Published July 2023
EMPLOYER QUICK GUIDE TO WORKING FROM HOME
IS WORKING FROM HOME AN ENTITLEMENT?
PLUS HOW TO MAKE IT WORK FOR YOUR BUSINESS
The ABS reported in August 2022 that 41% of workers worked from home in some capacity, up from 30% in 2015 and 32% in 2019. Fast forward to 2023 and it is expected that this number will only continue to remain high.
But is it actually an entitlement for employees to work from home (WFH)? The short answer is: no, but it depends.
Thanks to COVID-19, workplace flexibility and working from home is here to stay (in one form or another)! The reality is that employees are expecting some form of flexibility and businesses who are not offering flexibility, could lose employees and struggle attracting new talent. Obviously, this applies only to roles that can reasonably be performed from home, and not in many blue-collar and service-based roles where the work simply cannot be done from home.
In 2023, we are seeing many government organisations and publicly listed organisations shift their employees from working full-time or predominantly from home, to back predominantly in the office. This has had very mixed responses from both managers and employees, and is a change that must be handled with both a robust plan, and good communication and care.
WHAT IS WORKPLACE FLEXIBILITY?
Working from home falls under the banner of ‘workplace flexibility’, which is not one-size-fits-all and means different things to different people.
Flexible working arrangements can be formal or informal, depending on their nature and duration – some examples are provided below:
- Finishing early or starting later on agreed days;
- Working part-time (less than 38 hours/week);
- Working from home 1-2 days per week and from the office/workplace on other days (‘hybrid’ arrangement’);
- Breaking up work hours so the first part of the day is performed during business hours, and the latter is at home, after hours (often after school/children in bed);
- Allowing employees to design their own preferred rosters.
It’s important to remember that flexibility, including the ability to work from home, is a two-way street and such arrangements should meet the needs of the business, the team and the individual team member.
IS WFH AN ENTITLEMENT?
While working from home is not generally an ‘entitlement’ (contrary to popular belief!), it is important for employers to delicately balance workplace and operational needs, with employees’ expectations to ensure they can attract and retain employees, alongside the provisions under the National Employment Standards (which are described further on in this section).
It is important to have discussions with individual employees that are expecting some form of flexibility or to work from home, and to come to an arrangement (where possible) that works for the employee and the business.
Employers should also remember that there are specific circumstances in which an employee can request a flexible working arrangement and these are governed by the Fair Work Act 2009 and National Employment Standards. In summary, these include employees with at least 12 months service in the following circumstances:
- Then are the parent, or have responsibility for the care, of a child who is school aged or younger;
- They are a carer (under the Carer Recognition Act 2010);
- They have a disability;
- They are 55 or older;
- They are pregnant;
- They are experiencing family or domestic violence; or
- They provide care or support to a member of their household or immediate family who requires care and support because of family or domestic violence.
The business should consider each request on a case-by-case basis and be fully informed of its obligations before making a decision (particularly if the request is being refused). There are stringent steps to be followed if a request is made by an employee so be sure to seek advice if you are unsure. As always, everything must also be appropriately documented.
Edwards HR has developed a useful Flexible Working Arrangements Toolkit that may benefit your business if you receive a request for a flexible working arrangement, containing useful forms and letters for employees. It even includes everything you need for Parental Leave too. Contact our team to find out more.
BUT WE HAVE EXISTING ARRANGMENTS…
Employers who have existing policies or arrangements with employees, and wish to change these, should navigate these waters carefully, ensuring any decisions are thoroughly considered and strong consultation processes take place before implementing any changes. You should also review any existing documentation and comply with any agreed steps to be taken in circumstances where the employer wishes to change things.
Edwards HR recommends that formal and informal arrangements include a quarterly review to re-assess the arrangement and its ongoing suitability.
WHY WOULD YOU ALLOW EMPLOYEES TO WORK FROM HOME?
BENEFITS OF WORKING FROM HOME (REMOTE WORK)
With the right resources, working from home can have many benefits for employees and employers. Working from home arrangements might be on a full-time basis or just a couple of hours per week. It may also be just as needed, for example, around personal commitments, depending on the business.
Either way, working from home can bring some valuable benefits, such as:
Healthier work-life balance: by allowing employees to work from home you allow them to work around their personal commitments more easily. This might look like employees being able to spend more time with their children, pick them up from school, take a walk during their lunch break or having the option to have their lunch break with their partner.
No work commute: Employees no longer stress about the daily peak hour commute and instead can use that extra time to complete home errands, fit in exercise or anything else they might otherwise struggle to find time for. By not having a work commute or the stress of running late, employees are likely to be more relaxed and more focused on their work.
Increase in productivity: Working from home usually means fewer distractions. For employees that work in a busy office environment, they may find that working from home allows them to have more time to focus on the task at hand and not be distracted or interrupted as frequently as they would in the office.
Job Satisfaction & Employee Retention: Working from home is becoming a valuable benefit for many employees. You might also find that many prospective employees are looking for the opportunity to work remotely (in some capacity) in their new role. Businesses that allow work from home arrangements for employees on a recurring basis, generally find that staff retention rates improve. Employees will likely be more satisfied in their roles and more engaged in their work which helps with retention too.
Whilst there are some great benefits, working from home does also bring some challenges. Employers must be aware of the challenges applicable to their circumstances, and quickly work out the best solution/s to work around these in order for a working from home arrangement to be successful.
Common challenges that Businesses face include:
Employees not having the right tools and resources: Not every employee is going to have the right tools and resources at their home. Equipment that should be considered in most circumstances will include a laptop or computer, monitor, stable and reliable internet access, and a phone. For some businesses this can be as easy as providing these resources to the employee, however, if this is not an option for you then make the time to sit down with the employee to discuss alternatives.
Communication Barriers: When working remotely, it is easy to get into a routine of communicating with your team via email, instant messages or text. To keep up your normal communication methods and break down any barriers, ensure that you are checking in with your team regularly using other tools like video calls and phone calls. Try dedicating a daily or weekly time to have a team video call to get your team together to discuss any topics or projects, or try to replicate what you would do in the regular workplace, but virtually. This will allow your employees to have access to their leader, and feel connected with the team without feeling isolated or distant.
Family commitments: It is important that employers are aware of the employee’s home situation and whether they have family commitments that they may need to attend to. If this is the case, then flexibility in hours is a great solution in helping the employee be able to complete their tasks throughout the day where they know they can be their most productive, rather than expecting them to work their standard work hours (where possible).
Lack of personal interaction: Humans are social beings that naturally enjoy interaction with others, and it’s easy to take for granted the satisfaction that comes from being around people in a workplace. When this element is removed while employees are working remotely, people can feel lost, isolated, and distant. You can help your team to overcome these by adopting our suggestions below.
Safety: Employees working from home may still be eligible to make workers compensation claims as injuries can still occur at home as they would in the workplace. Employees must be encouraged to come forward if incidents do happen at home or if there is any risk of physical or mental harm that could occur while they work from home.
Security and confidentiality: It can be harder to monitor employee’s that are responsible for handling sensitive and confidential information when they work from home. The risk of family members and friends who may have access to the employee’s documents and IT equipment while at home is often outside of the employers control. It is imperative the employer’s introduce effective controls to suit their businesses needs, and be sure to seek advice before implementing any kind of surveillance measures.
HOW TO MAKE IT WORK
The way employers manage their teams when they are in the workplace compared to when they work remotely will differ between leaders and businesses, but as a rule of thumb, you should try to maintain consistency between the two as best you can. Below are some key considerations that employers should take in to account when determining what will be best for their business.
Balance Home & Office Time: We see working from home arrangements work best under a hybrid model – that is, employees spending some time at home and some time in the office. This ensures that team culture is not lost and everyone has time together in the workplace to learn, grow, share and build relationships, while also have quieter time at home to focus with some flexibility and less interruptions.
Encouraging Routine: Many people work best remotely if they follow a similar routine to what they would follow if they were working from their usual workplace. You could consider encouraging your team to:
- Dress for work – for example, wear their company uniform, professional attire, or whatever would be worn in the usual workplace;
- Have a designated work area – ideally away from distractions such as the TV and other family members;
- Structure your day like you would in your usual workplace;
- Start and finish at around the same times each day, where possible;
- Take their regular breaks for meals, fresh air and moving away from your desk.
Professional Behaviour: With employees working from home, employers may find it difficult to monitor professional behaviour and interactions with one another. Employers must make it clear to employees what level of professionalism is expected of them, which might look like:
- Video meetings are conducted in a professional manner and setting as they would in the office. This includes employees being dresses professionally, using proper language and working in a quiet environment where they will not be interrupted.
- Emails are sent appropriately and do not encourage bullying or harassment in any form.
- Telephone calls are taken in confidence and sensitive information is not revealed to any bystanders.
Business system access: It is important to ensure that when employees work remotely, they can access their regular systems and programs that enable them to complete their work. This might include emails, servers, any systems or programs, and remote access to the network or intranet.
Use Online Tools/ Platforms: Fortunately, there are a variety of online tools and platforms available that make working remotely easier and help to keep you connected with your team. Below are some of our recommendations:
- Microsoft Teams, Zoom and Slack: Enables you to set up video conferences and instant messaging to help you and the team keep in contact throughout the day.
- Microsoft Sharepoint, Google Drive and Dropbox: These programs are cloud storage systems, that allow you and employees to easily share and collaborate documents with the rest of the team, and even customers.
- Trello and Asana: Great for assigning and keeping track of tasks, projects and deadlines with your team.
Employee Feedback: Remote work can be a big change for leaders and employees, so it’s important that you are clear with your team about how the working from home arrangement will work and your expectations. Once you’re in the swing of things, it’s then important to regularly check in with your team. Asking questions like these will help you get some good feedback about how things are working and prompt a productive discussion:
- Do you have everything you need to be able to work productively at home?
- Do you feel as productive at home as you are in the office?
- Which communication channels and online tools are working best for you? Are there any that are not working so well?
- As your Manager/Supervisor, is there anything I could do differently that would make working from home easier for you?
- Is it easy for you to ‘turn-off’ at the end of the day?
Motivation & Celebrations: Be sure to keep motivating, recognising and rewarding employees as you would if they were in their usual workplace. Don’t forget to celebrate successes and achievements too!
Progress & Productivity: Working from home can bring distractions to some employees, which is why employers must find their own way of monitoring day-to-day progress and productivity. We always recommend setting clear expectations and deadlines for each employee before commencing a WFH arrangement which this might include creating weekly or daily checklists, maintaining your usual meeting schedules, checking in with employees throughout the day to see how they are going with certain tasks, requesting updates periodically, or using some of the online tools we have suggested.
Remember – there is no one size fits all when it comes to workplace flexibility. It is very much a two-way street and such arrangements should meet the needs of the business, the team and the individual team member (not just one party).
IMPORTANCE OF DOCUMENTING EVERYTHING
As with everything you to when managing your team, it’s important that everything is appropriately documented when agreeing to any kind of work from home arrangement.
Below are documents that every business should consider implementing when allowing employees to work from home – these make up Edwards HR’s Working From Home Toolkit which we can tailor to your business for only $795. Contact our team to find out more.
Work From Home Policy: A Working From Home Policy is essential. This policy should outline (at minimum) what is expected from employees when such arrangements are made, including their responsibilities, performance and communication expectations, workplace health & safety requirements, workspace assessment expectations, provision of equipment, and information about insurance, security and taxation considerations.
Working From Home Agreement: This document details the agreed arrangements between the business and a specific employee. Some of the details you would include in this type of document are the employee’s address, working from home commencement date, expected duration, the days and hours that have been agreed for the employee to work from home, the periodic review timeframe, and the expectations that the employee is to abide by.
Home Workspace Checklist: This checklist is a practical tool to have your employees assess the suitability of their home workspace and to action any improvements that need to be made to ensure it is safe and comfortable. We recommend that these checklists be completed quarterly or when an employee’s circumstances change (for example, moving house or introducing new furniture).
All the above documents should be signed by the employer and employee and placed in the employee’s personnel file, then reviewed periodically.
WHERE TO FROM HERE?
While working from home has become very normal for many business, it can still be challenging to navigate, especially when changing existing arrangement, or there are different arrangements between different employees. All businesses are strongly encouraged to seek advice before introducing new ways of doing things or changing existing arrangements, and as always, to document everything thoroughly.
Edwards HR answers questions and supports businesses with working from home matters almost weekly, so reach out to our team today to find out how we can support your business.
For more guidance about this update, or to find out how Edwards HR can support your business, contact our team today on 07 3568 0866.
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