The rise – and the risks – of Working From Home
The Australian workforce continues to evolve. As it does, so do the risks associated with managing a team who are increasingly choosing – and, in many professions, demanding – to work remotely. Whilst the Working from Home (WFH) phenomenon brings many unquestionable benefits, experience shows it can be challenging to strike the right balance between employee flexibility, business/data security and employer responsibility.
There’s no shortage of data exploring the global rise of WFH arrangements. Some of the most relevant insights for Australian employers come from Swinburne University which has conducted numerous studies, including a detailed report for the Fair Work Commission.
Swinburne University’s studies identified a number of WFH challenges:
Almost half (47%) of participants indicated they struggled with the ‘blurring’ between their work and home life
41% found distractions at home to be an ongoing issue
37% had trouble ‘switching off’ after work
34% found it difficult to stay motivated when working from home
31% had received no guidelines from their employer on how to set up their home workspace correctly.
Increased productivity (sometimes)
Swinburne University found roughly one-third of participants (34%) felt they were more productive when working from home. However, a similar number felt they were probably less productive (30%), sighting many of the reasons listed above. The remaining 36% believed their productivity level was about the same as when working face-to-face.
The Right to Disconnect
One frequently raised issue relating to WFH surrounds the ‘right to disconnect’. In establishing its Working from Home Charter of Rights (a document well worth reading, whether or not your employees are union members) the Australian Council of Trade Unions argues the issue of work life blurring into home life poses very real risks to long-term employee wellbeing. It calls for limits on working time, giving employees the ability to disconnect from emails, calls and other forms of contact outside of scheduled working hours.
Is home a safe workplace?
Another part of Swinburne’s report for the Fair Work Commission focuses on Workplace Health & Safety (WHS). 14% of participants indicated their home workspace was not appropriate or safe, while a further 8% were unsure. From an insurance and risk perspective this is significant, as under the Commonwealth Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (and equivalent state legislation), employers have a duty of care to protect the health and safety of their employees regardless of their location of employment.
According to a separate Working from Home research paper released in 2021 by the Productivity Commission, some of main risks of working from home include:
Musculoskeletal damage – arising from inappropriate/non-ergonomic workstation furniture
Physical health issues – relating to being more sedentary than when in a centralised workplace
Mental health issues – impacted by social isolation and decreased face-to-face contact with co-workers
Household injuries – caused by accidents such as tripping, falling or burns from hot surfaces.
What does all this mean for employers in 2022? The Productivity Commission suggests much will depend on the evolution of case law in defining what is ‘reasonably practical’ when working from home. But whatever the outcome, it’s clear WFH arrangements create more complexity (and almost certainly cost) for managing risks, especially as employers have less visibility and control of the working environment. It’s an area we’ll continue to watch closely.
How to make WFH ‘work’
5 things to consider:
1. Physical/mental health & human connection
2. Making the home workplace ‘safe’
3. Technology & data security measures
4. Clearly-defined WFH policies & expectations
5. Providing the ‘right to disconnect’