Most of us think of work from home (WFH) as a modern trend. Actually, it has a long history in pre-internet business. In various trades, at various times in human history, it made sense to combine the workplace and residence into one physical location. Weavers, watchmakers, blacksmiths, shopkeepers – there are countless examples.

The modern definition of work from home (laptops, spreadsheets, Zoom calls) was gaining steam even before COVID-19 forced employers to facilitate WFH as a safety measure. Before long, people were speculating about WFH as a permanent, mainstream feature of the modern workplace. As often happens, crisis drives innovation – but the broader context of WFH is one thing, and putting it into practice for your employees is another.

Simple tenets for assessing WFH

HR managers are tasked with getting WFH right, from crafting and implementing policies to gathering feedback and holding employees accountable. As WFH becomes more common, the conversation around it becomes more complex. Managers need a reliable path forward.

Based on our experience with organisations in all quarters of business – including these past few months of mandatory lockdowns – we believe the best approach to WFH is anchored by a few simple tenets.

  • You are making an investment in WFH
  • You are ensuring that WFH is part of your HR planning and operations
  • You have carried out a risk assessment on WFH arrangements, in collaboration with your people

We’ve noticed that involving your people in WFH assessments always produces a better result. It sends the right message from a ‘work culture’ perspective.

It results in a detailed, realistic picture of how WFH can function within your organisation. Finally, it complies with official guidance based on Australia’s model WHS laws.

Making a quality assessment

A “one-size-fits-all” strategy will inevitably create blind spots. As HR managers develop their WFH analysis, they must assess each position within the organisation, either internally or with help. The following traits are positive indicators for WFH:

  • The position requires minimal or no supervision
  • The position lends itself to objective performance monitoring
  • The position does not require in-person contact with clients
  • The position requires minimal and manageable interaction with other employees

Once you’ve identified roles in your organisation that meet these criteria, other key factors must be taken into account:

  • OHS/WHS obligations must be met
  • The employee’s family/home situation must be able to accommodate WFH
  • Procedures around workflow, scheduling, and timekeeping must be clear
  • Liability and insurance coverage must be checked and clarified
  • Operating costs (utilities, repairs, breakdown, servicing) must be mutually understood
  • The expected duration of WFH must be established

Beyond procedure

From a liability standpoint, it’s important to get the details right. A haphazard approach to WFH can result in legal exposure for employers – but that’s just one piece of the puzzle. HR managers who rush the process are likely to lose their way in terms of team performance and workflow. Scoring high in these areas is what every manager needs, and it requires an understanding of the pitfalls and stresses – not only pertaining to WFH in general, but to the situation created by COVID-19.

Employees (especially those who haven’t worked from home before) are susceptible to mental health stresses including loneliness and isolation.

These challenges can erode the perceived connection to colleagues, important projects, and to the organisation at large. As a result, performance can suffer. Turnover can increase. These are headaches we want to avoid.

Distraction is another potential problem. With so many families in isolation, employees may find it challenging to maintain a focused work environment at home. This is why a realistic, case-by-case assessment should precede your implementation of WFH. Once implemented, regular contact with WFH employees, including mutual feedback about WFH in particular, is essential.

WFH keywords

Systematic, consistent, compassionate, inclusive. Developing an effective WFH strategy in this modern age is mostly a matter of common sense – but managers who take these keywords to heart are far more likely to achieve success.

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