With the cost of office space at a premium, it could make good business sense to allow staff to work from home part or all of the time.
Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) could consider adopting policies that help ensure flexible working is successful for the business and for employees, by establishing clear frameworks and expectations from the start.
Steve Johnson, Founder and Managing Director of car sharing firm Carhood is one executive who supports staff looking to work from home.
“As a national business in an industry which is disrupting several industries such as airport car parking, ride sharing and hire cars, the Carhood team needs to be nimble, agile and flexible in what we do and how we do it to ensure we continue to disrupt and redefine travel and transport,” Johnson says.
The company uses cloud-based technology, solutions and apps for most business operations, including accounting functions. “Because much of our work is cloud-based, it means that our people can work from anywhere and access our systems, information, and data,” he says.
This approach also means Johnson can offer flexibility in terms of where people work and at what time of day they work.
“We have set cut-offs for data uploads, processing and report generation. This allows our staff to undertake the work in a flexible way as long as it is done by the required time,” Johnson says.
“Links and access permissions are loaded onto laptops and mobile devices enabling seamless access and integration,” he explains.
He communicates regularly with everyone who works remotely, using technology like Google Hangouts to ensure team meetings take place and everyone is involved.
Says Johnson: “We rely on technology to collaborate across our business – and in turn, it enables our team to engage in a way which supports their lifestyle and family needs.”
Johnson believes performance management is straightforward because work undertaken from home is uploaded into Carhood's cloud-based systems.
“The focus for us is ensuring our team achieves quality deliverables. As long as the work is undertaken by the day required and it is high quality, we are happy,” says Johnson.
“We respect and appreciate our staff and value their involvement. We know if we offer flexibility, a supportive work environment, and positive and constructive feedback, that we will create a workplace that works well for everyone,” he explains.
Setting clear goals upfront
Andrew Brushfield, Director of financial staff recruitment specialists Robert Half Australia, says what's essential to make a work from home situation successful is to set clear outcomes and goals upfront.
“If the job is transactional or easily measured, make sure metrics are in place and constantly monitored. If you don't have these, the staff member may feel disorganised and suspicion can creep in that they are not doing their job,” he says.
Aside from keeping people accountable to their goals, a good work from home scenario also requires great communication between both sides. Brushfield recommends keeping in touch daily, through either Skype or FaceTime, or just a simple phone call.
“That's absolutely vital. We have some maternity leave returnees who are working a couple of days a week from home and a couple of days in the office. Even though they are not in the office all the time they still need to be part of the daily kick off meeting,” he advises.
Communication channels are key
Ensuring open communication channels between the person working from home and people in the office with whom they need to work is also vital.
For example, a credit manager works from home a few days a week could need to have good communication lines with sales staff on the road doing deals with customers to ensure blockages don't develop in the business.
Brushfield says technology is vital in developing a great work from home situation for the business and its staff and this starts with appropriate enterprise resource planning (ERP) technology.
“If everything is logged into your cloud-based ERP system, staff can access this no matter where they are. In our company, everybody works from the ERP system so if one person updates a customer account before another person is due to make a call to the client, everyone in the organisation can see the update. Another way to make sure everyone working on an account is updated is to send a group email to everyone on the account when something happens,” he explains.
What people miss out on when they're at home is water cooler chat, which helps solidify relationships in the business. “One way to address that is by making sure when there are milestones and events, it's important for everyone in the business to be there. But give people enough notice so they can manage their time.”
If you discover people working from home are not meeting their objectives, it's important to follow the same disciplinary procedures as if they were in the office.
“Get HR involved because it's essential to follow proper processes,” says Brushfield. It's essential to develop sound processes and procedures for people who work from home because many employees expect it.
“Employees see it as a benefit of working for a company and may be willing to accept a lower salary for the privilege. If companies can't increase salaries in line with inflation giving staff the ability to work from home half a day a week roughly equates to the same value as a salary increase, so companies need to embrace it,” he argues.
Encouraging staff to work from home may also help the business lower its rent cost as fewer staff are in the office. But the real benefit is a more productive, highly-engaged, more loyal workforce, that's genuinely committed to the business and is therefore able to do a better job. That's an asset few CFOs can do without.
- Set clear goals and objectives for staff working flexibly – including monitoring and accountability
- Encourage daily communication between the business and staff working from home to avoid disenfranchisement.
- Bring staff working from home into the business for important events and to celebrate milestones.