What to do to make sure working from home works
The biggest advantage of having an entire team working in a single office is the ease of communication.
If an urgent meeting is required, or you simply want to get two or three people from separate departments together to discuss something then it is easily done.
“You have to think about how you communicate with your employees who are working from home; communication is key,” Blount says.
“If you have employees working away from the central office you have to be able to access them and communicate with them and understand how and when they need to be in the office and communicate with others,” she says.
One suggestion is to have a fixed time per week where everyone is available to meet if required or meet up on Skype.
However, Alder says less communication between employees may have its benefits.
“If [working from home] ends up, hopefully, cutting down the number of internal meetings you have, that could be a good thing in the long run,” he says.
One reason that many organisations resist the push to allow people to work from home is a fear of reduced security around file storage.
Within the confines of a building the IT department can ensure secure connections and firewalls to prevent viruses and hacking of important and sensitive information.
When someone connects to the network externally it opens up vulnerability from their home network and adds another level of complexity for IT staff.
Beyond these security measures, managers and employees need to agree on the preferred use and sharing of files, as things can get very confusing and difficult if everyone is operating in a different way.
Many employees are reluctant to provide the opportunity to work from home for some employees if they cannot provide it to all, according to Alder.
“If it is possible for some to telework and others not to, from an equity point of view that is an issue,” he says.
“Do you default to ‘if we can’t do it for everybody, we are not going to do it for any?’ I’m not saying there is a right or wrong answer but it is a valid consideration.”
Occupational health and safety
Last year Telstra was ordered to pay compensation by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal after employee Dale Hargreaves fell down a flight of stairs and hurt his shoulder while working at home.
The case highlighted the need for businesses to conduct risk assessments of employees' homes if they are working out of the office in order to avoid potential occupational health and safety lawsuits.
Following the case, Harmers Workplace Lawyers senior associate Kristin Ramsey recommended businesses consider conducting practical risk assessments.
"That doesn't necessarily mean we're able to monitor daily what people are doing from home, or have control over that. But if they take no steps, that's when they aren't going to be able to demonstrate they acted to make a safe environment."
This may not involve actually going to look at a home physically but instead employees could conduct a checklist as to whether their work environment at home has adequate lighting, heating and ventilation, whether any computer or desk is set up ergonomically and whether the actual work place is near any electrical or trip hazards.
If you do decide to implement working from home it’s important to also implement a review of its effectiveness, if things aren’t working you need to have a way of dealing with it.
Blount says while the employee working from home may feel they are more productive you must also look at the impact on the productivity of the rest of the team.
“If it is affecting other customers if I am not here then that has an impact on the rest of team,” she says.
“It is important to have a formal review and make adjustments as you go, it is not a cookie cutter approach and it is not the same for every organisation.”
Alder suggests trialling working from home arrangements initially and regularly reviewing their effectiveness.
“It’s not an all or nothing proposition, this is something that can be trialled or introduced quite slowly and progressively,” she says.
“Feel your way through it with your staff and make sure you take them on a dual learning journey.”