Employers, employees and the general public are today (June 6, 2020) eagerly waiting for the government to either loosen the current coronavirus-related restrictions or extend them for another period.

Forward-looking employers must have put in place health and safety measures to ensure that returning employees would feel safe at work.

Employees, especially those who have been working remotely, are anxious about the future of work.

Those in worst-hit sectors such as hospitality are worried about getting back their jobs. And for how long, in case of reinstatement, shall they hold onto the jobs as the recession waves continue roaring. Employees in less affected sectors such as manufacturing are not sure whether impending restructuring exercises will abolish their positions. Citizens from all walks of life are concerned with the looming economic uncertainties amid the government’s shadowboxing with its economic stimulus package.

Employers are putting on the table all sorts of working arrangement options to select the best for the new working normal. Some have sworn to resist any form of change sticking to the previous 8 am to 5 pm working hours.

Others are toying about adopting flexible hours to decongest offices due to the social distancing requirement.

Another group of organisations want to combine flexible hours and working remotely. ICT firms, following on the footsteps of Facebook and Google, may request all employees to work from home until further notice.

At present, legislative provisions governing remote working do not exist save for scanty administrative policies in some firms.

The coronavirus crisis has been jokingly credited with bringing up the model which many employers hurriedly embraced.

Due to the novelty of working-from-home practice, there will be a need for employers to put in place its prerequisite implementation guidelines and systems. Here are factors organisations have to consider when developing remote working guidelines to meet expectations of employers, employees and other stakeholders.

Job functions

Since not all job functions can be undertaken remotely, organisations need to develop selection criteria for eligible positions and their hierarchies. From the analysis of job roles, firms can identify the bulk back office work which would be executed from home offices. Front office duties which must involve face-to-face interactions such as obtaining a person’s fingerprints cannot be done remotely. Employees whose positions are compliant with remote working will be informed, oriented and deployed accordingly.

Facilities and services

Remote employees will require appropriate resources to facilitate carrying out their duties and responsibilities. These might include equipment, furniture, infrastructure, internet access and virtual meeting software.

Employers can budget for the procurement of the items or lease some of them. Alternatively, employees can be allowed to move with some of the available office items on agreed conditions. Employers elsewhere have paid out a flat amount to employees to cater for furnishing and equipping the home office.

Home office machinery and equipment will require regular servicing and repairs. Organisations will need to specify the kind of technical support they shall offer staff to ensure work continues.

Employees can also be reimbursed for costs incurred in minor repairs on submission of required accounting documents.

To avoid complexities in determining home office operational expenses, some firms in the developed countries pay remote employees a regular fixed amount for miscellaneous expenses.

Rent for home office

Employers who shall adopt remote working will make a cost-saving on rent. But employees will shoulder the rent of office space in their houses. This begs the question: Who should be liable for paying rent on the home office? A Switzerland top court recently ruled that both the employer and the employee should share the rent payment. On the face of the ruling, it would seem reasonable because the employee will be working from some paid for space away from the regular office.

The Switzerland court ruling will open a pandora’s box in some developing countries like Kenya where some employers assume that 15 per cent of an employee’s gross pay is rent.

Home office rent will not be an issue for employers like the Public Civil Service Commissions whose employees are paid housing allowance.

Since rent payments are not regulated, challenges will arise in determining the reasonable portion of rent for the home office.

In case the debate on who pays for the rent arises in the near future, it is likely to generate diverse views before the matter is amicably resolved.

Health and safety

The health and safety legislation (WIBA), states that an employer has a legal duty of care for the health and safety of employees at the workplace. It may be implied that the duty will be extended to anywhere staff are working from. To avoid contributory negligence, employees should ensure that they create a safe working environment at home which is free from hazards such as a fire.

In Australia, some employers conduct formal inspections of homes including risk assessments before allowing working-from-home arrangements. The practicality of such inspections in the developing countries is a pipe dream when even some office premises have not met the minimum public health requirements.

Performance measurement

Organisations have to specify how the performance of remote workers will be evaluated. There will need to review existing performance management policies to integrate productivity issues that focus on remote working. It is important to measure outcomes of work instead of the number of hours worked which may be difficult to verify.

Work supervision

Supervisors, who were for the first time managing employees working remotely, used trial and error methods. For example, those with micromanagement tendencies wanted to specifically know how reportees utilised each working hour. Others may have made many calls or sent intermittent emails to follow up on assigned work. The supervisors who applied such methods clearly communicated a lack of trust in remote employees. Yet trust is a key supportive component in the relationship between a supervisor and team working remotely.

It is essential for supervisors to undergo training on managing remote teams whose collective efforts contribute towards overall organisational productivity. They should hone their people skills to effectively handle employees relations issues remotely.

The writer is Human Resource Development Consultant, and Author of Transition into Retirement samsonosero@gmail.com

Leave a Comment