The global coronavirus epidemic has seen much of corporate Australia shifted to work-from-home practices, including many in the channel.
Technology is providing the crucial bridge to staff now working in isolation, with IT departments and solution providers answering the call to enable staff to connect, collaborate and be remotely productive on a huge scale.
Despite the clear negatives of the pandemic situation, it’s an opportunity for IT to shine.
But, as every IT specialist knows, if there's one thing that can get in the way of good technology, it’s bureaucracy.
IBRS analyst Joe Sweeney is a technology advisor who works in the areas of workforce transformation and end-user computing. Like most IBRS advisors, Sweeney works from home and has done so for the past 17 years.
Recently, in addition to being called upon to provide best-practice advice as many companies make a sudden jump to flexible working, Sweeney has been helping organisations remove regulatory friction as they adopt work-from-home practices.
In many organisations, policies concerned with working from home view it as an entitlement or a privilege for staff. Sweeney told CRN that in some recent cases, these old policies have been improperly applied to the current work-from-home context, which is of course mandated for public health reasons.
“This HR issue is coming up quite frequently,” Sweeney said. “Customers are struggling with their HR teams who are looking to policy documents that are all about granting people permission to have flexible working; to work from home. That’s very different from companies asking people to work from home to ensure business continuity.
“The permission statements in those policies are often things like, ‘You are not allowed to work from home if you have children in the house’ or, ‘You can’t work from home if you are taking care of your elderly parents’. How does that fit in the current context? It’s just totally and utterly the opposite of what we’re trying to achieve.”
Sweeney said he had seen other conflicts arise when staff had gone back into the office to pick up their good office chairs, keyboards, mice and monitors to use at home.
“The IT departments, for the most part, are saying, ‘Sure, go for it’, while the HR department is saying, ‘No, you need to fill in all these forms’,” he said. “In some cases, the HR departments have told people to go back into work to physically sign a piece of paper after borrowing equipment!”
The issue is not that HR departments are being mean-spirited or bad blooded. They are there to protect the organisation from risk, Sweeney stressed.
“They need to protect the organisation. However, they are protecting the wrong risk at the moment,” he said.
“In one organisation in Australia, more than 2500 staff shifted to working from home within about a week and a half. They started coming back in to get their chairs and there was this big debate over, ‘What happens if they don’t bring the chairs back?’. The IT department just said, ‘Really? That’s not the problem here. The problem is making sure people are highly productive’.
“The knock-on effect of using these old policies rather than policies created quickly with a view to minimise the Covid-19 risk and maximise the ability to get back to work, is that the cost differentials on those two things are completely different.”
Sweeney said beyond the health risks surrounding the infection itself, there were other business risks with working from home that needed to be considered in new WFH policy documentation.
“The risks that we are dealing with work-from-home is that a lot of people are being asked to work from home when they actually don’t have an ergonomic, or suitably healthy work environment. And that does need to be checked,” he said.
“Organisations can’t pretend that’s not happening. They have to deal with this. So there is a new balance, there are new policies that need to be considered very carefully. And probably new training of the workforce.
"Mental health is another big issue that is likely to crop up as this continues. We will see problems with mental health and behaviour and other challenges that the HR department will have to work through. It will show up. Training around this before, rather than dealing with the consequences of it after is what I’m often proposing in my engagements."
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