August 26, 2019

A HR Dilemma: Should employees work from home?

Working from home has become commonplace. But is it really an encouraging workplace solution? How does it impact your overall human resources? We explore when it works, when it doesn’t and what you can do to make sure it delivers positive benefits to your organisation. Should you really let that employee work from home? Is this key to performance management? More and more employers seem to be answering this question in the affirmative. After all, this is the age of flexible working so allowing them to stay away from the office when they’re not needed is just what you have to do, right?

Besides, doesn’t letting your employees work from home produce a focused, happy and productive work culture? A HR win right?

The real benefits of working from home

The truth is, there can be real advantages in allowing employees to work from home – both for employers, employees and your human resources department. When Microsoft organised its own study into the topic and surveyed 4,000 IT workers in the manufacturing, financial services, professional services and retail/hospitality industries, it was found that there were immediate benefits. The Microsoft study also revealed that 45% of workers overall and 71% of information workers in retail/hospitality thought their productivity was higher when working remotely. This was in part due to fewer distractions and a generally quieter atmosphere to get their daily tasks done.

Microsoft’s findings have also been supported by other studies undertaken around the world. For instance in 2014, a Chinese-based NASDAQ listed company, randomly choose half of its 16,000 call centres workers to work from home while the other half stayed in the office. A nine month academic study into the impact of this experiment found that those who worked from home were 13% more productive – largely because they took more calls per minute and fewer breaks and sick days. How about that for HR strategies?

HR strategy or mistake? Common hesitations about allowing employees to work from home

That said, many employers are understandably still concerned about letting employees work from home – much of this concern centres on the loss of control. Potentially rising HR issues and lack of employee engagement. Who knows how hard your employees will work when there’s no one watching over them? What’s to stop them from going off-task or just completing the bare minimum? Isn’t it better to have them in the workplace and under a watchful eye?

Another common hesitation employers have is around whether workers can actually perform their role according to HR policies and procedures, especially when they’re not in the workplace. And there are obvious times this is true – a customer-facing hospitality employee can’t always meet and greet people from their living room; nor can a courier deliver parcels from a home office. 

But there are also many situations that are a little more complex – such as the creative team who must accumulate ideas together, the consultants who need to collaborate to solve a clients’ problem, or the manager who really needs to be accessible to team members, consulting them on their roles and overseeing their work. 

Finally, some employers are concerned about potential security breaches – especially in industries that rely on a high degree of confidential information and data such as professional and financial services. What happens if the employee compromises our systems or introduces a virus to our network from their own device? This could put your human resources department into meltdown. 

Getting around these hesitations: is it worth it?

My industry work with clients has shown that sometimes employers’ fears are well-founded. Some employees won’t do the right thing and shouldn’t be granted such deep trust; sometimes work is best completed in the office where employees can consult face-to-face and bounce ideas off each other, as a supportive team.

However, placing a blanket ban on working remotely can have a negative impact on morale and ultimately affect your business. Instead, for employee management and development I prefer to look at each scenario on a case-by-case basis. Starting with a written policy that states exactly what the rules are around working from home – who’s allowed to do it, when and for what reason.

Beyond that, I also think there are a few key initiatives every employer should do to ensure working from home works for everyone – not just the employee.

How to get working from home right in your workplace

If you’re struggling to come to terms with the challenges of working from home in your business, there are some key measures I think every business should consider.

1. Analyse what can be done from home. In conjunction with your employees, work out which tasks can be performed at home and which are best completed in the office. Restrict remote time to the days when only those non-office tasks need to be done.
2. Set measurable goals. HR management is all about setting goals. If someone is working from home, make a list of achievable expectations write down what you expect them to achieve while they’re away from the office. If incomplete, their remotely working status should be reviewed.
3. Communicate. Successful managers constantly let people know where they stand – what they’re doing well and where they need to improve, essentially being basic HR performance feedback. Unfortunately, when someone works from home it can be “out of sight, out of mind” on this front.
4. Bring people back into the office. There are benefits of working face-to-face too – both from a social and productive standpoint. By making sure your team come into the office from time-to-time, a noticeable beneficial outcome will show for the business. For instance, set a compulsory weekly or fortnightly team meeting that can’t be missed without a valid excuse.
5. Keep connected. These days apps such as Slack and Google Hangouts let you stay in constant communication with your team members. Take advantage of these (just resist the temptation to use them as a tool for checking on whether someone is at their desk) it may just help with employee engagement.
6. Put the right tech in place. If you’re worried about your systems being compromised, speak to your IT members about ways to avoid this and have a written protocol on what’s allowed and what’s not.

And finally…

Remember there can be real benefits to working from home but the reality is leadership and management has to be planted and in some cases, the answer will have to be no. Be prepared for these instances and have a solid, logical reason for why you would deny some employees access to it – and communicate this clearly. By being consistent and transparent, you’ll get the respect from your employees, while helping create a happier, healthier and more productive workplace. If you have any questions regarding flexible working conditions and working from home, speak with the Catalina Consultants team today.

say hi to our author

Merilyn founded Catalina Consultants in 2012 on the belief that all organisations, regardless of size, should have access to top quality bespoke HR services. She enjoys working closely with her clients and believes that the best results are built on relationships of rapport, trust and authenticity. Growing up, Merilyn had her sight set on stardom and dreamed of becoming an actor. She also sang and played the piano, but ended up studying accounting and HR. Whilst she hasn’t won her Grammy just yet, she still loves a good karaoke night. Merilyn loves to travel with her family, with South Africa being one of her most memorable destinations.

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