By Sascha Nicoll and Ceri Hohner

Flexible work is here to stay. This was one of the key trends to emerge from Microsoft New Zealand’s recently released Work Trend Index report titled, “The Next Great Disruption is Hybrid Work – Are We Ready?”.

According to the research, 71 per cent of Kiwi workers surveyed want flexible remote options to continue beyond the pandemic. And, of the business leaders who participated, 69 per cent said they were more likely to redesign office spaces for hybrid work in recognition of this shift.

Working from home (WFH) and the hybrid office model (where employees can spend some days at the office enjoying face-to-face time with colleagues and other days skipping commutes to work from home) may offer a dream lifestyle for many workers. But, for employers, those simple words can sometimes add extra stress to the already complex task of managing people and a business.

Is working from home a risky business?

Through our Telephone Advisory Service, our workplace experts have picked up on some increasingly common questions that employers are asking around risk and WFH models: “What if my employee slacks off without supervision and won’t answer their phone? Am I supposed to agree to them saving confidential files on their personal computers? What if they injure themselves tripping over their own poorly organised computer cables, and I get landed with a work-related ACC claim?”

While all these thoughts and concerns are valid, mutual trust and confidence between the employer and employee go a long way towards facilitating stronger remote-working relationships. But this is not always easy to achieve: perhaps the employee or their manager is new to the business or performance is a concern. Maybe a deadly pandemic has swept the world and made it impossible for the employee to work in their usual centralised location, fragmenting your team into individual home offices. So what can you do?

Go beyond email to keep in touch

One of the key components of a good WFH arrangement is communication. Keeping in touch with your employees and enabling team members to stay connected to each other helps make work more fun and prevent feelings of isolation. Two-way communication that uses instant chat messaging, GIF sharing, voice and video calls are more effective than email at facilitating discussion and encouraging engagement between physically distanced staff. All this is not to say email isn’t a valuable tool; where there are time zone issues, or it’s more appropriate to note the communication in writing, email is undoubtedly a great medium. Nonetheless, you should avoid relying on email to sustain healthy remote working relationships.

Put your work from home expectations in writing

WFH arrangements flourish best when they’re reflected in writing: namely, a robust set of documentation that clearly outlines both parties’ obligations and entitlements while the employee is WFH. It’s just like how you have contracts to agree on terms and conditions of employment and policies to govern your employees’ conduct at work.

Tick the boxes for health and safety

With a strong WFH agreement and a comprehensive health and safety checklist for their home working environment, the guesswork and what-ifs are taken out of the equation, reassuring both business and employee about what is expected of them. Safety responsibilities, performance indicators, personal commitments and flexible hours can be recognised and appropriately addressed, giving you as an employer the confidence to facilitate WFH arrangements without compromising on productivity.

Be proactive

With good communication and robust documentation, you and your employees are well on your way to an efficient and productive remote-working future. There will always be hurdles to overcome in employee management, but you can protect your business by proactively reducing the risks of working from home.

Complimentary WFH tools to support your business

“Well that sounds fantastic”, I hear you say, “But is there any way we can get hold of this documentation instantly and without paying a cent?”, you ask…

Well. thankfully, yes. The team at HR Assured understand that navigating flexible working, especially if this is all new to your business, can be overwhelming. So, we’re offering a free Working From Home Agreement and a free Work From Home Safety Checklist to help you and your employees set up new WFH arrangements or strengthen ones you may already have in place.

These templates are a good starting point for most businesses, but we cannot guarantee that they’re fit-for-purpose for all home-based workplace situations due to the diverse industries and working arrangements out there.

If you’re an HR Assured client already and you think you need more tailored WFH templates, you can contact your Telephone Advisory Service for help.  

If you’re not already an HR Assured customer and you’d like to try our award-winning Telephone Advisory Service, contact us for a FREE no-obligation consultation.

Sascha Nicoll is an Employment Relations and Safety Consultant at HR Assured New Zealand. She has over 15 years of experience working in the HR industry in both consulting and in-house roles. Sascha supports business leaders on various workplace matters, including people management, health and safety, procedural development, and HRIS support.

Ceri Hohner is an associate and solicitor at FCB Workplace Law (our parent company) who has assisted clients across Australia from a range of industries and businesses.