Half of Australian business unprepared for remote working risks

More than half of businesses engaging in remote and mobile working are unprepared for the inherent occupational health and safety risks, Sage business management CEO Craig Osborne told HRR.
The Sage Australia Business Index 2013 surveyed 400 employers and found 50% allowed employees to work remotely. Of those, 88% had in place some HR policies around work practices; however an alarming 60% said their HR policies were largely informal.
Osborne said while remote working is now mainstream, there appeared to be a lag in policy development surrounding the practice. “There is a whole raft of OHS regulations that still need to be met by an employer, which HR needs to police.”
Limit mobile phone use to reduce liability
He said HR needed to be stringent and communicate clearly when mobile phones could be used, to reduce the likelihood of an employer being held vicariously liable for any accidents which may occur if an employee is using a mobile device while driving.
“HR needs to be clear about policies relating to health and safety issues as people to ‘doing more out on the road’ comes with increased risks,” he said.
He said employees routinely working from home needed ergonomic chairs and desks, as well as adequate lighting. “Ultimately the employer still has liability [for an employee’s safety] if it all goes pear-shaped,” he said.
The research confirmed nearly two-thirds of businesses with a staff mobility policy report mobile working delivers business value, while almost 30% say they are realising intangible benefits such as improvements in staff satisfaction, morale, a reduction in absenteeism and improved productivity.
Osborne, however, said he had seen negative effects as well.
He had seen “some conflict” among staff who were able to work from home and staff who weren’t. “People who must come into an office have a higher cost – including business wear and travel. I wouldn’t be surprised if you see salaries differentiated in the future to reflect the savings you make working from home,” he said.
“Employers might find themselves being asked to compensate employees for costs of travelling into the office in the future. So HR needs to work on setting some boundaries for expectations,” he said.
Benefits staff productivity and communication
The survey revealed the perceived core benefits of mobile and remote working were increased productivity and better staff communication.
However, Osborne cautioned HR to put in place systems to limit staff fatigue. “The proliferation of smart phones and ease of access to email has meant people no longer work routine hours. However, to reduce staff fatigue and stress HR needs to communicate that just because someone can be contacted 24/7 doesn’t mean they should be.”
He said HR needed to work with remote workers to instil a “working office” mindset.
“People should have a separate workplace in their home and get into the habit of ‘going into the office’ and ‘leaving the office’ each day,” he said.
The survey found 20% of businesses engaged in mobile and remote working had improved staff retention and morale and 50% said their business was more productive. Half of those surveyed said they were planning for 75% of their workforce to be mobile in the future.
Osborne said the survey results were heartening, showing Australia was embracing technology and saw benefits in mobile working. But he was wary that HR had not yet appreciated how to manage expectations and workloads.
“HR needs to communicate to staff and management that hours shouldn’t be extended just because someone is working from home,” he said.

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