I’m here with the COVID-19 continuity update for Australian businesses on Tuesday 13th October 2020.
In today’s briefing, I’m talking about weighing up the pros and cons of working from home once the restrictions ease.
With different levels of COVID-19 alerts around Australia, the states have varying advice regarding work from home. We all know Victoria has closed certain industries if they cannot work from home, however in WA after their COVID-19 threat passed the government announced employees were expected to return to their workplaces.
Over in the US, we’ve heard about the big tech firms letting their employees work from home whenever they want once their offices reopen. Amazon, Facebook, Google and Microsoft are some of the industry giants who are offering this flexibility to minimise density in their workplaces during the pandemic. Twitter has gone even further and decided to extend this option even after COVID-19 lockdowns end, giving employees the choice to work from home indefinitely.
It isn’t as simple as just making the statement; each company will have put a lot of thought and planning into their decisions before announcing it to their staff and the public.
Most Australian businesses – particularly those based in Victoria – have experienced some form of work from home (WFH) over the last 6 months. There comes a time in our planning when we need to consider if WFH might become a permanent feature of our businesses post-COVID-19. Even if we don’t initiate it, our team members are likely to be thinking about it and may make a WFH request in the future.
Firstly, let’s look at the reluctance that we as business owners might feel when considering a future WFH model:
• What impact does this have on my team culture? Think about the little things that keep co-workers connected: ad hoc water cooler discussions, checking in on each other, sharing weekend stories, informal knowledge sharing, celebrating small wins throughout the day;
• How will I be able to assess my team’s capacity? In a workplace where everyone is working alongside each other, it’s easy to spot when someone is a bit more stressed and putting in longer hours, and be able to offer some help. Conversely, you can also see the person who is at a loose end without enough work and could be better utilised by shifting their role;
• How will I be able to assess performance? We can pick up a lot just by being in the same workspace with our team members. By overhearing conversations, phone calls and seeing/hearing interactions with other team members, clients and suppliers you can much more easily form a view as to whether someone is performing well in their role or requires more assistance;
• Will my employee actually put in a productive day’s work? We all have this concern and it’s valid when team members might have other personal priorities that could take them away in a blended environment (home and work together). It could mean that they don’t complete the extra things that they might have done in the office;
• How do I replicate the informal training, support, mentoring that normally happens face-to-face? This is a crucial part of the inherent IP in communal work environments, people learn from each other and there are many minor but powerful examples of when one person trains another (think how you learned much of your Excel knowledge!) and informal mentoring arrangements that occur in a collaborative office.
Important considerations for a working from home model for your employees
• Some roles can WFH, some roles cannot – is this fair? Consider if this could cause issues in the team culture if office team members are permitted to work from home but the crew in the field need to be on-site every day;
• Nearly every role has elements that can only be completed in the office, from simple tasks like managing deliveries through to sensitive performance management discussions;
• It isn’t an all or nothing scenario, a potential model could see people working from home on some set days and in the office on other days. There could be an entire office WFH day or it could be split up with different people in the office on different days;
• Different people need and want different environments; some need the socialisation and need to be out of their home, while others do their best work alone in a quiet environment;
• Consider if WFH could be part of an employee’s compensation package. A WFH day or two can be an incentive that you can offer to retain and reward team members as well as entice potential applicants.
So, what’s the best solution for whether to allow your employees to work from home?
Due to the nature of remote working, it will require you as a business owner to be very specific and clear with your performance measures. You’ll need a strong mix of lead indicators and lag indicators. As an example, a lead indicator for a salesperson is the number of good appointments they conduct. A lag indicator of this might be their sales achieved vs budget. You’ll have to rely a lot more on tracking team members’ performances based on these. And your team will have to be comfortable that you’ll be doing so.
I can’t conclude what the best solution is to the WFH issue in this briefing because every workplace is different with different people and different needs.
As you move forward with future plans for your business post-COVID-19, get advice from your business coach or mentor how WFH might work for you and how you’ll respond to WFH requests.
One key piece of advice is that you should set up your WFH arrangements as a trial with a definite date for review. This way you can assess the impact on your role, your team’s performance and culture, and the overall business performance.
It’s in everyone’s interest to ensure the business remains strong and healthy first and foremost to protect everyone’s jobs. Initiatives like WFH may enhance the benefits to your team.
FYI, these are the current directives across other Australian states:
NSW: Employees can return to work however employers must allow them to work from home where it is reasonably practical to do so.
QLD/SA/TAS: It’s back to business as usual, with the addition of physical distancing requirements and the 4-square metre rule.
WA: Employees are being actively encouraged to return to work.
This is a complex matter; our business coaching services will be able to give you objective advice and assist you to weigh up all the factors, and plan any changes.
Ashley Thomson B.Eng(Hons), Grad. Dip. Mgmt, MEI
Tenfold Business Coaching