COMMENT:

Working from home may sound like winning the golden ticket, but effective communication is required to make it a success.

While working from home generally improves productivity and job satisfaction, the Covid-19 lockdown has proven a challenging fortnight for many employers and employees.

Stressed with financial uncertainty, many staff members are struggling to juggle childcare and work during school closures.

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Effective communication

Employers should support staff during lockdown by listening to their concerns and discussing how to work effectively from home.

"Effective communication is the key to overcoming challenges and engaging a productive workforce during the lockdown", says Aaron Scott, founder of Somar Design Studios.

Mindful that the coming weeks "could be a rollercoaster" for staff, Scott has initiated an "open and honest environment for staff to discuss the challenges of working from home".

Managers monitor staff wellbeing in team and individual meetings and provide additional support to employees whose energy is flagging. Staff discuss how they work effectively from home and share exercise and wellbeing tips on the workplace chat app Slack.

Somar supports staff through fun initiatives including virtual lunches, Friday afternoon drinks, daily quizzes, a photo or meme of the week competition, remote yoga sessions, and access to mindfulness exercises. These initiatives improve morale during the challenging time.

Many employers are engaging effectively with employees through technology like Microsoft Office Teams, Google Hangouts, and teleconferencing.

Consult with remote workers

Employers should consult with staff about working from home, including expectations around workload and productivity.

Engage with staff individually at least once every week to check progress and answer queries. Consult with staff to find out how you can support them working from home, by asking open questions, like "How are you finding working from home?"

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Listen to staff concerns, and ask "How we can assist you?" Discuss ways that you can provide support, such as by varying their working hours or providing appropriate equipment for their workspace.

Health and safety audits

Employers are responsible for ensuring workers' health and safety under legislation, while staff are working from home. Remind staff of their own health and safety obligations: require them to take reasonably practicable steps to ensure their own health and safety. Ask them to identify any risks in their workspace, and to provide an audit of their workspace at home.

Discuss changing hours of work

It may not be possible for staff to work their usual hours while caring for children during lockdown. Discuss with staff whether they need to vary or reduce their hours during lockdown. Review their working arrangement weekly to check whether their current arrangements are working for them.

Monitor hours of work

It is common for staff to work longer hours during a crisis. In the United States, workers have been reported working an additional four hours each day during the lockdown. Working longer hours can lead to health and safety issues, like fatigue, stress, and burnout.

Employers can reduce the risk of overwork by managing staff workload and monitoring working hours. Ask staff to complete a timesheet each week, including accurate time records of what they are working on, to monitor hours worked and productivity.

Workplace policies

Employers should clarify expectations by providing staff access to a workplace policy and guidelines on working from home.

Working from home policies should outline expectations of employees; health and safety requirements; preferred channels of communication; who to contact for support; and how to manage confidentiality, security and technology.

- For more information and assistance developing workplace policies, contact Julia Shallcrass of KiwiBosss: julia@kiwiboss.co.nz