What to do when an employee wants to work from home
by Merilyn Speiser, Principal Consultant at Catalina Consultants 

What to do when an employee wants to work from home

 

It’s a modern day business conundrum: your employees demand better work-life balance and the law says you must prioritise flexible working arrangements. But from a business owner’s point of view much of what you need done is probably best done onsite and in the office. If the idea of leaving your employee to their own devices seems daunting, don’t worry. Recent research from Stanford University found that letting employees work from home made them happier, less likely to quit and more productive (not least because they tended to suffer from fewer distractions when away from the office). However, if you want these benefits, you need to go about it the right way. Here’s how.

Ask yourself whether it’s going to work

Let’s face it, working from home isn’t the right option for every person every time.

Sometimes that’s because the requirements of the role demand the person be in the office. Sometimes that’s because they don’t really have the kind of environment at home that encourages work to get done (distractions from family or housemates). And sometimes, let’s face it, that’s down to person themselves and their approach to their work. So before you grant permission, here are some things to consider:

1. Is the employee the right ‘fit’ to work from home? In other words, do they demonstrate initiative and interest in maintaining contact with their team and other people they regularly work with? Do they make it easy for people to reach them? Are they flexible too? After all, flexibility works both ways.

2. Does the role generally involve face-to-face interaction with your clients and, if so, can this be done remotely?

3. Does the role generally require a large amount of teamwork and daily face-to-face contact with other employees?

Don’t worry if your employees need to meet face to face for team-work, creative projects or to develop innovations, technology often makes this is all possible. However, success depends on setting good ground rules around expectations at the outset.

The risks of working from home

Next, it’s important to remember that letting your employees turn their home into a workplace brings risks too. First, there’s the physical Work Health and Safety issues to consider. If your employee injures themselves while working from home, it counts as a workplace incident. Your workers compensation insurance should cover this, but you can't always count on it. At a minimum you’ll need to initiate a Working From Home Checklist process.

You also have an obligation to consider your employee’s mental wellbeing, which can get tricky given that they won’t be visible. One way to minimise this risk of their mental health deteriorating is to consider having regular office days, where your employee has to come into work. These check-ins can also provide the employee with much-needed social interaction – something that many workers don’t value until it’s gone.

It’s always been a matter of trust

Perhaps most importantly, an effective working from home arrangement needs trust.

You need to be confident that your employee does not discover a new-found freedom during normal work hours - one which means they either fail to get through their workload or they need to start working seven days a week to keep up with it.

You should be able to email and call at any time during the agreed hours and get a response within a few minutes. That’s not to say they shouldn’t get the same breaks and pauses they’d be entitled to in your office. Rather, encourage your people to communicate openly – if they are out to the bank or post office or meeting a friend for lunch they should feel comfortable saying this and advising you when they will be back.

You also want to be confident that no other distractions are keeping their attention away from the main game. One way to ensure this is to make sure your policy clearly states that employees cannot carry our childcare or other carer responsibilities during their normal working hours.

Making this clear will benefit your employee as well as you. After all, they don’t need the stress of juggling conflicting responsibilities either.

And, finally, talk it out...

Working from home works best when the lines of communication are open.

So before you agree to anything, make sure your employee can clearly articulate their reasons for wanting flexibility. You also need to be able to clearly articulate your expectations, so they know where they stand and what’s expected of them.

If you do, you may well have a loyal, happy and engaged employee for years to come.

 

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