Working from home
As flexible work arrangements become common place and technology improves, employers are increasingly allowing their employees to work from home. While there are a number of benefits in allowing employees to work from home, they need to be managed appropriately.
When is it suitable to allow an employee to work from home?
Allowing employees to work from home may not be suitable in every business. Success depends on selecting both the right job as well as the right individual.
Jobs that may suit working from home may include:
- software or IT programming employees
- sales, marketing and travelling employees
- business consultants
- writing, editing and researching staff
- administrative and clerical employees.
The primary issue, in determining whether working from home is an appropriate option for an employee, is how much the employee needs to be able to access the office and whether technology will allow them that access.
Once a business has made a decision that a particular position may be suitably performed in an employee’s home, it is important the employer then selects the right individuals to work from home.
Individuals who are selected should have the right skills and traits that will allow them to perform the work successfully.
Individuals who are selected to work from home should:
- have good time management skills
- be motivated and have self discipline
- be able to split home and work duties
- have the technological ability to cope with working form home.
Flexibility is a key advantage of working from home and may benefit particular individuals requesting improved flexibility which may include:
- employees approaching retirement age
- employees with a disability who may have difficulty attending the workplace
- employees returning from parental leave.
Workplace flexibility may increase the productivity, availability and retention of these individuals.
Setting employees up to work from home
The home office
In order for employees to successfully work from home they will need the tools to complete their work. This may include a computer, printer, internet connection, company mobile phone and perhaps some further business specific hardware or software.
Prior to allowing an employee to work from home, the employer should conduct a screen and where appropriate, provide the employee with any hardware or software they may need to successfully work from home.
In some instances, it may be appropriate for an employee to be asked to purchase additional items.
When an employee is working from home an employer still has a duty of care under the occupational health and safety laws, to provide a safe working environment and may still be liable for workers’ compensation claims. As such, a risk assessment should be completed (this may be done by the employee) to ensure that the employee will be working in a safe working environment where there is limited risk of injury.
For example, if a business conducted a risk assessment and found the employee was going to be working on a counter while sitting on a bar stool in their busy family home, they should direct the employee to find a more suitable location which is quiet and has furniture that provides more lumbar support.
It may also be appropriate to have an ergonomic assessment completed at the home, to minimise the risk of injury.
Planning and tax implications
Generally local councils do not require the employee to get planning permission to work from home. Some Western Australian local councils do, however, require individuals to report that they have a home office and that they primarily perform work from that office. Employers are encouraged to contact their local council for further information.
Similarly, there may be tax implications for both individuals and businesses associated with employees working primarily from home. Employers are encouraged to seek independent financial advice or contact the ATO for further information.
Managing employees who work from home
In order to ensure the successful implementation and management of employees working from home, it is recommended that an employer:
- draft a policy
- set clear expectations
- have regular virtual meetings
- have face to face meetings
- ensure inclusive communication
- provide access to benefits and incentives.
Draft a policy
Ensure employees are aware of who is eligible, how they can make the request, where they can work, if the arrangement can be terminated and the employee’s obligations and responsibilities. The policy may also include provision for a trial period, to assist in determining whether the arrangement will be suitable to meet the needs of the business and the employee.
Set clear expectations
Ensure that employees who work from home are set clear performance standards, communication guidelines and the hours they need to be available to colleagues, management and clients.
Regular virtual meetings
Whether this meeting is by phone or webcam it is important to have regular meetings with the employee to set expectations, track progress and assist with any issues the employee may have. These meetings may occur individually between the employee and their manager. It may be an option for the employee to be teleconferenced into team meetings.
Employees who work permanently from home may benefit from having semi-regular face to face meetings e.g. once a month.
Ensure employees who work from home are included in all staff
or team emails that may impact on how the employee performs their work.
Access to benefits and incentives
Ensure that employees working from home have access to on-site benefits e.g. study leave or an employee assistance program.
For more information on managing employees working from home please contact CCI’s Employee Relations Advice Centre on (08) 9365 7660 or by email on firstname.lastname@example.org.