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Thanks to COVID-19, working from home may have become temporarily necessary, but is it time to make working from home permanent?

Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg thinks so and he has made the prediction that working from home is here to stay. Since March, most of Facebook’s 50,000 employees have already been working remotely and whilst the company feared that the pandemic would disrupt operations, it appears it has not had an impact to productivity.

What started as a necessity has become a somewhat normal part of working life. Organisations across the globe are moving from a temporary work from home arrangement to a more permanent physical office at home.  

Whilst not every employee has fallen in love with the home working experience, there is no question that it has shown CFOs the cost savings of not running traditional office environments, proved that productivity has not suffered and that there are seemingly endless benefits to remote working.

Not only will remote working help current employees, it will also be a major draw card in the fight for talent.  Given that many people are not prepared to travel from than forty-five minutes from their home to their place of work, remote working opens up an endless talent pool that is not restricted by the tyranny of distance. 

In a climate of major cost cutting, it makes sense to explore remote working as a permanent option. A concept that was once reserved for senior leaders and a lucky few may just be the lifeline that organisations need to keep their heads above water on the balance sheet. 

Tips when transitioning to permanent remote working

Safety first

It is imperative that organisations invest the time and energy into ensuring that a remote working model is compliant with WHS obligations.  No doubt safety checks were put into place for the temporary arrangement, but a permanent WFH arrangement needs clear guidelines and policies to ensure that safety remains the top priority. 

Provide the new employee with a Working From Home Self Assessment Checklist, conduct a WHS assessment and where possible, arrange a WHS representative to contact the new employee on their first day to discuss the organisation’s approach to health and safety, determine any unique employee needs and answer questions.

Communication

Out of sight is not out of mind.! A permanent remote working model can be extremely effective – as long as your workforce don’t feel forgotten or isolated. A communications plan needs to be devised on an organisational, team and individual level.

Culture

What is the plan to build the right culture to enhance the success of the organisation?  Remote working does not mean that the business gets to wipe their hands of this important people strategy. Arguably, it has never been more important to build the company culture.  It is the glue that aligns the people to the purpose.

Technology

Having a slow internet at home may be frustrating and bearable every now and then, but the internet is a necessary tool in a permanent remote working environment.  It is the joint responsibility of the employer and the employee to ensure that they are set up with the appropriate technology, internet access and programs to operate as effectively as they would have in the office environment.

Performance

What is the plan to measure performance? An employee’s output is far more relevant than the hours that they sat in the chair but aligning appropriate performance measures to a remote work environment may take some adjusting. Be open and flexible to this conversation as it is worth taking the time to get this right.

Leadership

Many managers understand that their employee does not need to be ‘watched’ to be successful and that macromanagement is an integral tool to success.  Unfortunately, for other leaders, they have more of a 'hands on' approach. It is integral that the organisation appropriately supports, coaches and empowers leaders in their preferred leadership model to set remote working up for success.

Temperature check?

Transitioning to a remote working model is going to be more natural for some organisations, but it will have it challenges for all. It is important to do some employee engagement surveys in the transition period to truly understand what is going well and what could be better.  Understanding that there are hurdles early will prevent unnecessary issues that derail performance or productivity.

The new normal?

Irrespective of whether or not your organisation was previously ‘pro’ or ‘against’ the remote working model, it appears that the jury has spoken.

A significant number of workers are making their point clear – they want to choose where they work and feel that they have proved their capability to do so. Other employees are keener to return to the office cubicle, but with social distancing becoming the new normal and a significant reduction in headcount in the workplace, does it really make commercial sense to keep the lights switched on? 

Further information

Members can contact us or call the Workplace Advice Line on 1300 55 66 77 for assistance with their workplace matters. 

Coronavirus (COVID-19) advice and resources

Ai Group is continually publishing new COVID-19 advice and resources for employers:

  • Specific HR Resource Centre and Health & Safety Resource Centre content to assist members during the COVID-19 pandemic can be found here.
  • Dedicated COVID-19 member advice, industry news, resources and latest information can be found here.

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Download our brochure to see why you should join and call us on 1300 55 66 77 or visit our Why join page to sign up for a consultation with one of our member representatives.

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