is a Ninja CEO, blending the Web 1 and 2.0 world together in a fashion that stretches the fabric of the universe. You can follow him on twitter @Billlublin or Facebook or LinkedIn.

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18 Comments

18 Comments

  1. Doug Francis

    May 20, 2009 at 9:33 am

    That was well written.

    Understanding the process and “Robert’s Rules of Order” is important to achieving the goals discussed in the original scraping discussion.
    -doug

  2. Carolyn G-Tu

    May 20, 2009 at 9:54 am

    But six months is a very long time when it relates to the internet. If this were to happen to me, I would not be as gracious as Paula Henry and Mike Taylor appear to be on this and I would bring a lawsuit. Morgan Carey’s response in the other thread breaks down the potential lost business. It is my understanding the committee considered putting this issue into the workgroup and it was decided it was too important to wait.

    It was one voice that spoke up at the board of directors meeting – MIBOR.

    Oh, believe me I do participate, I’m a director on my local board and I’m also on my regional MLS committee. I’m seriously considering going to the NAR meetings in November.

  3. Judith Lindenau

    May 20, 2009 at 10:19 am

    Crucial to the your argument, Bill, is this statement:” Since the rule in questions has been in place for the past 4 years and the enforcement of the rule is left to the discretion of the local MLS, the issue may stay local to the market covered by MIBOR.” I’m not so sure that, officially at least, enforcement of the rule is left to the discretion of the local MLS–at least as the national association would like to have it. There’s such a thing as being ‘in compliance’ and being covered by blanket NAR insurance policies.

    Of course local associations may opt to get their own E and O insurance and be ‘out of compliance’…but that’s not an option for many local association leaders. And in any effect, the issue is too important to ‘stay local’.

  4. Louise Scoggins

    May 20, 2009 at 11:55 am

    This has been such an interesting topic to watch over the past couple of weeks…like one big tennis match, back and forth, back and forth. I do understand that the rules are the rules and procedures are in place for a reason, but Carolyn is right: 6 months is a loooong time in the internet world. I wish there were a way to call an emergency hearing or something that could happen sooner than waiting until November. There is a HUGE uproar over this in the Real Estate world…I think it’s of utmost importance that it be dealt with as quickly as possible (i.e. NOT in November), especially when NAR agrees the rule is not intended to be interpretted as such.

  5. Paula Henry

    May 20, 2009 at 1:34 pm

    And the majority rules in the final decision – but not until everyone is heard

    Honestly, Bill – the majority did not rule. It was one Director from MIBOR who objected. What disappoints me is that noone form the committee stood to voice their opinion in opposition to his recommendation to send it back to the committee.

    Maybe the system worked as it was designed to, but in this case, the system failed the agents.

    And now, NAR states they will not advise on this rule but leave it to the local boards discretion. I do hope no other board takes my boards position. I do believe from the outrage and support I have had, should another board try, we may very well see more progressive agents taking over positions at our local boards.

    My broker and I have been asked to meet with the CEO, Informational Director and a few other members of MIBOR tomorrow. I will continue the fight!

    I do appreciate you, your contribution and your support.

  6. Ken Brand

    May 20, 2009 at 3:55 pm

    Way back, maybe 10 years ago, I served as an Association Board Member. I respected the people and their views, but I disagreed. In my experience and humble opinion, Board and Committee members fell into one or two of three categories.

    1. Some were interested in Power and Prestige – the masses believed that if you were in position of leadership you were cool and stamped with smartness.

    2. Some were interested in leveling the playing field, using Board policy and technology, etc. to provide services and competitive stuff that they could never afford as a thinly financed small broker. It seemed policies, positions and decisions were designed to suppress competition and advantage.

    3. Some were bright eyed Don Quixote types, hoping to bring change, fresh light and newness.

    The first two groups eventually ran-off or crushed the spirit of DQ types.

    Plus, over time, people who were groomed to hold positions were in my view, YES men and women.

    I served one term, my bright idea was to raise the Board Dues to $10,000. That’d screen out all the dabblers and insincere. I think making dues and entry fees as tiny as possible is a mistake. My whip-smart idea drew a chorus of Tisk-Tisks and had the exact same impact as a flea farting.

    Theoretically, one way to influence change is to get involved. Personally, I couldn’t stomach it anymore today than yesteryear. I don’t have the patience. Don’t get me wrong, I think making a presentation and educating a committee is worthy and excellent. To sit as a committee member would not be doable for me.

    Another path is to know the rules and go Survivor TV Show Mode – Outwit, Outlast and Outplay.

    And thirdly, an outright revolution and revolt and reinvention.

    As for me, working from the inside is not interesting and a revolution isn’t likely, too expensive, to time intensive and too many average and ordinary that are OK with status quo.

    That leaves comments like this, probably not much help, and a keener interest an commitment to focus on Survivor TV Show mode.

    It’s nice that powers to be invited presentation and communication. I’m sure the inviters feel responsive and open minded. I’m sure they feel postponing their decision is wise and prudent and it was. I imagine when all is said and done and said and done and said and done and said and done, the rule will change. I think serving on committees is a thank less job.

    The fact of the matter, NAR is one of the largest trade associations on planet earth, by it’s very nature it’s slow motion moving and cautious. Having a Trade Association is like our Government, you don’t agree with everything, it’s not perfect, there are smart, dedicated and well intentioned NAR leaders and committee members and there are others. It is after all, a collection of imperfect humans

    I love the real estate business. It’s the purest form of Pay For Performance and it’s personally rewarding to help people. I understand that NAR serves a purpose, change is slow and on a day to day basis, if it’s going to BE, it’s up to ME.

    My 27cents.

    Clink-Cheers

  7. Bill Lublin

    May 20, 2009 at 4:22 pm

    Doug; Thanks so much for you rkind words.

    Carolyn; The entire BOD was heard here, and could have defeated the MIBOR motion to refer (it was in fact a very close vote) – and while I would have preferred a different outcome, them what had the votes voted the way they felt was best – end of this part of the process – That being said I would love to see you in San Diego in November (and would offer an adult beverage of your choice if I see you there!

    Judith; WHile Local Associations need to comply with NAR model policies for their E&O, the enforcement of this particular rule does not seem to be of issue outside of MIBOR’s jurisdiction, and NAR typically allows the local Associations a lot of latitude in their interpretation of those rules. As I said, it may or may not prove to be a larger issue, but my sense of it is that there will not be major changes in the way that associaitons have handled the rule over the past 4 years.

    Louise; Thanks for reading – and yes, 6 months in the future is a long time (though 6 months in retrospect seems to have flown pretty quickly) But the decision here was made by us, the membership who have been elected and appointed to their positions. The tough part for us to recognize is that if the vote had gone the other way, there would have been a bunch of folks just like us (perhaps without blogs) who would have felt that they didn;t get what they wanted.

  8. Dave Phillips

    May 20, 2009 at 4:24 pm

    Bill, nicely written. Since I am a Board member at NAR, I witnessed first hand all the discussion of the issue and since I hang out on blogs, I knew the issue coming into the meeting. I saw the vote at the MLS committee and discussed the matter in two or three other meetings. It was thoroughly vetted and seemed to be headed for approval until a rather abrupt death at the Board. I was not prepared to have to fight for or discuss the issue at the Board because I thought it would be approved quickly like everything else.

    I was surprised at how quickly the motion to table was voted on. I was not ready to stand up and take action/make comment and by the time I realized what was happening they were voting. Even then I thought the motion to refer back would fail, but it passed with about a 2/3 majority. Had I been ready to react, I would have suggested that sending back to the committee was okay, but that we should suspend the imposition of the rule until the issue was resolved. By NOT suspending the enforcement of this rule, I think almost every IDX site in the country is in violation with NAR rules. Now most MLS’s will not enforce this policy, so this is probably only damaging to the folks at MIBOR. My guess is that MIBOR will now have to enforce this policy on all IDX sites that don’t try to hide from Google. Hopefully there is a better solution than that.

  9. Paula Henry

    May 20, 2009 at 8:25 pm

    Dave – Thanks for letting us know exactly how this was played out. I heard the vote was much closer and it doesn’t surprise me how quickly the table to motion was handled.

    I am also happy to hear it was thoroughly vetted and wonder, what more could they have added. IT was plain and simple, one BOARD wanted to stop this.

    I’m not sure I agree the current rule, as it is written, puts all boards in jeapordy of vilation. I always believed the interpretation was the problem. I hope my board will reverse it’s decision and wait until November; we’ll see,,

  10. Matthew Rathbun

    May 20, 2009 at 9:46 pm

    Here’s my question…. Even if NAR approved the ruling, is it not simply a recommended guideline change for the local MLS?

    NAR’s rule change would not compel MIBOR to change theirs.

    So, when all is said and done, if MIBOR still has their head; where they currently have it – will NAR members be able to dislodge it?

  11. Paula Henry

    May 21, 2009 at 12:05 am

    Matthew – My board has said, their rules and regs are based on NAR’s policy and is written exactly the same. So much for original thinking:) Like I previously stated; at the time of the MLS Committee’s approval, my board said I would be able to index.

    I suppose if they want to stand their ground and remain “in the dark”, it is highly unlikely they can be moved.

    However, MIBOR did go to NAR for verification of their interpretation of the ruling, so NAR did have the power to rule on this and have since changed their view; allowing individual boards to decide what the language interpretation is.

  12. Judith Lindenau

    May 21, 2009 at 6:15 am

    NAR policies seldom are presented to Realtor associations as optional. Annually, local associations are presented with model bylaws and MLS rules, and these rules are the measure of association compliance. To be ‘out of compliance’ means that the NAR blanket errors and omissions insurance standards are probably being violated (in intent, at least) and should court cases arise out of a non-compliance issue, the local association may not be covered by the NAR insurance policy.

    If you review the latest model bylaws, you’ll see that when there are choices for associations, these are extended as clear alternatives–“select either option A or option B”, not “here’s a suggestion, feel free to adopt it.”

    Further, the local Realtor association or MLS is encouraged to submit all rules for regular review by NAR in order to be approved for compliance and insurance coverage.

    In the thinking of many local associations, taking advantage of NAR’s risk management wisdom and insurance coverage is a part of the member benefit and obligation of due diligence in association management, and these organizations operate by adopting and enforcing all recommendations from their national association. Further, NAR has a covenant with the insurance provider to encourage risk management behavior–and they aren’t going to say, ‘well, it’s a policy but enforcement is optional.’

    Of course there are ways around the situation, and there is always the option to ignore the enforcement issue–in fact many smaller associations simply don’t have the resources to enforce all NAR policies and mandates.

    As has been said in the many posts on this topic, NAR doesn’t have the governance structure which allows for being light on its feet when it comes to policy changes–and the local associations find themselves between the proverbial rock and a hard place.

    I elaborate on this situation because now that the national spotlight shines brightly on MIBOR from both sides, the decisions the association makes will be carefully scrutinized by everyone. And probably no matter which road the association takes, it will be vigorously criticized by those who don’t agree.

  13. Bill Lublin

    May 21, 2009 at 6:18 am

    Ken: Your reponse deserves almost its own post – so I’m ging tosave some of that- though I appreciate your input and respoect your experience.

    Dave: I wish you had jumped up, but motions to refer do come pretty quickly and members of the BOD who might have been less than familiar with the situation might have thought that a review was a harmless option for a disputed item.

    Paula:Local Associations do need to have their policies in compliance with NAR, However their enforcement is left to the local board. I know this part is difficult for some folks to get , but NAR does not directly enforce any of the local association or MLS rules or regulations.

    Matthew;
    As I understand MIBOR’s issue, if the rule had been changed, they would not have standing to make the prohibition they have made. I am not familiar with the local politics, and am not sure where MIBOR’s problem with Indexing is, but obviously they have one – and perhaps they would find another way to prohibit actions that they (the governing body there) find objectionable.

  14. Paula Henry

    May 21, 2009 at 7:19 am

    Bill – My local board told me they do adopt NAR policy. If they do not they lose their E&O and their charter. I am just beginning to learn all the politics.

    What is MIBOR’s problem with indexing? I honestly don’t think they had a position on it until a tech savvy agent complained. At that point, they used the existing language and interpreted it to mean, Google is a scraper and therefore, indexing is scraping. From the emails I received, It appears this was suggested by the complaintant.

    I write this and still can’t believe it. 🙂 I meet with the board today and am hoping for some resolution.

  15. Bob Wilson

    May 22, 2009 at 7:18 pm

    “The governance of NAR worked perfectly”

    Being able to follow Roberts Rules of Order and ending up with a flawed end result doesn’t say much for the process.

    “The tough part for us to recognize is that if the vote had gone the other way, there would have been a bunch of folks just like us (perhaps without blogs) who would have felt that they didn;t get what they wanted.”

    You said a mouthful right there Bill.

    As I see it, you just copped to the idea that this was an agent vs agent issue, when in reality it is about the reach of IDX and what is best for the industry and consumer in the long run. Is it that hard for you who voted against this to see that the consumer likes access to info ala Trulia and Zillow? Or that exposure is good for the homeowner – most of whom could use every bit they can get?

    What exactly would have been the negative if it had gone the other way? Who exactly is damaged with indexing? Last time I checked indexable IDX solutions were available to any agent or broker who qualified for a non-indexable IDX solution?

    “If we participate in the system, and make our voices and opinions heard, where they need to be heard, in the forums, the committees, and the BOD meeting, then our opinions will be the ones that prevail. And if not, maybe our opinions were not reflective of the opinions of the greater portion of our group.”

    Is this really about opinion and who has the most votes, or common sense that promotes what we do – help people buy and sell real estate?

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Opinion Editorials

Ways to socialize safely during quarantine

(EDITORIAL) Months of isolation due to quarantine is causing loneliness for many, but joining virtual social groups from home may help fill the need for interaction.

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Quarantining, sheltering in place, staying home. We’re tired of hearing it; we’re tired of doing it. Yet, it’s what we still need to be doing to stay safe for a while longer. All of this can be lonesome. As the days turn into weeks and weeks into months, the alone time is getting to even the most introverted among us.

Solitary confinement is considered one of the most psychologically damaging punishments a human can endure. The New Yorker reported on this in a 1992 study of prisoners in detention camps in the former Yugoslavia, as well as Vietnam veterans who experienced isolation. These studies showed that prisoners who had experienced solitary confinement demonstrated similar brain activity to those who’d suffered a severe head injury, noting that “Without sustained social interaction, the human brain may become as impaired as one that has incurred a traumatic injury.”

We aren’t meant to be solitary creatures. Your “pandemic brain” is real. That fogginess, the lack of productivity, can be attributed to many things, including anxiety, but being kept apart from other humans is a big part of it too. Be kind to yourself, give yourself grace, and join others virtually. Be it an app, a class, a Facebook group, a chat room, or a livestream, someone somewhere is out there waiting to connect with you too.

The good news? We are lucky enough to live in an era of near limitless ways to interact socially online. Sure, it is different, but it is something. It’s important. The best thing about this type of social interaction is being able to hone in on your specific interests, though I’d caution you against getting caught in an online echo chamber. Diversity of interests, personality, and opinion make for a richer experience, with opportunities for connecting and expanding your worldview.

Here are a few suggestions on ways to socialize while staying home and staying safe. Communicating with other humans is good for you, physically and mentally.

Interactive Livestreams on Twitch:

Twitch is best known as a streaming service for video game fans, but it offers multiple streams appealing to different interests. This is more than passive watching (although that is an option, too) as Twitch livestream channels also have chat rooms. Twitch is fun for people who like multi-tasking because the chat rooms for popular livestream channels can get busy with chatter.

While people watch the Twitch hosts play a video game, film a live podcast, make music or art, mix cocktails, or dance, they can comment on what they’re watching, make suggestions, ask questions, crack jokes, and get to know each other (by Twitch handle, so it is still as anonymous as you want it to be) in the chat room. The best hosts take time every so often to interact directly with the chat room questions and comments.

Many Twitch channels develop loyal followers who get to know each other, thus forming communities. I have participated in the Alamo Drafthouse Master Pancake movie mocks a few times because they are fun and local to Austin, where I live. Plus, in my non-quarantine life, I would go to Master Pancake shows live sometimes. The chat room feels familiar in a nice way. While watching online is free, you can (and totally should) tip them.

Online trivia in real time:

There are some good options for real-time online trivia, but I’m impressed with the NYC Trivia League’s model. They have trivia games online on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays. The NYC Trivia League seems to have figured out a good way to run the game live while keeping answers private from the other teams. They run games on Instagram Live with a live video of the host, and participants answer via the question feature. Clever!

Online book club:

First I have to shout out my Austin local independent bookstore, BookPeople, because they are fantastic. They run book clubs throughout the year, along with readings, book signings, and all things book-related. BookPeople hosts several online book clubs during these lockdown days, and most people will find something that appeals to them.

I’m also impressed with this list from Hugo House, a writer’s resource based out of Seattle. This list includes Instagram and Goodread book clubs, book clubs for Black women, rebels, and poetry lovers. The Financial Diet recommends the Reddit book club, if you are comfortable with the Reddit format. Please note that it’s a busy place, but if you like Reddit, you already know this.

Cooking class or virtual tasting:

This is doubly satisfying because you can follow these chefs in real time, and you end up with a meal. There are a couple on Instagram Live, such as The Culinistas or Chef Massimo Bottura.

You can also participate in virtual tastings for wine, whiskey, or chocolate, though you will have to buy the product to participate in the classes (usually held over Zoom or Facebook Live). If you are in Austin, Dallas, or Houston, I recommend BeenThere Locals. The cost of the course includes the wine, spirits, or cooking kit in most cases, and all of the money goes to the business and expert hosting the class.

Look for your favorite wine, spirits, cheese, chocolate makers, and chefs that are local to you to find a similar experience. Most either prepare the class kit for pickup or delivery within a local area.

Quarantine chat:

To interact with another quarantined person seeking social interaction, there’s Quarantine Chat. Quarantine chat is one of the ways to connect through the Dialup app, available on iOS and Android devices. Sign up to make and receive calls when you want to speak with someone. The Dialup app pairs you randomly with another person for a phone conversation, at a scheduled time, either with anyone or with someone with shared interests.

Quarantine chat takes it a step further with calls at random times. When your quarantine chat caller calls, you will not see their number (or they yours), only the “Quarantine Chat” caller ID. If you are unable to pick up when they call, they will be connected with someone else, so there is no pressure to answer. It’s nice to hear someone else’s voice, merely to talk about what you’ve been cooking or what hilarious thing your pet is doing.

Play Uno:

Uno Freak lets people set up games and play Uno online with friends or strangers. Players do not need to register or download anything to play. Uno Freak is web-based.

Talk to mental health professionals:

If your state of loneliness starts sliding toward depression, call someone you can speak to right away to talk over your concerns. When in doubt, call a trained professional! Here are a few resources:

  • National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): The NAMI HelpLine can be reached Monday through Friday, 10 am–6 pm, ET, 800-950-NAMI (6264) or info@nami.org.
  • Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to this text line 24/7 for someone to text with who will also be able to refer you to other resources: U.S. and Canada: 74174, U.K. 85258, Ireland: 50808.
  • Psych Central has put together this comprehensive list of crisis intervention specialists and ways to contact them immediately.

There are many ways to connect even though we are physically apart. These are just a few real time ways to interact with others online. If you want something a little more flesh and blood, take a walk around the block or even sit in a chair in front of where you live.

Wave at people from afar, and remember that we have lots of brilliant doctors and scientists working on a way out of this. Hang in there, buddy. I’m rooting for you. I’m rooting for all of us.

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Opinion Editorials

Working remotely: Will we ever go back? (Probably not)

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Now that the pandemic has opened the door on working remotely, there’s no way we’ll put the genie back in the bottle. But, here’s some ways you can adapt.

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Woman working remotely on her couch with a laptop on her lap.

When it comes to working remotely, will the toothpaste ever go back in the tube?

Mark Zuckerberg recently said, “We are going to be the most forward-leaning company on remote work at our scale…” By 2030, Zuckerberg anticipates that over half of Facebook’s workforce will be remote. Many other companies are jumping on the work from home bandwagon. Working remotely has helped many businesses manage the pandemic crisis, but it’s unsure what form remote working will take over the next 10 years.

We know that employees are responding positively to WFH, as reported in this article – Employers: Lacking remote work options may cause you to lose employees. As offices transition to a post-COVID normal, here are some things to consider about your office and remote work.

What does your business gain from allowing workers to WFH?
The future of remote work depends on a conscious application of WFH. It’s not just as easy as moving employees out of the office to home. You have to set up a system to manage workers, wherever they are working. The companies with good WFH cultures have set up rules and metrics to know whether it’s working for their business. You’ll need to have technology and resources that let your teams work remotely.

Can your business achieve its goals through remote work?
The pandemic may have proved the WFH model, but is this model sustainable? There are dozens of benefits to remote work. You can hire a more diverse workforce. You may save money on office space. Employees respond well to remote work. You reduce your carbon emissions.

But that can’t be your only measure of whether remote work fits into your vision for your organization. You should be looking at how employees will work remotely, but you need to consider why employees work remotely.

The work paradigm is shifting – how will you adapt?
The work environment has shifted over the past century. Remote work is here to stay, but how it fits into your company should be based on more than what employees want. You will have to work closely with managers and HR to build the WFH infrastructure that grows with your organization to support your teams.

We don’t know exactly how remote work will change over the next decade, but we do know that the workplace is being reinvented. Don’t just jump in because everyone is doing it. Make an investment in developing your WFH plan.

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Opinion Editorials

The truth about unemployment from someone who’s been through it

(EDITORIAL) Unemployment benefits aren’t what you thought they were. Here’s a first-hand experience and what you need to know.

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Have I ever told you how I owed the government over two grand because of unemployment in 2019, and only just finished paying it back this year?

This isn’t exactly the forum for memoirs, but this is relevant to everyone. So I’ll tell y’all anyway.

It all started back in 2018 when I came into work early, microwaved my breakfast, poured coffee, and got pulled into a collaboration room to hear, “We love you and your work, April, but we’ve been bought out and you’re being laid off.”

It was kind of awkward carrying my stuff out to the car with that Jimmy Dean sandwich in my mouth.

More awkward still was the nine months of unemployment I went through afterwards. Between the fully clothed shower crying, the stream of job denial, catering to people who carried rocks in their nostrils at my part-time job (yes, ew, yes, really), and almost dying of no-health-insurance-itis, I learned a lot!

The bigger lesson though, came in the spring of the following year when I filed my taxes. I should back up for a moment and take the time to let those of you unfamiliar with unemployment in Texas in on a few things that aren’t common knowledge.

1: You’re only eligible if you were laid off. Not if you had quit. Not fired. Your former company can also choose to challenge your eligibility for benefits if they didn’t like your face on the way out. So the only way you’re 100% guaranteed to get paid in (what the state calls) “a timely manner”, is a completely amicable split.

2: Overpayments have to go back. Immediately. If there’s an error, like several thousand of Texans found out this week, the government needs that cash back before you can access any more. If you’re not watching your bank account to make sure you’re getting the exact same check each time and you have an overpayment, rest assured that mistake isn’t going to take long to correct. Unfortunately, if you spent that money unknowingly–thought you got an ‘in these uncertain times’ kinder and gentler adjustment and have 0 income, you have a problem. Tying into Coronavirus nonsense is point three!

3: There are no sick days. If ever you’re unable to work for any reason, be it a car accident, childbirth, horrible internal infection (see also no-health-insurance-itis), you are legally required to report it, and you will not be paid for any days you were incapacitated. Personally, my no-health-insurance-itis came with a bad fever and bedrest order that axed me out of my part time job AND killed my unemployment benefits for the week I spent getting my internal organs to like me again. But as it turned out, the payment denial came at the right time because–

4: Unemployment benefits are finite. Even if you choose to lie on your request forms about how hard you’re searching for work, coasting is ill-advised because once the number the state allots you runs out…it’s out. Don’t lie on your request forms, by the way. In my case, since I got cut from my part-time gig, I got a call from the Texas Workforce Commission about why my hours were short. I was able to point out where I’d reported my sickness to them and to my employer, so my unpaid week rolled over to a later request date. I continued to get paid right up until my hiring date which was also EXACTLY when my benefits ran out.

Unemployment isn’t a career, which is odd considering the fact that unemployment payments are qualified by the government as income.

Ergo, fact number five…

5: Your benefits? They’re taxed.

That’s right, you will be TAXED for not having a job.

The stereotype of the ‘lazy unemployment collector burdening society’ should be fading pretty quickly for the hitherto uninformed about now.

To bring it back to my story, I’d completely forgotten that when I filed for unemployment in the first place, I’d asked for my taxes NOT to be withheld from it–assuming that I wasn’t going to be searching for full time work for very long. I figured “Well, I’ll have a tax refund coming since I’ll get work again no problem, it’ll cancel out.”

Except, it was a problem. Because of the nine month situation.

I’d completely forgotten about it by the time I threw myself into my new job, but after doing my taxes, triple checking the laws and what I’d signed, it was clear. Somehow…despite being at my lowest point in life, I owed the highest amount in taxes, somewhere around the 2k mark.

Despite being based on a system that’s tied to how much income you were getting before, and all the frustrating “safeguards” put in place to keep payments as low and infrequent as possible, Uncle Sam still wants a bite out of the gas-station Hostess pie that is your unemployment check. And as I’m writing this, more and more people are finding that out. And even as we enter 2021, there is still more to be aware of – we’re not out of the woods yet.

I’d like to end this on a more positive note… So let’s say we’ve all been positively educated! That’s a net gain, surely.

Keep your heads up, and masked.

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