Author: Sheila Baker, Managing Director, Gold Seal

A month ago, a number of workplaces had work from home arrangements in place, and they were growing in popularity, particularly in large organisations like banks. In smaller businesses, they were still probably the exception, rather than the norm.

Then came COVID 19 and suddenly we don’t have a choice. Managing an entirely remote workforce is a new skill many of us need to learn now, in a hurry.

It has been said that this crisis will change the way we work, so unlike other aspects of the pandemic, it looks like these challenges may be longer lasting than the effects of a shortage of loo paper. So let’s look for ways we can embrace the situation rather than worrying about the pitfalls.

To start with, in Gold Seal’s HR Resources, you will find a set of materials to assist with your Working from Home arrangements. The guidelines appear in the Chapter 4 of the HR Management Handbook entitled “The Flexible Workforce” and there are 4 templates as follows:

  • Working from Home Application
  • Working From Home Agreement
  • Working From Home Management Response
  • Working From Home Self-Assessment

Please click here if you don’t already receive or subscribe to the HR Resources and would like to.

It’s advisable to read the guidelines first so you understand what you are doing and why. It details the obligations of business owners to maintain a safe and healthy workplace.

There is also an Employee Policy in the Employee Policy Handbook, which we recommend you implement if you haven’t already, even retrospectively.

Our strong recommendation is that you use these tools to ensure your employees understand your and their responsibilities in working from home. You and your employees are both required to sign where indicated to ensure each document has been read and understood, and it becomes an agreement.

Understandably, Gold Seal’s HR Helpline has been inundated with calls asking how best to manage remote teams. The following are a selection of the most frequent questions we have been asked, and we will be keeping our eyes peeled for more questions being asked by many. We’ll update this as we go.

Q1:      How do I stay in touch with my team? At the office, they come to see me if they have a question and we can sort things out on the spot, or I can get back to them quickly. I miss that interaction, and so do they.

A1:      This is a very important matter – communication is absolutely the key to successful home working and many teams are accustomed to that kind of constant interaction. Our recommendation is to use a team communication tool, like Microsoft Teams, or Zoom. They are easily downloaded and intuitive to use. They’re also free and you can use them across all devices: laptop, iPad or phone.

Here at my desk, I have it running all the time in the background on my laptop and I get a notification if something has come in, so I can look at it right there and then, or later at a break time. Every morning everyone checks in and they all log off at night saying good night. If someone leaves during the day to go run an errand, or go for a walk, they let the team know.

The other really important thing about this kind of tool is the ability to conduct team meetings. For example, if you have a regular sales meeting on a Monday morning you can set up a team and still have that meeting, and discuss all the same things you normally would. In fact the recommendation is to hold them more regularly than you normally would (within reason).

Q2:     How can I tell if my team members are really working?

A2:     Good question. The team communication tool will help with this. There are quite a few aspects here:

  • The first and most important thing we can do for ourselves and our team is to learn to let go, and trust. If you are going to wonder if your team member is at the shops or playing with the kids rather than working, you will drive yourself and your employees – nuts. The most important thing is whether the work is done, not how or when it is done.
  • Second: do your team members have KPIs? Or other performance measures? How do you know they are working when they are in the office? KPIs don’t change when your team works from home – they remain the same. The same turnaround times apply on processing a piece of work or returning a phone call.
  • Third: do you have more than one way to see if work has been done? For example if a complaint comes in, do they go straight to the individual team member or do they come in and get registered somewhere? You should be able to maintain the same systems and check on things the same way if you are in contact with the team regularly.
  • Fourth: collect information. At the end of every week, ask the team members to send in their figures for the week on whatever they do repeatedly – new business, changes, cancellations – to help you not only keep an eye on workflow, also to see how the workload is changing. Changes in workload are going to be experienced as the crisis wears on so we need to keep a close eye on whether people could possibly be running out of work or maintaining the levels. It’s going to be important information for you to see how you are weathering the crisis and remember – information is power.
  • Fifth: This point is related to the last one and that is you may need – temporarily – to micromanage. It’s going to be important so that you know if one of your team members has run out of work – so you can swing them into another team or give them other work to do. This is a fantastic opportunity to do some clean-up work in your business – updating up databases or whatever the business needs – to keep people productive and gainfully employed when their own workload drops.

Q3:     What if one of my team has an accident during working hours?

A3:      The fact is that employers have the ultimate responsibility for ensuring a safe work environment, wherever that work is carried out. Before they start working from home, or in this case as soon as practicable after, you need to ensure your employees have completed the Self-Assessment form in your HR Resources. In an ideal world you will ensure you have checked their arrangements at home, but asking them to sign this form is the best thing you can do at this time. In most cases the employer’s workers’ compensation insurance will cover the employee, and using this form and keeping the record will demonstrate your concern with health and safety.

Q4:     What if I want them to work at the office but they want to work from home?

A4:      Pretty soon, depending on the shutdown restrictions in place, if you want the work done, there won’t be a choice. At this stage, we can work from the office as long as your workplace space permits the social distancing rules, i.e. 4 square metres per person.

In the case of a complete shutdown of course, going to work won’t be an option for anybody.

In any case the whole point of this exercise is to keep your employees safe. The government – and the virus – has deemed this to be at home, whether we like it or not.

We all need to do our bit and as we see posted everywhere; we’re all in this together. This too shall pass – everything does – but in the meantime, keeping our employees, our businesses and ourselves safe is our imperative.

This experience is new for all of us and people will be having additional challenges outside of work. Try to be as understanding and supportive as possible – while still ensuring the business keeps progressing.

Our thoughts are with all members of our community during these tumultuous times.

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