Why most businesses still haven’t learnt their WFH lesson
After a year of dealing with lockdowns, Maureen Kyne from Maureen Kyne & Associates says most organisations are wishing the problem would go away rather than looking to implement policies that reflect long-term work-from-home requirements.
She believes too many companies are still experimenting and don’t know the right way to manage a remote workforce. By failing to grasp that the way we work has fundamentally changed, she believes they have left a significant part of the workforce poorly supported.
“Companies who fail to acknowledge WFH is now a permanent part of the employment landscape leave themselves vulnerable to work, health and safety liability,” Ms Kyne said.
“Businesses haven’t learnt their WFH lesson and it’s impacting on their remote workforce. It’s not a quick fix, it requires considerable thought to adopt a long-term remote policy and even new regulations and guidelines.”
Ms Kyne urged employers to be increasingly alert to the work health and safety implications arising out of the new WFH arrangements.
“The rise in mental health issues alone suggest companies may not be doing enough for their staff.”
She said providing employees with access to an employee assistance program and maintaining regular contact and well-being check-ins by managers or HR is critical to helping employers achieve a work life balance.
Ms Kyne warned the side effects of remote working; mental health issues, discrimination and job disparity will grow and may result in workers compensation claims unless organisations genuinely invest in a properly thought out remote working model.
Ms Kyne’s checklist for a remote workforce plan:
- Work-life balance: Developing a dedicated work-life balance policy will demonstrate your commitment and investment in remote work office. If reports are correct in suggesting remote workers struggle with boundaries then companies need to do more, says Ms Kyne. She suggests companies formalise what flexibility looks like for each employee working remotely so that personal and work lives don’t blur.
- WFH policy: The home office should offer the same level of safety, support and security and opportunities as the employee would receive at their traditional office. An effective WFH policy will set employees up for success by clearly communicating expectations, responsibilities and conduct.
- Wellness: Companies must make mental health a priority for employees working remotely. Training sessions, resources like self-assessment checklists and encouraging behaviours that are good for your employees health can help identify and manage WFH loneliness, burnout, and stress. Working longer hours in the WFH environment presents a real risk to health and productivity.
- HR compliance issues: Remote work brings new compliance challenges around pay, promotions and fairness. Employees working remotely need to be treated equally to those workers coming into the office and neither group can feel they are at a disadvantage in terms of face time with the boss, access to new work and projects or their performance ignored because of their location. Failure to manage this can lead to harassment and discrimination claims.
- Work events: Aspects of company culture that came naturally before may become difficult to maintain. Work events such as team building days, new business meeting or brainstorming sessions are all examples that can get teams back together, in-person, at least some of the time. These events provide employees with a sense of identity, trust and connection.
According to Ms Kyne, the pandemic has paved the way for a new type of working life but she warns success around well-being, productivity and fairness can’t be guaranteed unless new practices, policies and regulations are established around the WFH life.
"If organisations want to retain staff and avoid the risk of claims, they need to draft a WFH model that reflects complete fairness,” she said.
“It must reflect employees’ values and career ambitions and one that invests in their development regardless of the environment they work."