In light of the Prime Ministers announcement late evening 24/03/2020 and the Victorian Premier’s comments early this morning, the reality of working from home has increased for more Australian workers. “Work from home where you can” may inevitably be followed by an eventual restriction on movement, including to workplaces.
I have previously commented on things to consider when working from home regarding staff engagement, ergonomic set ups and avoiding (social) isolation from your colleagues, though many comments from business managers and owners has suggested to me there is a lack of knowledge about the requirements and exposures when it comes to having employees work from their personal premises.
This short list is certainly not exhaustive but contains some points to consider should you have staff preparing to work from home, or indeed already do.
Make it safe
All staff should be able to confirm with their employer that the workstation/area in their residence dedicated to undertaking their employment duties is safe and healthy and does not pose undue risk exposure to the business. Slips, trips, and other hazards need to be accounted for, ensuring it is not exposed to elements that may jeopardise your employee’s wellbeing. See Make it formal for more on this
Make it functional
Assuming every Australian household has decent internet access is unfortunately not something an organisation can do. Many people live off the data of their mobile phone. Ensure staff can confirm they can remain online, and appreciate that unless otherwise specified, they will continue to be liable for costs of internet access and other utilities in their private homes.
Make it structured
Due to the fact that employees will not be leaving their homes to undertake duties, the concept of travelling to the office (and then leaving the office) is no longer available – and lost with that is the ‘disconnect’ people have between work and home. Over the last years we have seen an increase in the understanding and embracing of a “work / life balance” – we need to navigate the murky waters of a work / life balance when the location is the one and the same. It is important to have set hours – be it 9am to 5pm or other. By having set hours, employees appreciate that this is work time – they are expected to be on the tools during that period, as they would be in the office. This is also important in relation to liability – see Make it sound
Make it Aesthetic
Request that staff still dress up for work – in line with your workplace protocol. Video conferencing should occur very often, and not always at scheduled times – staff ought to be on the tools and readily available after all. By getting up and dressing for work, and having set work hours – all adds to the continuity for staff and the mindset of being on the job. If a dedicated workstation can be facilitated: great. Suggest they take a picture from their office, business cards or perhaps a company logo marketing banner or mousepad to make it look and feel like a satellite site of your business.
Make it Formal (make it temporary)
Many employees in industries such as hospitality are losing their jobs. For employees to be given the lifeline of a working from home scenario is a wonderful opportunity and whilst it is an act of good faith – the business ought to take certain protections. Formalising the working from home dynamic in written contract is ideal. Be it an extraordinary “Working From Home Agreement” or addendum to an existing contract, signing off with employees demonstrates that the business is taking this as an irregular measure during a pandemic, but also notes that it could end at any time. The agreement ought to point out the work to be undertaken, the nominated working hours, expectations of output as well as engagement levels (video conferences and daily management touch-points, etc.). It could also detail the equipment required. It should include an understanding of the work health and safety components and a declaration by your employee that their designated area is free of hazards. It should also include a declaration that they will arrange their set up ergonomically and follow hygiene and health and safety practices. Note, whilst you may have ergonomic assessors in your business, it is not appropriate to send them to all staff residences – this defeats the purpose of isolation and containment of contagion. It should include a clause that notes the working from home arrangements are temporary and under ongoing review, subject to the business operational requirements, and mandated actions by the governing authorities.
Make it sound
As a business, we rely on our staff – they are our most valuable commodity and it is incumbent on business owners and operators to ensure their livelihood and wellbeing. That said, the best way to ensure ongoing employment and livelihood for staff is by ensuring the viability of the business. As such, during these difficult times we must maintain standard operating procedures. From a duty of care perspective gaining assurance of the safety of their temporary workplaces at home demonstrates this. Having set hours, also draws a clearer line in relation to workers compensation liability. Should a worker injure themselves ‘at work’ at home during this time, the legislation may well deem a Workers Compensation claim to be compensable – though if we can demonstrate that the workplace ended at a specific time and the injury occurred ‘at home’ (being after hours) we may be better placed to minimise some exposure.
During this time staff are still subject to performance management, and it would be appropriate to do this telephonically or, preferably – via video conferencing. Whilst we need to take into account the extraordinary circumstances of the times, organisations reserve the right to manage their staff within the limits of the law, and compliance with industrial relations legislation.
Ensure any Employee Assistance Programme you provide to staff is available and the team members have those details. Regular welfare checks, team meetings and a weekly round-table/video conferencing lunch would be a good idea.
Make it fun
To those workplaces that often have Friday night drinks or social gatherings – consider hosting virtual drinks or pub quiz nights, etc. via video conferencing. Clarify this is a social occasion though, and not work related. The more the team feel engaged and part of the workforce, the stronger your team and business will be placed to see through this difficult era. Do not let the gravity of this situation change any cultural dynamics of your workforce.
Difficult times breed resilience in us that we often did not know we had. Whilst the media show us examples on a daily basis of the worst of people – this global challenge also presents us with the opportunity to show our best.
Maintain morale, maintain professionalism, maintain your business!
Senior Account Manager