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COVID threw everybody a curve-ball and sent many employers scrambling for policy around remote working. Now that we are in the ‘new normal’ phase here in New Zealand, many employers and employees are finding that, in fact, remote working was a good experience and they would like to retain some of the flexibility it provided.

The issue around policy remains. What are your obligations as an employer if staff would like to work from home, whether it be permanently or on an ad-hoc basis?

Health and Safety

Workspaces in most offices are set out with health and safety in mind. For employees working from home, the home office should be equally as safe.

Having a policy in place with specific guidelines on how to set up the home office will prevent you being liable for any injuries or health issues down the track. These should include ergonomics, lighting, ventilation, access to first aid, and fire and electrical safety. A checklist can be a good way to present these requirements.

You can ask for a photograph as proof this has been carried out to the correct standards before signing a remote working agreement. You can also request that the employee lets you know when they change their office or move house, to ensure this is kept up to date.

Expenses

It should be clear which expenses, if any, the business will cover for the set-up, maintenance and use of a home office. For example, will internet or electricity be subsidised? Will staff use office equipment such as desks, chairs and laptops?

Before an employee begins working from home, these questions need to be answered to avoid confusion and unexpected expense claims later.

Security

If confidentiality is an issue in your business, this should also be addressed before entering a remote working agreement. Staff should be responsible for ensuring any confidential material is not left lying around the home and that laptops are locked away when not in use.

Trial periods

It can be helpful to offer a trial period for remote workers, so it’s possible to bring those employees back into the office if you feel the business is suffering due to remote working situations. It could be that you need the ease of communication that comes from having everyone in one place, or perhaps you feel productivity has slowed (although research shows that it typically will not).

A starting point of one month, for example, can help to settle your nerves around remote working and give staff the opportunity to show they can make it work.

Communication

When you have staff working remotely, it becomes even more important to have regular check-ins and keep an open line of communication, to avoid remote workers feeling out of touch with their team. Your policy could include an agreement to check in with management at regular intervals, track progress, and be available on phone, Slack or similar channels between certain ‘core’ hours.

Ironically, the best way to get flexibility working successfully is to formalise it and have some agreed guidelines in place so that people, and leaders, know what’s expected of them regardless of where and when the work gets done.

If you need support to personalise and formalise flexible working in your business get in touch with the team at Freerange Works.