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Remote Working – The Way Forward?

Currently, 63% of companies have at least some remote workers, partly increased by freelancers and the gig economy.

Over a third of full-time employees are projected to work remotely in the next 10 years, according to a recent report from Upwork.

“Most traditionally-staffed organisations begin by allowing employees to test remote working with part-time to test the waters,” said research analyst Castanon-Martinez. But eventually, this will lead to an “‘Uber-ization’ of the workforce,” with more people shifting to full-time remote positions.

Some remote workers don’t even ‘meet’ their employers at all, instead, connecting with them digitally. But for most of us, remote working ends up being based from our kitchen table or local café. Despite remote working from the kitchen or coffee shop ‘office’ becoming more widespread, the majority of companies don’t have any Remote Working Policy or plan. A potential recipe for disaster and a wakeup call for HR.

There are many benefits to working ‘off-site’. How often do you hear that employees get fewer interruptions and more productive working out of the office environment? Or more family-friendly options, please?

Remote working is a means of attracting top candidates in recruitment, and it is a definite benefit to most potential employees. Employees do not have to contend with the rush hour commute and will be able to start work earlier and fresher. Working from home allows doctor and dentist appointments to be worked around, childcare can be more time-efficient and employees allowed more time to focus. Happier employees and the senior leadership team will be content with the savings from reduced office space!

Research from the Institute of Leadership and Management found that remote working has resulted in 13% performance increases, despite the view that ‘working from home on a Friday’ results in a long weekend.

Most workers can be trusted to work from home, especially if expectations between employees, managers and their colleagues is evident. Employees do not require the watchful eye of their manager to keep them focused, especially if they are salaried with just ‘getting the job done’. Unless employees have a customer-facing role and have to be visibly available during certain hours, it doesn’t matter when the work gets done – does it?

What needs to be considered if employees are frequently working off-site? IT is a significant concern, especially the need for a safe and reliable network access. Some organisations take the costly step of using a VPN (Virtual Private Network) or 2-factor authorisation. In contrast, what are the repercussions of a poor home network connection or insecure internet at the local coffee shop? Remote workers will take information out of the office, either on a USB or via the ‘cloud’. The latest office gossip, customer relations or forthcoming price changes may be ‘interesting’ to others in a public place with Wi-Fi!

An interesting take on security, costs and home working is the High Court dispute between the inventor Sir James Dyson and the former manager of his house regarding access to confidential information in the home.

HR needs to get involved, whatever the size of the company. A Remote Working Policy and subsequent training is a way forward.

Advising that employees should choose a quiet and distraction-free working space is necessary. Further, maintaining the break and attendance schedules agreed with their manager and ensuring they are ‘at work’ at the same time as their team members are essential.

A clear message that a significant confidential information breach is likely to amount to a disciplinary offence is a necessity. A reminder to keep passwords protected, store equipment in a safe space, follow all data encryption settings and refrain from downloading suspicious software would also not go a miss.

HR should review the documents that impact remote working. It is a long list but includes the organisation’s Attendance Policy, Social Media Policy, IT / Privacy & Security Policy and the Employee Code of Conduct, to name a few. In short, Contracts of Employment and the Staff Handbook! The view that ‘this is the way we have always done it’, needs to address the change in the workplace.

Further, termination of employment is a crucial ingredient of life in HR and is typically addressed in most company policies. It has critical importance in a Remote Working Policy. Companies need to plainly state that no employee will be terminated on the basis of agreed remote working, even if many managers are uncomfortable with the principal.

Also, it is important to remember that health and safety for employees does not stop at the office front door. Just because the employee is not onsite, the company has to comply with legislation. It’s up to the employer to identify any potential hazards that may come with remote work with the cooperation of the employee.

Remote working may be the future, but it does require an element of planning. HR has an important part to play. The benefits are significant, but so are the potential costs!

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