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50 Shades of Remote Work

By Emma Heuston, Principal Lawyer & Head Honcho, The Remote Expert

Remote work is not an “all or nothing” proposition. There are many shades of remote work.

There is the employee who checks their email from a smart phone in a café. That person is working remotely. The team member who works from home every Friday because they are more productive that way, also works remotely.  Then there is the digital nomad who works for an organisation from another time zone and country.  That person is also remote.  As is the person who logs on from home when their child is sick or they need to get more work done of an evening.

As soon as you permit an employee or contractor to work outside of the office in any way, you need policies, procedures and documentation in place to protect you. Without that framework of protection, you leave yourself open to miscommunication, litigation and risk.

To add some colour to this article I take a tongue in cheek look at remote work through the lens of the 50 Shades of Grey (50 Shades) book series by E.L James.  Grab a cup of tea, settle on down and see where you fit in to the 50 shades comparison.

Why 50 shades of remote work?

I admit it. I have read the 50 shades series. The books, though trashy, provided a welcome distraction to me as a new mother on maternity leave. The perfect escapism to allow me to recover from my caesarean curled up on my bed reading while my baby slept and I avoided my mother in law during her seemingly endless 4-week visit.

 

Traditional office life – an in office team

In the first 50 Shades book, Ana meets Christian, an all or nothing guy. Christian is only open to doing things one way.  In his case that is bondage and dominance, but in traditional office life, that is the 9 to 5, bums in seats way. Steeped in tradition and entirely welded to the idea that they must have a physical office and all employees MUST work in the office.  Added to that, the boss rules that office armed with a whip (excuse the pun), making sure each bum is in a seat for the allocated hours and the workers are working. Cue dissatisfied workers, calling in for more sick days and sneaking looks at their social media accounts when the boss is in a meeting.

If this is your business and you like it, then all power to you. 

The important thing, in my view, is to be clear on that in your business mission, at recruitment, selection and interview process. That way your potential recruits know what type of ship you run and the boundaries you set.

 

A hybrid remote team

As the first book progresses, Christian realises Ana doesn’t love his traditional ways.  She likes him but she doesn't love the S & M lifestyle.  She wants something more moderate. At the risk of losing Ana, Christian compromises, becoming more middle of the road and “vanilla”.

Ana is the hybrid remote team. An in-office presence with some of the team working from home regularly, perhaps 1 or 2 days a week and some evenings where life commitments have nudged the traditional office time table out of the way to get a good balance between work and home life commitments.

The majority of modern businesses fall within this range. Staff being given the freedom to work from home or elsewhere on occasion or semi regularly. This includes access to email on smart phones and logging on to check emails on weekends and vacations.

The advantage being the team members get face to face collaboration but also autonomy and productivity when they work from home (or a co-working space).

Fully remote team

The fully remote team is another beast altogether, it is a radical shift, such as when Christian overcame his commitment issues and asked Ana to marry him.  Ana and Christian took the best of each other and their quirky preferences and built a customised relationship that suited them. In some ways, this is what a fully remote team in a company is like.

A customised team built to focus on the successes of the company with low overheads and different ways for a team to connect – such as video conferencing and other alternatives.

 

 

So, I can relate my business to one of these examples, but where do I go from here?

Aside from scratching your head about how a trashy novel relates to your business (and trust me it does), you need to work out if you are operating:

1.    a traditional office setup;

2.    a hybrid remote team; or a

3.    a fully remote team.

Once you have that current structure (or the structure you want to move toward in your head) you need to consider whether the framework surrounding your structure is in order.

Traditional set up

Consider whether you would want to offer a remote option and if so, what the benefits to the team might be?

 After answering that question and regardless of your answer, you require adequate documents and policies in place to make sure your employees know whatis expected of them such as an employment contract, an employee handbook and policies for things such as drugs and alcohol, social media use etc.

Also consider the law.

In Australia, for example, the Fair Work Act requires employers to reasonably consider requests for flexible work from certain categories of staff members, such as parents, those who are carers, victims of domestic violence etc.

Hybrid Remote Team

Do you have policies and employment agreements in place to cover employees working away from the office? 

For example, if you let an employee work from home 1 day each week, they would require a variation to their employment contract and an occupational health and safety check of their home workspace to ensure you have ticked all the boxes where insurance and employer liability for accidents are covered.

For hybrid remote team members you will likely require one or more of the following:

  • an employment contract,

  • variation of employment contract,

  • Independent Flexibility Agreement (if your employee is an award employee),

  • an employee handbook,

  • a remote work policy; and

  • an occupational health and safety report.

Fully Remote Team

Your team needs clear guidance from the start – what hours do they work?  Are there core hours?  Do they need to work from a set location, ie their home or can they work as a digital nomad, moving around the world?

 For a fully remote team you will require:

  • an employment contract,

  • Independent Flexibility Agreement (if your employee is an award employee),

  • an employee handbook,

  • a remote work policy; and

  • an occupational health and safety report.

Help! Where do I start?

By now any mention of 50 shades may have disappeared and you are likely thinking (not necessarily in this order):

1.    I don’t want to get sued!

2.    how do I make sure my employment agreements cover remote work?

3.    How can I write an employee handbook?  I don’t know about laws and policies?

4.    I know nothing about risk and OH & S!

5.    How can I complete an OH & S Report?

6.    What happens if my employee shares information with their family or breaches confidentiality in a co-working space or data security?

7.    How can I implement them into my team’s workflow and Customer Relationship Manager Software (CRM).

 Documents and Policies

At the Remote Expert we have:

  •  template agreements and policies or a customised service, depending on the level of assistance you need;

  • an employee handbook for download here; and

  • a brand new product in the form of an interactive Occupational Health and Safety Report which allows your employees to complete an online questionnaire, upload a photo and generate a PDF report plus photo (complete with latitude and longitude coordinates) to keep on their file for risk management purposes.

Procedures

Now, workflow and CRM is not my thing but I do have a great relationship with Kerry Le Strange from Legal Business Systems and Solutions.

Kerry won the Chilli IQ Legal IT leader of the year recently and has over 20 years in implementing systems and procedures in offices, branch offices and remote work settings. Kerry can help you make sure your business is automated and your marketing workflows are set up. So important considering that, to work remotely in an effective way you need to be wholly electronic and have systems in place to make sure nothing gets missed and remote employees feel supported.

What’s next?

Get in touch here or visit The Remote Expert and select the products that work for you here.

 

 

 

 

Emma Heuston-Levack