"The eye of the master fattens the horse" is a proverbial phrase suggesting that to get the best outcomes, a manager needs to keep an eye on what's happening. While staff should not be described as either fat or horse-like, there is some credence to the saying when it comes to the trend of staff working remotely – keeping connected is essential.
Here are some top tips for flexible working success:
1. If it's not written down it didn't happen
We constantly see employers and employees trying to use their recollection of a conversation as a basis for their views. However, the Employment Relations Authority tends to subscribe to the theory that if it's not written down, it's easiest to find that the conversation, the allegation, or the event did not happen.
Take away the guesswork and prepare a specific workplace policy dealing with the many issues that arise when someone is working remotely, especially from home. A remote working policy should deal with four main areas:
• Tools and equipment – make a record of what is required to properly work from home and detail what the employer is providing.
• Occupational safety and health requirements – consider the employee's physical and mental safety in the home environment. If an employee were to suffer an injury whilst working from home, it would still be a workplace injury, to which the employer would need to respond.
• Confidentiality and security – maintain cyber-security and ensure the data and information accessible from your employee's laptop or phone cannot be compromised. Remind your employees of their obligations to maintain security of both digital media and documents against their own families and the world at large.
• Expectation and relationships – clearly outline what is expected from an employee who is working remotely away from the normal workplace.
2. Keep in touch
Staff feeling disconnected and lonely is one of the most common reasons remote work arrangements fail. Remote working is a high-trust model of employment, and the employer needs to be aware of what the employee is doing so they can be collaborative and supportive.
At the start of a distance-working relationship, there should be more contact between employer and employee than would have been the case if both parties had been in the same office.
Both parties should think about ways to keep connected and formally agree a schedule of contact times in advance, at least until trust and protocols have been established.
Occasional welfare checks and virtual water-cooler conversations are good techniques to reinforce the connection and to support staff working remotely. A virtual shared morning tea or Friday-night drinks can provide a well-received respite from the normal workday.
3. Use technology
Technologies like conference calling, whether audio or audio-visual, are great reminders that staff working remotely are still part of a larger team. Have a dedicated system for communicating internally – like Zoom or Microsoft Teams – and train and encourage your staff to use it. The more familiar the technology, the more likely it is to be used.
4. Set clear expectations
Just as you would for staff working in the office, set clear expectations for staff working from home about what is expected of them. Discuss (and record your decisions) issues such as expected work outputs and hours when working from home, the duration of the remote working arrangement, and if it is permanent or a trial, and when the arrangement will be reviewed.
5. Encourage employees to identify when they are in work mode
When working from home, it is difficult to delineate between work time and home time. Often this means the employee doesn't truly feel they can switch off. Attending to work- related matters ad hoc over a 14 hour-day is a bad practice, and may lead to burn-out.
Encourage staff to understand, identify and establish proper boundaries around work times. Be mindful that not everyone works in the same way. Practically, this may mean things like staff setting up a dedicated "work" space at home (rather than working at the kitchen table, where work/home boundaries are more blurred), or those with childcare duties preferring to work in the evening or on a split shift.
Through our own experience, and through working with many local companies, we have found that keeping staff included and connected to the workplace is the best way to ensure remote working success.
In a really good workplace, the reason for staying connected is not to fatten the horse but to maintain a great workplace culture; if that is done correctly, productivity will almost always follow.
• David Grindle is director in charge of the employment law team at WRMK Lawyers. He has practised in this area of the law for 17 years.