Posted on 24th March 2021 by John McCluskey
Well, the COVID pandemic has certainly drawn attention on both Employees and Employers considering options for the future of employment and what would this look like. It is funny how for many years I have been criticized for providing our staff flexible remote working opportunities with a number of larger organisations saying we were not a real business and would never last. Suddenly those same businesses are now promoting work from home as an innovation and they are pioneers. Personally, I do not mind, and if it takes a pandemic to change some people’s ideas so be it. However, the world moves quickly now and if you don’t embrace change and challenges, you will get left behind. Anyway, I thought I would put some ideas and lessons down for consideration for both parties’ workers and employers to sleep on regarding the whole work from home scenario.
Firstly, to be up front, our company has always provided our employees the flexibility to work from anywhere, and attend the office as required or when they want to. They have a sexy new name for this called Hybrid working, yeah whatever, but the important point is bipartisan choice. We are fortunate to have mature systems, processes, and policies to support remote work and meet many of the challenges managing a remote workforce throws up. I will mention some of these for both parties to consider and hopefully be objective. I would also say some companies or industries are more suited for remote or flexible working conditions, and I can say with confidence not all workers are suited to remote working. Read into that what you would like.
So, suggestion one would be for employers and employees to consider Work from Home (WFH) or flexible working as a privilege earned not given. Why, well unfortunately a small percentage of people will take this to the extreme and if you think they were unproductive in the office they will be less productive at home. It is not fair to other staff that need to pick up the slack and this will create resentment in the workplace between colleagues. You need to be able to measure productivity before and after (in office and at home). Most employees are great and reward employers with extra effort to prove that this is something worth holding onto especially if it something that can be taken away. It also means they can fit work around when they are most productive such as early in the morning or when kids are in bed. It is valued by employees to have those quality and important moments with family that they may miss by being in the office especially with long commute times. It also builds trust with employers and employees.
Time saved during commuting is a huge benefit to both employees and employers, many employees can get back 1-2 hours a day by just bypassing the commute to and from work. The other benefits are savings on fuel, parking, tolls, public transport not to mention the stress with city driving. Just think what can be achieved with that extra time, so it is something worth fighting for and showing employers that you are productive at home. Might even be able to do the odd yoga class, gym, or meditation class that you never had time to do. Warning to employees, working from home can be great but also you need to be able to switch off, put down the phone and stop checking emails when your day is done. It is easy to fall into the trap of losing track of time, not eating properly, or taking regular breaks when there are no interruptions. Get up and go and check the roses every so often, and make sure you maintain regular contact with co-workers even if it is online. It is also easy to fall into the trap of being isolated and this can have adverse effects on mental health, so employers need to be vigilant on regular check-ins with remote workers, e-coffees and its great if employers have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) program for employees and their families. Also don’t presume home is a safe place, there has been an increase in family violence with remote workers, so for a small percentage of workers, the office can be a place of stability so don’t fully close that door.
How much time working from home is appropriate? No easy answer here and each employee will be different but there are considerations for both parties. Employers need to ensure employees working remote have a safe working environment and have appropriate working desks, chairs etc and it is prudent to have home workplace assessments done for staff. Otherwise, this could lead to an increase in bad posture, increase in slips and trips and workers compensation claims. Secondly on Workers compensation, don’t presume workers are covered for WFH check with insurers, you may need a second policy. For instance, those workers in border towns could live in one state and the office be in another, and workers compensation is state based, so employers make sure you are across this. Employers may get some benefit in downsizing the office space if workers have the option to work remotely, reducing costs such as rent and electricity. However, be prepared to invest some of those funds to support your WFH employees. Both parties need to consider there is an additional cost to work from home as well as if this is mandated the employer takes prime responsibility for workplace safety and ergonomics. So if the employer maintains a desk in the office for employee and provide a desk and setup at home consider the costs and working of such arrangements like smaller office and hot desks with employees having a locker.
Many companies as we come out of COVID did the right thing by workers by making an investment and allowing them to work from home are still struggling to get some of those workers back in the office. Word of caution here for employees, if your role can be done fully remote are you the absolute best person for the role. As this throws up an opportunity for an employer to test the role nationally and see if they can get anyone better or at a cost saving. Remember many business owners have been hit hard during this pandemic. Secondly, could this role be offshored? Companies are looking to cut costs and get back on their feet, many smaller companies may have their homes on the line, and if your role can be offshored it could save the employer a lot in wages alone, and further saving in taxes such as payroll tax, superannuation etc. Tip for employees make sure you have a reason to go to the office, regularly to decrease these risks, it is also good for your mental health to socialise and catchup with what else is going on in the office. I would also say having face to face conversations, shaking hands is still a very powerful commodity.
It is extremely difficult and expensive for employers doing business in Australia so don’t give them the option to offshore. We want to keep all jobs in Australia. Employers give Australians every opportunity to shine before offshoring. I know how difficult it is in Australia to run a national business, between different state licencing, payroll tax, workers compensation insurance, state and federal legislation, 70 plus different awards, unions, trust me I get it. It appears far easier to offshore workers and I am sure this was never the intention of our complex employment laws but here we are. We need to roll up ourselves and fight to keep jobs in Australia not just for our businesses, but to maintain our standard of living and future industry opportunities for our children and their children.
Employees and Employers when managing a remote workforce both parties have a responsibility to keep those end points secure. Cyber criminals are targeting remote workers as an easy entry point to access corporate networks, so don’t let your guard down and ensure you have as many protections in place as possible. Employees ensure your work phone and laptop are only used for work, don’t download anything from the web without permission. Don’t store corporate or sensitive data on home devices if secure corporate storage is provided. At a minimum have multi-authentication (MFA) on everything, strong passwords, latest operating system and application updates, complex passwords and ideally an encrypted password management tool.
A consideration for both employers and employees. Many businesses rely on people working in the office and the cities for their trade and employment. So, consider potential impacts on those in retail, hospitality, transport and other professions that rely on business commuters. Having everyone working from home also has adverse flow on affects and I can tell you if our local coffee shop closed, so would our productivity. But it is also great to get that 10-minute break from the office and stretch the legs.
It would be good to get other people’s feedback, as the more experiences we can capture, and share will improve and educate both employers and employees considerations for the “future of work”.