The 4 things all managers should consider before agreeing to flexible work

This is the second part of this series relating to the HR challenges being faced by businesses that have employees working from home.

Working from home

Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show approximately 3.5 million employed Australians work from home regularly. The reasons for doing so are varied with the three most popular being:

  1. To catch up on the work they couldn’t finish during office hours;
  2. The individual wanted a home office (limited overheads);
  3. Flexible work arrangements.
Home office

The gig economy and start up business culture has increased the number of people working from their own homes as tight profit margins result in companies reducing their overheads.

A reported 744,000 Australians work from home because they wanted a home office or to limit their overheads, with this number including sole trader consultants and freelancers.

“When people are developing their own business or working for a start-up, HR can be something that is very easily overlooked amongst all the other competing interests,” said HR expert Heather Warner, from Perth based consultancy WCA People and Culture Solutions.

“Investing in HR from the outset can ensure start-ups have the foundations in place to mitigate any issues down the track.”

Flexible work practices

Meanwhile, the ABS figures show 47,000 Australians work from home thanks to flexible working arrangements. That number has increased by 55% since 2000, thanks to technology and the increased awareness of the benefits of flexible working practices.

According to Heather, flexible working arrangements can be of huge benefit to employee wellbeing and productivity and, therefore, to a business’s productivity.

“Flexible workplace arrangements have been shown to reduce burnout, allowing employees to complete their best work according to their own schedule and reducing pressure on the individual and their families,” she said.

HR procedures just as important for the home office

“Happy employees are productive workers. However, the HR challenge for businesses with employees working offsite do remain and include regular performance management, trust issues, communication and a feeling of isolation,” Heather said.

“Business owners with employees working from home must ensure they have HR procedures and plans in place to address these issues and ensure the staff members are not only working in safe conditions, but continue to feel like a valued member of the organisation and understand their role in the bigger picture.”

HR challenges of home offices

Heather offered the following tips to businesses who are considering entering into flexible workplace agreements with their staff, or whose staff work from their own home offices:

  1. Assess all possible health & safety concerns

Home offices rarely undergo the same occupational health & safety scrutiny as businesses and this can pose all sorts of problems or misconceptions for employees working from home. Ensuring policies and procedures are in place and understood by home workers will ensure clarity. An example of this is the case of then ABC journalist Dr Maryanne Demasi who injured herself while jogging at 9.30am while working from home. Dr Demasi argued her run constituted a normal break period, but ultimately lost her workers compensation claim because it was determined the timeframe was not an ordinary recess. Situations such as this can be avoided by putting procedures and agreements in place that clearly state working arrangements, as well as undertaking OH&S checks of the home office and environment to ensure it complies with standards.

  1. Discuss how the staff member will represent your brand

Will the person working from home be liaising with clients or other stakeholders and, if so, how will they represent your brand? Plan with the staff member where, when and how business meetings will take place and ensure your expectations are clear from the outset.

“Lawnmowers, leaf blowers or crying children in the background can be quite distracting,” Heather said. “It’s also important offsite staff remain connected with business goals as these often change and if that team member is not kept in the loop they may well misrepresent you.”

  1. Plan ways to ensure the staff member remains connected to the rest of the business

While flexible work practices often allow staff to maximise work-life balance, there is the danger they could start to feel disconnected or isolated. To prevent this extra effort needs to be made by both the manager and other team members to retain connection with that team member, particularly if they are only one of a few working remotely.

  1. Build a team environment – communicate with other staff

Avoid building resentment or misunderstanding amongst your staff by ensuring all team members are aware of the hours and/or days the employee is working and the arrangements that are in place for meetings. If using technology to connect with workers offsite, then trial it’s functionality before meetings to ensure easy connectivity and high-quality communications.