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Is flexibility – the new workplace buzzword – really workable?

February 16, 2022 | By Charissa Mitsikas-Beasley, Vitil People Solutions

Never has the conversation around human resources and the flexible working methods been so animated and well attended. We now find ourselves living and working in a world of virtual reality where many Perth businesses operate remotely, boasting a diverse workforce across Australia and across the globe. 

Although Perth based businesses have not been as affected, for some industries, the move to remote working arrangements has been an easy transition. Corporate white collar “office jobs” are top of the list when it comes to the most obvious prototype for an effective human capital virtual model. Provided the IT and tech requirements can be catered for by the employer, an employee who fits this mould is often able to negotiate a reasonable work arrangement that might involve a combination of “in office” and “at home” work; or a pure virtual workplace if the pandemic has meant lockdown is required; or the employer operates across the globe.

“Interaction” is driven by the various online social apps such as Slack, What’s App, Zoom, MS Teams and Skype to name a few; and phone calls or chat sessions replace the office “drop ins” that were a product of corporate culture before everyone was ordered to “stay home”. 

Much different however, is the blue collar or trade workforce. As with the mining and construction sectors, “hands on” roles cannot be done virtually (unless companies are so progressive that they have moved into robotics!). In this space, strict measures have been imposed by the Australian Government to ensure the safety of all workers is the paramount consideration.

Vaccination mandates have been enforced, and internal policies and procedures unique to each organisation are under constant scrutiny and revision to ensure a “best practice” model can survive these uncertain times. It is almost safe to say that if you fall within this category of worker, your work life is “business as usual” (aside from perhaps having a daily RAT, wearing a mask, temp checking and the like!). 

Face to face supervision, manual labour and safety regulations are at the forefront of most operational workforces. Machinery needs human capital to drive it; human capital needs to be guided, instructed and supervised. Such is the large proportion of our FIFO industry and that is not designed to change, nor is it likely to.

With the WA economy depending heavily on our mining operations, our on shore and off shore “sites” are the “offices of the field” and as such, cannot be run virtually. 

It is the corporate space that drives the big questions now. Should every employer allow complete flexibility and remote working for those able to service their role via a laptop and phone in their homes?

There is certainly a perception such as this growing out of the various COVID-19 lockdown phases, in particular the lengthy “stay at home” orders imposed on the east coast in 2020-2021. You would almost be forgiven for thinking it became the norm, the new practice, the change of employment conditions. Without any actual variation of contract or even a discussion. 

Not so. Assumptions always fall short when it comes to the employer-employee relationship such that miscommunication results. Every. Single. Time. Clarity of work expectations by both parties is essential to the health of not only the employment relationship but also the continued success of the business itself. Morale, employee investment in purpose and the ability to accommodate individual requests, all come into play when assessing employee engagement and “culture”.

The linchpin of any organisation or business is those who service the business goals. Those who help deliver the business strategy. Those who represent the brand. 

As we have found in our human resource field; being flexible in this new world is one thing. Being flexible “without guidelines”, is quite another. The past two years have taught us that without boundaries, or benchmarks, the employer-employee relationship is likely to falter, if not dissolve completely. The best HR specialist advice we can give in this new climate of change and uncertainty, is to lay the foundations with purpose, stability and clarity.

What does this mean for your organisation?

How suitable are your policies and procedures when it comes to a flexible work environment, remote working and emergency response to COVID? Have you had an HR expert review these in recent times to ensure they are braced for impact and prescriptive in how employee requests are to be addressed, for example, in the event that they wish to transition to a full-time virtual work arrangement?

Recent case law suggests both the employer and employee have rights – but at the end of the day, the employer sets the tone for how the business is to operate and, in more cases than not, face-to-face contact may be critical and therefore a work from home arrangement may not be possible. 

We all know that flexibility is the key to agility and good health. An over-stretch, however, can do temporary or even permanent damage to the business, the culture and individuals. Do not let your employment relationship become the collateral. 

Vitil HR Specialists advise Perth businesses on all aspects of the employment relationship across all industries and sectors. Our top six tips for keeping flexibility “safe” are: 

  • Revise your position descriptions and job requirements
  • Be clear on face-to-face, in-person not negotiables
  • Apply the reasonableness test
  • Engage and inform your workforce
  • Seek feedback
  • Be fair and consistent. Always.

Contact us for further guidance to ensure your business isn’t moving into a risk area. 

Vitil Human Resources Consultants

Vitil People Solutions is a boutique HR consulting firm based across Perth and Australia, who offer flexible, reliable and affordable outsourced human resource support, people solutions and recruitment services, where your team is the key focus. By outsourcing HR to an expert in Human Resource Services, our experienced professionals can objectively assess your environment, your human capital needs, and ensure we provide advice and support to further develop your team and your businesses performance.

Contact us to discuss tailoring HR solutions to your business needs.

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