With 2021 commencing and the Victorian government announcing that businesses can now have 50% of their workforce back into the office (or 20 people, whichever is greater, subject to adequate space), there is a lot of discussion about work from home becoming a permanent model.
Work from home (WFH) has been an important topic for Tenfold clients, and I’ve discussed it in detail in these briefings:
- 13 October: Important considerations for a working from home model for your employees
- 27 July: How to prepare your business for full remote operations
In the last week we heard the Victorian premier express his view that WFH should become a permanent fixture of employment arrangements. When announcing the latest easing of restrictions, he said, “For many people, they’re going to want much more flexible working arrangements.” We also heard in the media from employment lawyers stating that an employee who refuses to return to the office could be subject to disciplinary actions.
As small business owners we know that:
- Work from home worked well in some cases and not so well in other cases;
- There was a detrimental effect on the culture and knowledge-sharing in the majority of workplaces because incidental conversations weren’t occurring. The value of those interactions between team members couldn’t be replaced by online messaging and chat software;
- Some employees felt isolated and disconnected, and they questioned their worth to the business and feared for their job security without the ongoing assurance they would normally get by being around the workplace;
- Due to the very short notice to work from home, arrangements and logistics were made on the fly without the benefit of planning and preparation.
Tenfold’s guide to work from home
1. Review working from home with your team
Engage with your team to understand their experience of the pros and cons of working from home. You might hold a team meeting to explore people’s views or you might prefer to have individual conversations.
In your meeting, explore the obvious aspects of work and also take time to understand the emotional aspects. Some useful questions to ask your team members are:
- What worked for you?
- What did you struggle with?
- How could it have worked better?
- What did you miss the most?
- How did you feel you managed the balance between working and living at home?
- Were there any things you did differently working from home that could be useful when you’re working in the office?
Some recommendations from our business coaches for your meeting:
• To keep the focus of the conversations on work, it may be useful at the start of the conversation to acknowledge some of the personal benefits of WFH such as not having to commute, waking up later, and being able to wear more casual clothes. These are common benefits people experienced so discussing them in detail won’t really add much to the conversation.
• For some people, their experience with working from home may have been entangled with some extreme situational factors of lockdown, such as homeschooling duties and not being allowed to see people outside their own household members and the limits on travel and exercise. Keep this in mind as you have the conversation, as some of the challenges or advantages people discuss may have been situational.
• Your role during these conversations is to listen and collect your team’s perspectives. Don’t feel that you need to respond the feedback you get at this stage. If you feel like an answer is expected, (for example, if someone asks directly, “Can I work from home permanently?”), you can let your team know that you’re just gathering information at this time and you’d like to consider all perspectives before making a decision.
2. Consider the feedback in the scheme of your business operations
After the meeting, step back and review the feedback from your discussions. Speak to your Tenfold coach as you’ll be able to get a perspective of how various businesses are handling this.
Consider whether a work from home arrangement might work permanently for your business, particularly in the scheme of the efficiency of ongoing operations balanced against your ability to retain and attract good employees.
Think about the options for work from home that would suit your business and your employees. WFH arrangements could be a hybrid model of 1 or 2 days a week where everyone who wants to work from home can. You could also consider rotating days where one or more people might work from home on rostered WFH days. Consider the tasks that can only be performed in the office (such as managing deliveries) and who will perform these duties on days when members of your team will be working from home.
It’s important to note that some roles can’t be performed at home. Consider the potential impact on your culture if some people are allowed to work from home because their roles can be performed remotely while other roles in the team cannot. Talk with your coach about exploring options for managing the differences and avoid a slide into a culture of “us versus them”.
3. Communicate the plan going forward
Communicate your decision on WFH to your team. Explain the reasons why, and if you are going to have a permanent WFH arrangement, explain how it will work.
Consider a trial period, say 3 or 6 months, for the new model to be implemented and then reviewed. As with any trial, you should define upfront the outcomes that will help you assess the effectiveness of the pilot program. Success factors may be: targets were met (e.g.: sales budgets, service targets), tasks were completed on time and projects were delivered on schedule, costs were maintained, etc. Your business mentor can help you identify the key indicators for assessing the trial.
At the end of the trial period, assess the pros/cons and consider whether the arrangement will be extended (and if so, are any further modifications required), or stopped.
4. Implementing a WFH model
If you decide to implement a work from home model, take advantage of the time to plan it out. The forced lockdowns of 2020 didn’t allow time to plan ahead for WFH. Now with time and experience on your side, use this opportunity to be intentional to make work from home actually work for your business and your team.
Here are some steps to include in your WFH plan:
Performance expectations: Consider if you need to make any changes to role descriptions and performance measurements to align with the new working model. Ensure you and your team members are clear on your expectations for their availability when they are working from home.
Agree WFH communication protocols: Good communication between team members is important for team cohesion and collaboration, especially when people are working from home. Without being able to have ad hoc face to face conversations, people will rely more on email and online messaging and phone calls. A best practice is to have agreed protocols for using the different communication methods (email, online chat, recording notes in CRM or job systems, phone calls, Zoom) and what the expectations are for response times. For example, you might agree that emails should be replied to that day and calls should be returned within a few hours.
Tools: Assess what technology is required to make the arrangement work. Do people working from home need a second monitor, keyboard, mouse? Do you need to implement any further cloud-based software, messaging software, phone systems for team members to work away from the office?
Team culture: Consider what you can do to maintain a healthy team culture. Look at the aspects of your culture that are working well and think of ways to adapt and incorporate your new working model.
Update your WFH policy: Many businesses had to act quickly to get WFH policies in place when lockdowns were announced on short notice. Those policies may need to be updated to reflect the new WFH arrangements.
Work from home is a complex model but it can provide benefits to your business and your team members if it’s done well and there is clarity of the expectations on all sides. I encourage you to involve your Tenfold business coach to develop a plan that will support your business’ goals.
Ashley Thomson B.Eng(Hons), Grad. Dip. Mgmt, MEI
Tenfold Business Coaching