The first consideration is around equity, and there are two components to it – motivation and money.
Let’s say you expect most employees to come into the office, but you have an employee who wants to work from elsewhere. How do you make sure that the people coming into the office don’t feel disadvantaged? There may be a sense that most people are being forced back into the office after the covid lockdowns, whereas there’s one person who, just because they happen to live a thousand kilometres away, doesn’t have to. This can cause real issues in terms of motivation and engagement.
There’s no great way around this, other than not forcing anybody to come back into the office. But what if you do want everyone back one or two days a week, and you have someone who’s highly valuable to the organisation that does want to work from elsewhere?
One way to be equitable is to offer the same opportunity to other employees, even if they do live locally. Allow anyone the chance to work from anywhere, providing they can demonstrate how their job can be done fully remotely.
‘Allow anyone the chance to work from anywhere, providing they can demonstrate how their job can be done fully remotely.
The other equity consideration is dollars. If I’m being paid in Australian dollars while living in Bali, I’m going to be better off, in relative terms, than my teammate paying the cost of living in Sydney. Or it may not be overseas. Perhaps I move to Broken Hill, which has a much lower cost of living than a major city, and this could seem inequitable to my colleagues.
‘If I’m being paid in Australian dollars while living in Bali, I’m going to be better off, in relative terms, than my teammate paying the cost of living in Sydney.’
We can’t unilaterally change the salary of existing employees, but remuneration is something that needs to be considered and discussed in an open and honest way. You can’t be transparent about other people’s salaries with other employees, but you need to consider how you will take the local cost of living into account.
Is it feasible for a person living somewhere else to keep to the head office timezone? This is worth considering if you have someone who wants to move overseas, or even interstate. For example, if someone wants to move to Perth, when your office is on the east coast (or vice versa). During summertime, that’s a three hour time difference.
Is it feasible for them to work according to normal office hours in their own timezone? Or do they need to keep to office hours in the head office timezone? This must be considered and communicated to the employee prior to agreeing to this kind of arrangement.
‘Is it feasible for them to work according to normal office hours in their own timezone?’
If someone moves overseas, this can become even more of an issue – you might start getting into 12-, 14-, or even 19-hour time differences. Then you need to consider things like:
- what fatigue management strategies, from a WHS point of view, are in place if an employee needs to be up at 2am every day?
- do we have the opportunity for them to work in their local timezone?
- are there opportunities for the employee to work with customers in a similar time zone?
Workplace Health & Safety
We have a duty of care in Australia to create a safe place to work, even if that place of work is at home. If an employee is working at home all the time, the employer needs to ensure that person’s workplace in their home is safe.
You need to ask:
- what additional measures are required to ensure a safe working-from-home environment?
- what are your current processes around risk assessments?
- do you have checklists for people who are working from home?
- what equipment are you providing to ensure they can work safely at home?
- if somebody wants to work overseas, what additional measures may need to be taken if it’s an area that’s not as safe as Australia?
The best place to start is to do a risk assessment to identify the potential hazards, assess them and identify methods to control them in the most appropriate way. You can then make a decision as a business about whether that is something that you are willing to do.
Even fully remote businesses generally have found that there’s a benefit to face-to-face time. If you have people that are working elsewhere, but you have most of your employees in the office, how often do you want those people to come into the office? Is it once a month, once a quarter, once every six months, or once every 12 months? Is it never?
Also, who pays for the office visit? If the employee must travel for a client meeting, team meeting, training or compliance work, should it be the business or the employee who foots the bill? These issues must be considered and communicated before making any agreements about WFA.