Author: Sheila Baker,  Managing Director, Gold Seal

One of the side effects of the current massive threat to public health known as the Coronavirus or COVID-19 virus is that we need to find ways to help our people to keep working. The obvious solution to minimising loss of leave and keeping productivity, business income and employee income on an even keel is to provide the opportunity to work from home wherever possible. Some of the employees who can take advantage of this opportunity are those who:

  • are well but in self-isolation and/or those awaiting test results
  • have recently returned from overseas
  • have tested positive to the virus but are well enough to work
  • are recovering from the virus and well enough to work
  • are in lockdown

Many of you already offer this way of working, but to others, it may be a departure from the norm. Either way there should be a clear policy and procedure for requesting, assessing and monitoring such arrangements.

In these difficult times you may be thinking that the last thing you need is more administrative burden – but not having these policies and procedures in place could potentially offer other challenges to your business that you need like a hole in the head. Examples may include issues around workers’ compensation claims or productivity challenges.

A decision about whether an employee can work at home should take into account the nature of the duties performed and whether they can be safely performed at home. It is the employer’s responsibility in respect of WHS to manage the health and safety of employees, including at the home based site. The employer needs to demonstrate that they took action to investigate and where necessary took action to maintain the health and safety of the employee.

It is recommended that in a situation where an employee agrees to work from home, that a formal agreement is made and the home circumstances are assessed. The agreement should stipulate the terms and conditions of the arrangement.

Lucky for you – the hard yards have been done for you. The following Working From Home templates are available within the HR Manuals & Templates available for purchase on the Gold Seal website. If you currently subscribe to the HR/IR materials you will already have access to these.

  • Working From Home Application
  • Working From Home Management Response
  • Working From Home Agreement
  • Working From Home Self-Assessment (WHS assessment)

Tips and traps

For some, working from home can be a challenge. In this era, when we may not have a choice but to work this way, it’s important to set boundaries between work and home life and to establish firm routines to keep home workers motivated. It works best if home workers are well organised, have time management skills and are self-starters. Some people may not work this way naturally and may need some help.

Here are 8 tips for your employees to make working from home successful and to help them stay on track:

1. Create a work zone/office

Whether your homeworkers have a dedicated office or a table for their work, ask them to ensure that this zone is for work only. It will make it much easier for them to leave work at the end of the day and not let it trickle into their home lives.

2. Work regular hours

Try to ensure they maintain normal business hours. Encourage them to think of themselves as ‘at work’ during those hours and plan to start work and finish work at the same time as regular work times. This will allow them to set boundaries between work and home. It’s easy to get sucked into being available to work any time.

3. Maintain teamwork

Obviously your home workers won’t see their managers or co-workers, so it’s important to check in frequently over the telephone or using new meeting technologies such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams. Send an extra email to confirm receipt of an email or materials, maybe call up a co-worker to check in on a project and make it clear that you are accessible and available throughout the day.

4. Take a lunch break

It is important for home workers to take regular breaks like when they are at work. Taking a proper lunch break and a few minutes out of their day to relax and recharge will help them to maintain productivity. It is all too easy to just continue working and lose track of time, but they will be more productive if feeling fresh.

5. Don’t clean

Ensure home workers resist the temptation to straighten up or take on large projects around the house while they’re working from home. Keeping to their normal cleaning schedule will also help them to maintain productivity.

6. Keep a routine

Encourage home workers to resist the temptation to stop their normal morning routine for dressing and breakfast, or evening wind-down and dinner time. Keep things consistent, just like they are when commuting to the office.

7. Don’t volunteer too much

Although home all day, home workers should avoid volunteering to watch kids or pets for friends and family. This nice gesture can soon prove to be too much as they really need to focus on work during set work hours.

8. Stay professional

Just because home offices don’t have a dress code doesn’t mean that your home workers should just wear their pyjamas. If dressed appropriately they are likely to conduct calls much more professionally. They should avoid the temptation to be relaxed with communication just because they’re in their pink fluffy slippers or favourite trackie dacks.

Of course not all of us will struggle with these pitfalls of home working. If you know your team well, you will recognise those who need a bit of a hand – usually those who are extrovert or extract their energy from being amongst people. Some of us may take to it like ducks to water and not be challenged at all by answering calls barefoot. But for those who do, these ideas may help keep spirits and motivation levels up.

For assistance on any of your HR/IR requirements – call Gold Seal on 03 9510 5100 or email hrservices@goldseal.com.au