Working from home – Does it really work?

Posted by Malcolm Campbell on 22 October 2015
Working from home – Does it really work?

Plenty has been written by HR and Workplace gurus over the years espousing the benefits and advantages of work from home (remote) arrangements.  Some go as far to suggest it's the way of the future and soon enough offices will be a thing of the past.

Whilst there can be many benefits for employers and employees (if the arrangements suit the needs of both parties and are set up and regulated properly), too often we see situations that have not worked out well for either party.  When it goes wrong, work from home arrangements can result in huge inefficiencies, feelings of isolation and can erode the trust in the employment relationship.

In order for work from home/remote working arrangements to succeed, a number of things need to happen:

Objective Assessment

There needs to be a genuine and objective assessment of whether the job is suitable and capable of being performed remotely – it goes without saying that not every job (or every aspect of every job) can be done effectively or efficiently away from the traditional workplace.  There also needs to be some honest and open assessment of whether the person is suited to work remotely and, if so, on what frequency and/or duration.  Is the employee someone who can genuinely work without direct supervision, should they be able to work remotely at all times or are there restrictions or parameters around when they can work remotely?

Trial Period

Before jumping in head first and both parties committing to remote work as a permanent fixture, trial and then review it.  Tweak it as necessary, or if it is not working for all involved, scrap it.  Don’t make promises that you can’t keep.  If you are not sure about remote working arrangements, say so.  Trial it and then review it.  Only commit once you are sure it will work.

Guidelines, Review & Assessment

Set out the ground rules (in writing) for what is permitted and expected of remote workers.  This should include the frequency of remote work, when must they be “online” and what must be done on site.  Review processes should be established for their work outputs/performance which ensures that they can and are being measured in a fair and transparent manner.  This helps employers reassure themselves that the employee is not “having a lend of you” and also displays to the ‘on-site’ workers that the remote workers are putting in as much time, effort and skill as they are and are just as valuable as those in the office.  Failing to do this can easily lead to remote workers feeling ostracised and creating an “us and them” mentality – which is a sure sign that remote work arrangements are not in fact working as they should.

Resources

Ensure that remote workers have adequate resources to ensure that the efficiency of not having to travel to the office is not lost or reduced by having inadequate resources (slow internet connection, inadequate IT hardware or software, or a lack of on-site support).

Know and Minimise the Risks

Remote work arrangements present a number of unique risks (perceived or real), which often stem from the absence of direct supervision by the employer, and the lack of control the employer has over the off-site working environment, including:

  • Lack of accountability;
  • Reduced productivity;
  • Erosion of team cohesion; and
  • Workplace Health and Safety.

There is also the advent of the right to request flexible work arrangements pursuant to the Fair Work Act.

Proper risk planning and management should include the preparation of documents, which as a minimum should include:

  • The Remote Work Policy of the employer (covering many of the issues outlined above);
  • A Remote Work Agreement for each specific employee; and
  • Work Health and Safety Checklist for remote workers to be completed by the employee and signed off by the relevant manager after a physical inspection has been conducted of the proposed workspace.

Inspection of ALL spaces which are proposed to be used as an offsite workspace on a regular basis (i.e. someone’s home – not the airport lounge) MUST be conducted by the employer.  In our opinion this requires at least ONE physical inspection of the proposed workspace.  Ideally the workspace should be re-inspected at least annually, preferably without notice being provided to the employee so a true inspection can occur.

With the boom in demand for flexible work arrangements, improvements in technology and businesses finding it harder and harder to locate and retain talent, remote working arrangements are here to stay – how well they work for each business and employee will be dependent upon on how well the above issues are articulated, assessed, addressed and adhered to.  If you are faced with a challenging remote working arrangement contact our workplace law team who can help guide you through the issues and achieve a workable solution for all.
 

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