The When, Why and How of Working from Home Policy Design in the Not-for-Profit Sector
Working from home (WFH) is just one of many flexible work practices that has become the norm for workplaces in the post COVID world. Many prognosticators of futuristic workplaces foresaw its arrival but very few could have envisioned WFH being mandated across the entire nation. With the easing of restrictions many non-profits are now being faced with big questions surrounding their post COVID response and position of WFH.
1. Will they just return to the ‘normal’ or traditional way of work?
2. Will the way work gets done ever be the same?
3. What can they do to find the balance between maximising the delivery of quality services with improving employee morale and engagement?
Human resource professionals have long advocated WFH and other flexible work options as being key to increasing employee engagement, work/life balance, workforce diversity, productivity, and reduced absenteeism. However, this theory has not necessarily translated into practice for many workplaces due to conscious and/or unconscious biases against WFH held by both employees and leaders alike. Our sampling and work within the sector have revealed three common threads of concern when it comes to the introduction and continuance of WFH as a business-as-usual practice.
The first is client centeredness and the fact that many non-profits primarily exist to serve human/social needs, so therefore, it begs the question how can we do this most effectively when we are not on the frontline day to day? The second issue tends to revolve around pragmatic and practical barriers generally related to technological, financial, and other organisational uniqueness. These lines of reasoning tend to assert that the ‘service cannot afford things a laptop for everyone’, ‘we cannot assure staff safety at home’ and ‘they won’t work for us because of our special circumstances’ etc. The final theme, which is generally not expressed until the rational objections have ostensibly been outlaid and paved the way for personal opinions to emerge, which generally display an undercurrent of conscious and unconscious cynicism. Phrases like, ‘employees will slack off’, ‘look after dependents instead of do their work’ and ‘go shopping’ etc. tend to emerge. This line of thought is not limited to leaders with some employees self-confessing that it doesn’t work for them because they are too easily distracted by competing interests when working from home and that they enjoy the social aspect of the workplace.
All the above interests, views and concerns are real and should not be dismissed in favour of a cockeyed optimism when it comes to implementing WFH without robust policy frameworks. Likewise, leaders and staff alike must accept that the preponderance of evidence indicates that WFH and other flexible work options do have and will continue to offer modern workplaces a considerable advantage when it comes to attracting and retaining top talent and creating great places to work. To reconcile the multiple and at times competing pros, cons and variables, services must ensure that their business-as-usual practices stay aligned with their organisational vision, values and client needs.
NFP Success has worked with many organisations to design and implement flexible work policies, and through our work we have been able to crystallise the most important tenets of success. These include:
1. Start from a place of trust: Park, dispel and deconstruct old myths of management such as the common trope which suggests that employee’s cannot be trusted to get the job done when working from home and that they must somehow be physically supervised into action.
2. Market to the middle: design and implement your program for the successful bulk of employees and not to minority concerns. Quick wins with the majority build momentum. It is also much easier to back engineer and tailor the process for individual needs once the system is fully established and operating.
3. Be prepared: do not draft up policies or practices that are not predicated upon real world enablers and requisites such as technology demands, WHS and industrial laws.
4. Share the love, share the burden: make sure that WFH and other arrangements are genuinely consulted upon prior to implementation, negotiated, and owned by the employees involved. Avoid preconceived limitations i.e., days of WFH allowed per week. You will be surprised by how innovative people who benefit form WFH are when it comes to making it happen.
5. Outcomes, outcomes, outcomes, make it exclusively about outcomes. This is the cornerstone of success, if you don’t have performance agreements and KPIs in place you are asking for problems. Unfortunately, trusty job descriptions will not be enough to guide people when WFH. People will need revisable, clear, and measurable outcomes to WFH successfully.
Finally, we suggest being clear about whether WFH is a right or a privilege at your workplace. This agency position can become muddled particularly when Government mandates are thrown into the mix. If you would like to know more about how we can assist your organisation to create flexible work policies and practices that meet WHS and industrial requirements, contact us today.