Many businesses are allowing employees to work remotely, at least sometimes. But how often should you be making your employees come into the office – if at all? 

The reality is that the perfect answer will vary sector by sector and business-by-business. With that in mind, this guide looks at how to work out how often you should let employees work remotely and how often you should make sure they come into the workplace.


Be guided by your own needs

The starting point for working out how often people should come into the office should always be why you need them in the office in the first place. 

Sometimes, that will be dictated by the nature of the work itself. Obviously, frontline retail or hospitality workers need to be physically present. But for other sectors, it can be a bit more nuanced. 

That said, there will often be collaborative tasks that are best performed in person. Being together can also be great, even necessary, for team bonding. Then, of course, there are client meetings or inter-company meetings, where face-to-face contact gives people a better feel for reading the room through body language and other nuances.

In fact, MIT’s Human Dynamic Labs invested heavily in exploring this very topic. It found that the most valuable communication was unequivocally done in-person. It also found that up to 35% of variation in team performance came down to how often team members spoke face to face. 

That’s something you should keep in mind when working out how often to bring employees into the workplace.


Employee satisfaction is important too

On the other hand, all of the research shows that happy employees are also productive employees. So, weighing against MIT’s findings is the fact that most employees enjoy working at least some of the time from home. 

McKinsey research showed 65% of employees would choose to always work from home if it were possible. It also found that employees offered the opportunity to work flexibly almost always took up the opportunity. Those who didn’t tended to be older or on lower incomes. 

But even many of those who wanted to work from home full-time often reported there were obstacles in the way of becoming fully productive. 


Choose the model that suits you 

With that in mind, hybrid work – where an employee is at home sometimes and in the office others – seems to be the logical solution for many workplaces. And last month, we wrote about the three types of hybrid working: the fixed model, flexible model and the office-first model. These differ in the following ways:

To some extent, the model you choose will also dictate how many days a week you insist your employees come into the office.


How your business can answer the question 

As this shows, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of how often employees should be in the office. The ideal balance varies based on the type of work you do and the type of office you run. 

A good starting point is always to spend some time working out which critical tasks require in-person collaboration and which can be carried out just as effectively from outside the workplace. Then, factor in the creativity and value that come from face-to-face interactions.

For instance, if you find that 40% of your workplace tasks are best performed face to face, you may find that three days a week lets you get these done but also allows for some informal interaction. Alternatively, if you want a less rigid structure, you could decide to ask employees to be in the office for two set days and then decide whether they want to come in at other times. 

Given how rapidly workplaces are transforming, more than anything, it’s adaptability that’s key. So, embrace change, listen to your employees, and stay open to finding the balance that fosters both productivity and job satisfaction. 

After all, in the end, it’s not just about how often your employees are in the office—it’s about creating an environment where they can thrive, no matter where they work.


Want more?

If you’d like to know more about implementing an office-first approach in your workplace, get in touch

AI is starting to carry out many HR tasks traditionally performed by humans – and it’s likely to add many more to the list over the next few years. 

We explore whether your organisation should take the ‘human’ out of human resources and opt for AI instead.

How can you use AI in Human Resources?

There are many obvious areas where AI can make a real difference to human resources – and, in many cases, already is. This is especially true of those parts of the HR process that require continual repetitive tasks and processes.

For instance, Clara offers to be a virtual assistant, handling all your scheduling. Applications like Jemini promise to take care of payroll processing. Even accounting software such as Xero uses AI to time track, roster and interpret Awards and Agreements, making sure employees receive their entitlements and employers meet all their obligations. 

In these functions, AI can help take the pain out of work, recognising patterns and performing functions that automate what are generally mundane tasks. In turn, this frees HR professionals to focus on more strategic, human-centric aspects of their roles.

But there are some not-so-obvious ways AI could potentially begin to help in the human resources space, too.

So, do we need humans in HR at all?

With AI now capable – or likely to soon be capable – of so much, it’s tempting to ask whether we need humans in human resources anymore at all. But, for the moment, here are a few areas where I think people can still outperform the robots.


Humans v AI: not an all-or-nothing choice

While the discussion around AI in HR often falls into a binary narrative, it’s not necessarily an ‘either/or’ choice. Instead, it’s more likely that the future of HR for most organisations involves a mixture of humans and machines. 

AI is likely to be used to handle data-driven and repetitive tasks, freeing humans up to focus on the more strategic, interpersonal and complex side of HR. Rather than substituting humans altogether, it can provide valuable and often hidden insights that allow a human resources professional to interpret them in light of the organisation’s broader goals and ambitions. It can also handle most of the run-of-the-mill and low-level inquiries that take up a large part of many HR professional’s days.   

As the role of AI changes, so will the role of HR. Those organisations that carefully assess and invest in AI to complement human-based services are the ones most likely to succeed. 


Want more?

If you’d like to know more about how AI can complement and support your HR function, get in touch

New legislation allowing employees access to 10 days of Paid Family and Domestic Violence Leave (FSVL) applies for large business from today, 1 February 2023. What does this mean for employers?

Firstly, what’s changed?

What is FDV?

Violent, threatening or other abusive behaviour by an employee’s close relative, a current or former intimate partner, or a member of their household, that:

Who is included?

When can it be accessed?

Full-time, part-time and casual employees may apply for FDVL if:

What evidence is required?

An employer can ask their employee for evidence that shows the employee took the leave to deal with family and domestic violence
If the employee doesn’t provide the requested evidence, they may not get FDVL
The evidence has to convince a reasonable person that the employee took the leave to deal with the impact of family and domestic violence

Types of evidence

What about Confidentiality?

New regulations prohibit employees from including information concerning FDVL on employees’ pay slips (Regulations)
This includes information about the employee taking FDVL, including leave records as well as any evidence provided by the employee
Payroll systems must be set up to ensure non-disclosure in leave records and on payslips
Pay slips must not mention FDVL, including any leave taken and leave balances

What are the obligations of an employer?

What should employers do now?

We recommend that all businesses take the following actions immediately:

We are here to help you with any of these changes. Reach out if we can offer you support.

As we head towards the holiday season, it’s fair to say that 2022 was yet another big year for Australia’s workplaces. We look back at seven HR issues that have helped shape the previous 12 months.

1. Labour shortages

Perhaps the most important factor that shaped Australia’s workforce over the past year has been our labour market. With the unemployment rate sitting below 3.5% and with immigration slowing thanks to COVID-19 restrictions of the past two years, many industries and employers have faced a full-blown labour crisis. In fact, a lot of employers have struggled to get new workers while others have failed to keep their existing ones without offering significant pay increases. 

It’s at times like these that both recruitment and retention strategies take on a whole new importance. So, if you’re not doing what you can to optimise your workplace culture and keep employees happy and productive, now is the time to start. 

2.  A new government

In May, the Albanese-led Labor government took office, bringing with them a different approach to industrial relations This included a renewed emphasis on job security and gender equality.

In early September, the government also hosted a Jobs Summit in which it committed to multi-employer bargaining, as well as changes to the ‘better off overall’ test the Fair Work Commission uses when creating Awards. 

To help alleviate labour shortages (see 1 above), the government also announced it planned to lift the number of skilled workers it would accept from overseas.

3. Elevation of psychological risks

Mental health has been a major issue in Australia’s workplaces for some time. However, this year, the NSW government made it mandatory for employers to assess the workplace for psychological risks (and protect their employees from them). This elevates psychological harm to the same level as physical harm under NSW law, and means employers have new obligations in the field.

So if you haven’t already assessed the psychological risks in your workplace and taken steps to rectify them, do so as soon as possible.  

4. Clarity on contractors

Towards the end of last year, the High Court handed down its Workpac decision, which means that this year – finally – employees have had a higher degree of certainty over their employee obligations. 

The distinction between casual and permanent employees is now more obvious, especially when combined with the former government’s legislation around transitioning from casual to permanent. That meant employers could act with a bit more confidence when it came to staffing issues this year.

5. Diversity comes of age

Diversity has been a major issue in our workplaces for some time. However, 2022 was the year that it finally became a workplace priority for many of Australia’s employers. And why wouldn’t it have? Diverse companies are shown to “lure better talent and improve their decision making, customer orientation and employee satisfaction” – all major considerations in a job market like the current one. 

6. The workplace changes

While COVID-19 is still with us, 2022 was a year of less disruption than 2020 or 2021. We didn’t have the lockdowns or border closures or anything else that impacted our businesses in quite the same way as we became used to in the two preceding years.

And yet, this didn’t mean we went back to how things were pre-pandemic. Instead, we still kept many of the workplace practices that had been developed over the past two years. A lot of workplaces have adopted more flexibility, with employees using a hybrid model of working both from the office and from home. Some have even abandoned the physical office altogether – or at least now only ask employees to come in once a fortnight or once a month. 

This has presented new challenges for managers and business owners, but it’s also introduced new efficiencies – especially when it comes to communication. In many cases, it’s also made output and productivity the main gauges of employee performance

7. Outsourcing becomes even bigger

With labour shortages and flexible working now very much part of our daily lives, we’ve noticed outsourcing is also on the rise too. To some extent, we believe that’s because employers are now used to having high-quality work performed offsite. But we also think it’s part of a push to keep costs down in light of rising wages and high inflation.

Either way, outsourcing functions – including HR – was a major trend we noticed this year and one we believe is likely to continue in 2023.  

Want more?

If you’d like to know more about outsourcing your HR function, get in touch. 

The year’s end is fast approaching, but there are still several HR-related things you need to do before everyone clocks off for the summer break. To help, we’ve created this checklist of the six things you should do to get your HR function right before 2023 arrives.

1. Take stock

With limited time left between now and the end of the year, you should map out exactly what needs to be done. That means, of course, factoring in routine HR tasks such as payroll. But it shouldn’t just be about doing the bare minimum. There’s still probably enough time to get other, more strategic things done too. That could include things like developing recruitment and training plans, working on employee engagement strategies (it’s going to continue to be one of the biggest issues next year) and other important HR tasks.  

2. Prioritise

That said, you’re unlikely to get absolutely everything you want to complete before the break, so work out what your main priorities are and what you need to do to make them happen. Use the tried and trusted technique of ranking each task as ‘Urgent/Non-urgent’, ‘Important/Not important’, and focus on those that are urgent or important. 

If some of your big picture stuff is important but can wait until the New Year, work out what you can realistically do this year to progress it, so that you don’t have a mountain of work to come back to once the holidays end.

3. Communicate

This can be an unproductive time in some workplaces as people get that ‘end of term’ feeling. But, as a business owner or manager, you can’t afford to let things slide. So let people know your expectations between now and the end of the year. Don’t be oppressive about it – you want people to be happy AND productive But you need to make sure they also get through the work that has to be done. You should also let people know your expectations around the holiday period. Are you closing down for a while? Do you expect people to take leave? If so, let them know. 

Over-communicating is always better than under-communicating. 

4. Throw a party

You’ve probably organised your workplace party by now. But if you haven’t, there’s still time to do something. No matter how small your workplace, or busy you are, celebrating the end of year is an important point in the calendar and something your people deserve. 

Even if it’s just a lunch or some informal drinks, make sure you get people together before the holidays start to reflect on, and celebrate, the year that was.

5. Say thank you

Speaking of which, this is the time of year you need to say thanks (and your office party/lunch is an important part of that). For many of us, 2022 has been another trying year, and it’s important you let people know they’re appreciated. 

Saying thank you is important for your workplace culture, as well as for employee productivity and wellbeing. 

It’s also important for you as a manager or owner, because it boosts your productivity and wellbeing too. As the Harvard Business Review notes, “Gratitude is good for you.” 

So compile a list of the highlights of the past year, who’s been involved in them. And celebrate them either at the end-of-year function or in a company-wide communication. (Or both.) Just be sure to thank everyone for their efforts this year.

6. Get your HR ready for 2023

Finally, it’s worth remembering that while the year may change, the work goes on. There’s nothing worse than arriving back from holidays with a pile of work on the proverbial desk. So, going back to step one above, gear up for what lies ahead by drawing up a list of what needs to be done in 2023. 

Make headway into it now if you can, before you go on leave. And plan out what you can’t get through so that you don’t place yourself under unnecessary stress when you arrive back in the new year.

Want more?

Have a great holidays. If you’d like to know more about HR strategies for the rundown to the end of 2022, get in touch. 

Employers often use restraints of trade to try to stop employees from taking their confidential information to a competitor and gaining an unfair advantage over them. But just how enforceable are they? 

A recent New South Wales Court of Appeal (NSWCA) found that whether a restraint of trade is enforceable depends on whether you’re trying to protect a legitimate interest, as well as factors such as their duration and an employee’s seniority.

The background to the case

The case started with a familiar scenario – a senior sales manager left his employer to work for a competitor. However, his employment contract contained three clauses: a confidentiality clause, an ‘exclusive employment clause’ (this said he must devote his time and attention to the employer during business hours and promote its best interests), and a restraint of trade.

The restraint of trade clause was one of the typical ‘cascading’ ones that employers sometimes use that allow for ‘12 months’, ‘9 months’, ‘6 months’, etc, in the hope that a court will enforce the most reasonable duration.

When the employee left and worked for a competitor, the employer alleged he broke all three of these clauses in his contract. 

He then failed to comply with the notice of termination clause of the contract, which provided for three months that he would not work in direct competition. Instead, he started working for the competitor within four weeks of leaving. He also helped the competitor poach a more junior employee who was subject to a similar restraint of trade clause. 

The proceedings

The former employer brought proceedings in the Supreme Court of NSW (the NSWSC)  alleging the employee – and the employee he poached – had breached their employment contracts. It received interlocutory orders (that is, temporary orders), which prevented the employees from working for the competitor until the court decided the case.

The court eventually handed down a decision in the employer’s favour. It found:

The employee appealed the NSWSC’s decision in the NSW Court of Appeal. 

The appeal: Are restraints of trade enforceable? 

The Court of Appeal noted that restraints were only enforceable insofar as they protected an employer’s reasonable interests for a reasonable amount of time.

In this case, the employer had a legitimate interest in protecting its confidential information from a competitor, including its marketing plans and potential weaknesses in its product. As the employee was senior and privy to this information, it was, therefore, reasonable to restrain him from a competitor for nine months.

However, it also noted that the employee he helped poach was more junior and did not have any awareness of the company’s confidential information. It wasn’t reasonable to restrain him from working for a competitor because he could not damage its legitimate interest. 

The Court of Appeal also found that the employee breached his notice of termination provision. He had also breached his contractual and fiduciary duties to his former employer when he helped poach the employee.

The Court of Appeal also found that because the competitor had encouraged the employee to breach his fiduciary duty, it, too, was liable.

What the case means for you as an employer

There are times you can rely on restraints of trade to protect your confidential information, but they need to be proportionate, and they can’t be used as a ‘catch all’ to try to limit who employees can work for. You’re also far more likely to find they’re enforceable against senior employees.  

It’s always a good idea to have restraints drafted properly by your legal adviser. It’s also often a good idea to use ‘cascading’ clauses – based both on duration and geography – so that a court will enforce appropriate terms rather than ‘striking out’ an unreasonable restraint. 

Also. if you’re hiring an employee from a competitor and they have a restraint, proceed with caution. If possible, have your legal adviser check their restraint over before you sign them up.

Want more?

If you’d like to know more about restraints of trade, get in touch.

Alternatively, you can read the full decision here


Since COVID, more people than ever are working from home. In fact, it’s probably the single most important impact the pandemic has had on the workplace. But even before the pandemic struck, the Fair Work Act gave many employees the right to request flexible working and employers were obliged to consider that request. In my experience, some employers though are still reluctant to allow flexible working fearing that it leaves employees productive. So if you’re one of them – or if you’re an employee looking to prove your productivity when working from home – here are our tips for greater productivity.

Get off email (and other forms of communication)

Email is one of the main tools that has allowed many people to work effectively away from the workplace. More recently, it’s been joined by a host of other communication apps and methods, including Slack, Zoom, Teams, Jabber and more.

The problem is that the same tools that let us do our job are often the very same ones that distract us from it. 

How often do you find yourself giving up work momentarily to answer a message that’s probably not that urgent or just consistently checking it to see if anything interesting has come in?

One of the keys to productivity is simply to stop checking your messages. Instead, set aside a few times a day where you read and answer them in one batch. 

And, if you’re an employer looking to increase productivity in your workforce, either stop expecting an instant response or set aside a limited time each day (say 1 pm-3 pm) where people need to be available. Otherwise, try to let them get on with their work.

Structure your day

When we’re at the workplace, we have the external cues for when we should be doing certain things. We arrive and leave at set times, usually go on our lunch break at the same time others are taking lunch, and even chat around the proverbial water cooler or take our coffee breaks at a similar time each day. While imposing the same kind of regimentation on our homelife may not seem natural, routine is actually one of the real keys to being productive, healthy and even creative.

So, if your workplace hasn’t set a schedule for when you need to get work done, set one yourself. 

Give yourself a set time for when you’ll take lunch, when you’ll start and finish and when you’ll have scheduled breaks. Then stick to it. You’ll be surprised by how much more you’re likely to get done. 

Make to-do lists

One real key to productivity is to write to-do lists. But these shouldn’t just be spur-of-the-moment notes that focus only on what’s at hand. They should be strategic tools for setting out your monthly, weekly and daily goals.  

That said, you should be careful not to make your lists too long or too onerous: otherwise, you’re going to put yourself under too much pressure and feel like you’re failing when you can’t meet them. 

While it’s true that most of us have to-do lists in the office, in many ways, they become even more important at home. After all, remote working is all about keeping up your productivity to make sure the work still gets done.

If you’re an employer or manager worried about productivity, you could even have your employees submit their weekly to-do lists to you and then check them off.

Eat the frog

Eating the frog’ is a productivity technique that involves choosing the most important (and often unpleasant) task on your to-do list and making it your priority when you start the day. The reasoning is that by getting the thing that needs to be achieved done first, you’ll be devoting your best brain power to it and then leaving less important tasks for when you’re not quite as switched on. You’ll also have the sense of accomplishment that comes from knocking over your big task first.

If you’re an employer, you can encourage your remote employees to become more productive by having them identify their ‘frogs’ and then devote each morning to them.

Get time management technique

Beyond this, there are so many different ways you can organise your day to become more productive. A popular one is the Pomodoro (tomato) technique, whereby you break your day into 30-minute ‘pomodoros’ that involve 25 minutes of work and a five-minute break. You then take a longer break after four pomodoros – or after every two hours.

Another popular time management technique – and the favourite of Benjamin Franklin – is ‘time blocking’. Slightly less onerous than the Pomodoro technique, it involves breaking your day into blocks and then assigning work you’ll complete within them. By providing yourself with your deadlines this way, you should help overcome procrastination and get more done. (Although you will need a certain degree of flexibility, as even Franklin himself admitted.)

There are so many potential ways to organise your day for productivity, and we even found this quiz that can help you find which one’s right for you. And, if you’re an employer worried about your employees’ time management when working from home, why not train them in time management first? 

Want more?

If you’d like to know more about setting up your workplace for productive remote working, get in touch. 

There is little doubt wage rises are coming in 2022. With inflation surging and the cost of living taking centre stage this federal election, there’s now little doubt your employees will be seeking a pay rise in 2022. However, a lot of business owners feel ill-equipped to deal with higher incomes, with some telling me they’re already losing staff to competitors willing to offer more.

That’s why I thought it was time to look at non-financial benefits, or what you can do when you can’t afford a pay rise.

Reduced hours/increased time off

If you can’t afford to pay someone more, what about asking them to work less? The opportunity to take more holidays, leave work earlier or have a Flexi day each fortnight holds real appeal for many employees. That means it could be a good way to keep them on board without needing to offer more money.

If you’re worried about the impact this might have on your business’s productivity, you don’t necessarily have to be. A comprehensive Icelandic study found that there was no reduction in an organisation’s level of service when its employees went from working five days a week to four days a week. In fact, many indicators of service provision and productivity actually rose. At the same time, employees’ happiness and well-being improved dramatically.

If you’re going to go down this path though, it helps to make sure that your employees actually want to work less. For some workers, cutting hours may feel like a demotion or backwards step in their career rather than a benefit.

Other flexible working options

It’s not just time off that many employees want, it’s also the opportunity to work autonomously. During the COVID lockdowns, many of us got very used to working our own way. We often also had the opportunity to fit in more time with our families, on hobbies and just generally looking after ourselves. Now, as things return to normal, it can be a difficult thing to go back to the feeling that we always need to be in the office.

By continuing to offer some degree of flexible working even after COVID, your workplace could continue to appeal to employees even without a pay rise – especially if competitors aren’t doing the same.

Providing recognition

One of the main things employees want out of their work is the recognition for a job well done or at least the feeling that they’re not being taken for granted.  Too many employers forget this and expect their employees to keep working their best and remaining loyal, without ever letting them know how much they mean.

Don’t fall into this boat. Make sure you tell your staff how much you value them even if you can’t afford to pay more. Throw after work drinks or regular dinners to celebrate their achievements and acknowledge how they contribute.

Career mapping

While some employees are tempted to move by a short-term windfall, many look to the longer term. If you can offer a genuine and fulfilling career path, they’ll have much more incentive to stay with you. This could be a good time to sit down with the staff you want to keep to find out exactly what they want from their careers and how you can help facilitate it. By following through, you’ll be giving them more reason to stay than just pay.

Know where you stand

Finally, before you say no to a pay rise, you need to do your homework and find out exactly where you stand. If your employees are covered by Awards or Agreements and these provide for a pay increase, you may have no option but to pay more.

You should also review your bottom line, to work out how much is coming in and what’s going out. If you find that you need to increase pay, it may be time to increase your prices…

Want more?

If you’d like to know more about how to get non-financial benefits work for your business, get in touch.

As business owners and managers, we avoid making goals as we tend to have a bias towards ‘being busy’. So long as we’re doing something, we’re not just happy, we feel useful and productive. But by taking this approach it can be easy to end up down the wrong path, simply working for the sake of it and never really achieving what we set out to achieve in the first place.

As a business owner myself, I know there’s a great advantage in sitting back and taking some time out to analyse where we’re headed – particularly at this time of year. As the year draws to a close, I thought I’d share with you how to set your goals.

1. Set aside some time

The first thing to do is to block our time for reflection – preferably half a day or even a day. It’s your choice whether you want to do this alone or reflect as part of a team (there are merits in both approaches).

I also think it’s important to put some distance between yourself and the office and go offsite. This doesn’t mean you have to be extravagant, but  I feel that it’s a good idea to clear the mind and spend some time in a neutral location, where the energy and stresses of the workplace are left behind. If you’re taking people along for your reflection session, it’s also more likely that a change of scenery will make people feel more comfortable about speaking openly.

2. Start with the positives

As business owners and managers, we’re usually the problem solvers, meaning we can look through the negative scope. I think it can be useful to begin by looking at what went right over the past 12 months. Call out your wins from the year and have a think about why they were so successful. Was it your processes? The talent of individual team members? Or even the type of work or project you undertook?

3. Consider what didn’t work

Only once you’ve looked at the positives, then it’s appropriate to analyse those things that didn’t quite go to plan. It’s important to note that it’s not about pinning blame on people or looking for excuses, it’s about analysing your mistakes and what you can learn from them.

If you’re undergoing this task as a team, let people have their say on why they think someone might’ve worked and why something didn’t. Here, it’s important not to be too quick to judge but to let them speak freely and openly. That way you may find you have competing narratives that can help you uncover the real truth.

4. Apply the lessons you’ve learned

Next up, it’s time to think about how these lessons can apply to the next 12 months and beyond. Are there any trends you spotted or problems that keep arising? Do you need to change your processes? Perhaps you need to hire new staff or juggle people around? You might need to institute a new workplace policy or undertake some training. Whilst there’s no need to commit to anything right now, just having the ideas and allowing them to turn over in your mind is great exercise.

5. Set your goals for next year

The main reasons you shouldn’t commit is because the next thing you need to do is to set your goals for the next 12 months. These shouldn’t be mere resolutions such as “make more money” but concrete objectives such as “increase revenue by $150,000 by gaining two new clients in x sector”. Some of these goals are likely to come about as a direct result of your reflection in steps 1 to 4.

But, perhaps even more importantly, your reflection on last year’s successes and challenges can help you devise how you’re going to achieve the goals you’ve set. For instance, if you’ve identified a mistake in the way you worked last year, your planned improvements can be worked into your roadmap for achieving that target.

6. Don’t overwhelm yourself

Finally, it’s important to remember that you can’t do everything at once. As they say, ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’. Choose two-to-four goals that really matter to you, your employees and your business. Make sure that these goals can propel you towards your end target and have the best possible outcome for everyone involved. By doing so, you’ll be giving yourself a better chance of succeeding and that means you’re also giving yourself a better chance of getting to where you ultimately want to be.

If you’re a business owner feel free to reach out to me if you want to discuss goal setting, planning for 2020 or if you need any human resources advice.

Otherwise, have a wonderful holiday break and see you all in 2020.

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 how to ensure 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, it 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. Due to fewer distractions and a generally quieter atmosphere, this in part allowed them to get their daily tasks done.

Microsoft’s findings have 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 coming to terms with challenges of working from home, here are key measures every business should consider.

1. Analyse what can be done from home.

In conjunction with your employees, decide which tasks can be performed at home and which are best for 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. 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 (resist temptation of checking on employees) 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. Discuss ways to avoid this and have a written protocol on what’s allowed and what’s not.

And finally…

Real benefits can come from working at home. However, the reality is leadership and management needs 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.

The Royal Commission into Financial Services has been sending shockwaves through Australia’s banking and finance sector. But it’s not just bankers who can learn some valuable lessons from the stories that have been emerging. Some of the key takeaways are just as relevant for human resources (HR) and business owners and managers too.

How the Royal Commission affects HR

The Commission has been unveiling some jaw-dropping revelations about bad business practices and the unethical treatment of customers. This has thrust into the spotlight human resources staff working for banks, insurers, super funds and financial advisers. There’s been some seriously bad stuff going on, and the resulting public relations nightmare is also an HR nightmare.

Spotlighting on financial services, it’s easy seeing how any industry could be similarly affected by unethical or underhanded practices. Take, for instance, the recent media reports in the food industry over fake honey, or the fashion industry’s struggle with ethical manufacturing.

Here are three key lessons for people from any industry.

1. Communication

At its most basic level, HR is all about managing people – and wherever people are involved, the art of communication is key. What the Royal Commission shows above pretty much anything else is a failure of financial institutions to communicate effectively — whether that’s within their organisations, with their staff or externally with customers.

Internally, a lack of communication around accountability has resulted in compliance issues and cultural problems, including permissiveness when it comes to overcharging customers. Externally, a failure to communicate effectively meant customers often signed up for products without knowing any of the terms and conditions of what they’ve signed up for.

And that, in turn, led to unacceptable risk in a sector that was supposed to be all about stability, sobriety and sensibleness.

When mistakes happen — and, in the banks, it seems they were happening all the time — sweeping them under the carpet or failing to acknowledge them only compounds them over the long term. The right ethical approach — and the best business one — is to admit to them with effective, prompt, proactive and timely communication with customers.

2. Compliance

The shambolic state of compliance with many financial institutions has been another of the Royal Commission’s key themes. In short, many of the organisations under scrutiny preferred saving money or generating profits rather than following their obligations under the law.

From an HR perspective, nothing should be more important than operating on the right side of the rules and regulations. As a starting point, this means making sure those rules and regulations inform your organisation’s HR policies and procedures.

But it also means having gatekeepers who will actually enforce these HR policies and procedures too. That’s where the banks fell down. Too often their gatekeepers failed to raise red flags – or at least failed to wave them vigorously enough – when they saw bad things happening.

This is one of the more common issues we see among other businesses too. If your organisation has rules and regulations there needs to be accountability, escalation procedures and reporting around them. The buck has to stop somewhere. If it doesn’t you’re leaving yourself wide open to claims such as bullying, harassment, unfair dismissal and more. You’re also inviting, even courting, bad publicity. And that can hurt your bottom line more than any fine ever could.

3. Culture

Every business needs the right environment, or culture, for success. The Royal Commission has at times unveiled a culture of short-term gain – often at the customers’ expense – that’s deeply embedded within the culture and psyche of financial organisations.

Sometimes this culture has sprung up as a result of badly structured incentive schemes related to remuneration or performance; other times it has simply been a sales-driven, alpha culture that fails to place the customer first.

If your organisation doesn’t have the right culture right now to satisfy your customers and grow your business, what do you need to fix? Do your remuneration structures encourage a culture of risk-taking? Do they take into account the psychology behind your staff’s motivation and the long-term effect on your business? Are you in control of your workplace culture or is it controlling you? Do all your people engage wholeheartedly in what you do, and do it ethically and responsibly?

Remember, nothing is more important to your organisation’s success than its culture. And as an HR person or business owner/manager, you’re the one directly responsible for building it.

Want to build a healthier culture in your workplace?

If you’re looking to better your organisation, then speak with the team at Catalina Consultants. We’re the human resources experts and can put together a bespoke plan to improve your workplace’s culture. Talk to us today.

The Full Federal Court recently handed down a decision which will impact the employment of casuals across Australia. Read on to find out what this means for your business. (more…)