By Alisa Sainoski

Running a business can be difficult at the best of times, even more so during a major disruption such as COVID-19.  We are fortunate that in our lifetime we have not seen anything like it previously and are unlikely to again.  But out of disruptions such as these there are opportunities to re-visit elements of our business and see if it can be “tweaked”.  Working remotely is one such area.  If nothing else, the resultant shutdown from COVID-19 has demonstrated that both businesses and employees have the ability to effectively work from home.  Now, it isn’t for everyone, nor is it for every business, but if you were one of those businesses where it proved to be a success, what do you need to think about to make it a permanent option for your team?

Some Things to Think About

First things first.  You need to ensure your business has the appropriate resources, communication options and procedures for expense reimbursements.  Given it is likely your team are already working from home, it is probable you have already covered off on at least two of these bases.  You may choose not to reimburse your employee’s expenses instead choosing to let them deduct the associated costs of working from home through their personal tax returns (for them to do this, you need to be clear in your Human Resources policies that not only do you expect this to be the case, but that it is part of your company’s policy).

You will also need to review your insurance policies to ensure you carry the correct coverage.  Workers compensation, public liability and professional indemnity will be the key areas of review.

Cyber security will be the next checkbox on your list.  Ensuring your IT systems are secure and efficient is something you should be keeping an eye on anyway, but in a remote environment where communication isn’t as straight forward as in an office, it becomes imperative.  Data privacy and security (such as firewalls and virus software) will need to be up-to-date and possibly strengthened to ensure secure communication (and no, email doesn’t count as secure!).

As a part of this, confirming your IT infrastructure can support remote work by being ready to address systems and equipment needs of employees who may not be set up to work from home long-term or have problems during the working day.

Internal procedures for the approval of expenses, payments to suppliers, and many other areas and functions of the business need to be reviewed and strengthened to ensure the opportunities for fraud are minimised.  Let us not forget, if you put a person in a position of failure, it is likely they will fail.

The Positives

There are many benefits to having a flexible remote-working policy not least of which the reputation as a flexible and accommodating employer.  There are many benefits of working from home for your employees including:

The Negatives

As with anything, there are some downsides to having a remote workforce and in order for a successful remote-working policy to be enacted, they must be included and acknowledged:

Legal, Insurance and OH&S Requirements  

As an employer, you have a legal responsibility to protect the health, safety and welfare of your employees, even when they work at home.  The same health and safety rules apply, not only to your employee, but to others affected by their working at home.

One way to ensure your employees’ wellbeing is maintained would be to create a formal policy for long-term working from home including an inspection of the work area to ensure OH&S requirements are being fulfilled and an approvals process.  Use of checklists to ensure all areas of your legal and OH&S requirements are managed effectively.

Photographic proof of items such as smoke alarms, extinguishers, first aid kits, appropriate lighting and ventilation should be requested as demonstration of the satisfaction of OH&S requirements.

The provision of equipment appropriate to an employee’s job-role, maybe making consultants available to assist employees to ensure their work environments are appropriate for their wellbeing should be considered.

When it comes to insurances, general property insurance is one of the staples and whilst you would need to check your policy, it would usually cover business equipment such as laptops, mobile phones, printers etc regardless of their location.  Ensuring an inventory of equipment provided to employees for their use at home will assist with identifying and maintaining equipment kept at the employee’s home.

Injury to the employee as a key area of concern.  At what point does your liability end in the home office space.  Workers compensation insurance is a legal requirement for every business employing staff and it is no different when your employee’s place of work changes.  Your insurance company may have special provisions which you and your employee both need to adhere to and prove in the event of a claim.

Something to remember:  psychological injury is also claimable under workers compensation.  It is therefore important to ensure that you have policies in place designed to maintain an employee’s wellbeing.  We would estimate the most likely area of concern would the lack of social interaction.  Perhaps a remedy for this would be a compulsory office-based weekly meeting.  It gives the opportunity for social interaction, management discussions and productivity updates.

Ultimately, the takeaway here is to check with your insurer as policies vary.

So, Should You Do It?

Well, we can’t really answer that question for you – it’s going to depend upon your team and your business.  Remember though, we aren’t talking here about forcing your team to work at home, rather about giving them the option to if it suits their lifestyle better.  It’s about mutual benefit and communication.  What works for one employee may not work for another.

The reality is, many industries especially those related to marketing and sales, have operated large workforces remotely for decades, quite successfully.  Have they faced problems in doing so?  Of course, but they are not insurmountable and terms of your own personal development, changes to your work environment give you yourself opportunities to grow and develop.

[gravityform id=”1″ title=”true” description=”true”]