The talent shortage is affecting a range of industries, forcing employers to consider new ways to attract and retain staff.
Increasingly, employees are raising the possibility of working from home as being an appealing proposition, forcing businesses to consider loosening the reins.
It works for many businesses, including corporate giants Microsoft and IBM, which both offer flexible working arrangements for select staff. Increasing numbers of medium and small business owners are also giving staff the nod to staff to work from home, either on a full-time or part-time basis.
What’s in it for me?
Businesses list a number of benefits to being more flexible about where staff works. Many find that employees tend to work far harder, are more loyal and are able to be trusted with more sensitive information than those that work from an office.
Business process outsourcing firm Aegis Australia allows 90 staff to work from home, and recently approved a further 20 to start working from home soon.
Aegis president Chris Luxford says greater flexibility has dramatically improved staff retention rates in his industry, which has a reasonably high staff churn rate.
“I think there is a big misconception that people who work from home are skylarking and are doing anything but working,” Luxford says.
“However, we have been allowing employees to work from home for three years and their output is excellent.”
Peter Acheson from IT recruitment specialist PeopleBank has approved 270 staff to work from home. These staffers come from a range of roles including HR, managers, accounts payable and account management, with the arrangement considered on a case by case basis.
The majority of its systems can be accessed remotely, including the recruitment database, email systems, general ledger, payroll systems and the desktop.
Acheson says the business understood the importance of offering flexible workforce solutions.
“The employee is the driver of the process and has to put their case. There needs to be some justification for it. It’s then up to the line manager to decide if it would work.”
Acheson says those working from home tend to be very loyal employees. “One of my senior staffers was approached for another role that offered more money, a bigger budget and more status, but turned it down because she appreciated that we have a flexible workplace that allows her to work from home.”
How to make it work
Caroline Perkins, president of the Change Management Institute, says businesses need to make a careful assessment before deciding whether to allow someone to work from home.
A home review can be a good idea, she says. In some cases, these are mandatory for occupational health and safety reasons.
“When you’re considering allowing someone to work from home, you want to run different scenarios by them to see how they picture it working. What would they do if you’re needed in the office on a work from home day, for example?”
Kirrily Dear, of strategy, management and marketing firm Eyes Wide Open, has both allowed her own staff to work from home and has also advised other businesses on how to make the transition smooth. While some industries just don’t suit working from home, it does work for professional services operations particularly well, she says.
“Working from home can be really beneficial for anyone in a high pressure role or professional services. But it won’t work unless you have defined measures in place. A business owner needs to look at where that person creates value for their business, and create a role for them around that,” Dear says.
Introducing the arrangement gradually, such as one day a week at the start, can be a good way to assess if it’s working for your business, she says.
Depending on the role, pay structures could be structured differently, such as by the hour, but this isn’t always necessary, says Dear.
“Remember that the flexibility of being able to work from home can be incentive enough for some people.”
It’s also vital to make sure those working remotely still feel a part of the business and the normal office processes, such as being invited to social drinks and receiving internal emails, Luxford says.
“We choose to treat everyone identically no matter where they work from, and that has worked really well for us.”