Remote working can result in higher cost savings and productivity for businesses - experts

Exports share top tips for employers looking at offering remote working on a permanent basis.
Exports share top tips for employers looking at offering remote working on a permanent basis. Photo credit: Getty.

Remote working is a growing trend and can result in significant cost savings for businesses, experts say.

Thanks to COVID-19, remote working arrangements have become the norm, as social distancing measures required people to stay at home. Allowing staff to work remotely can reduce business overheads and perhaps also increase productivity.  

Newshub asked experts at HR Toolkit, Turner Hopkins and 4-day week to share their top tips for working from home. 

Managing director of HR Toolkit Lisa Mackay said that at her recent webinar on restructuring and redundancy, over 50 percent of employers said they planned to change employment terms. Anecdotally, many smaller businesses questioned the need to pay for an office.

"Rent is a big cost on virtually every business and when you're trying to get out from under an accrued debt that has increased, that has to be recouped somewhere," Mackay said.

For employers thinking about offering remote working as a permanent arrangement, Mackay suggests they address three key questions:

1. What are the measurable outputs against the role.

2. What does the team want to do and how can we make that work. 

3. How do I sell it to staff, e.g. savings benefits, adjustment period.

For remote working to be effective, Mackay advises employers to move away from an eight-hour day and focus on "measurable outputs." This process will be easier for some roles over others.

"[For example], rather than paying an employee four hours to do the payroll each week which might equate to $100, you pay them $100 to do the payroll, even if they were really efficient and did it in three hours," Mackay explained.

Working remotely is a trust system and for it to work, staff need to stay engaged. Due to space and/or lifestyle, not all staff may be able to work from home and that requires a flexible approach.

"Having five satellite offices: a hotdesk local to each person rather than one big city centre office might still get the cost-savings for a company but in a far more flexible way," Mackay added.

Turner Hopkins partner Michael Robinson said that the pandemic has led to a spike in people working from home or more flexibly. Having staff work from home can be cost-effective and some employers had reported an increase in productivity.

Robinson's top tips for employers navigating a change in work patterns are to be co-operative and act in good faith, record all agreed changes in writing and put a detailed work-from-home policy in-place.

"A policy on working from home needs to be agreed upon, includ[ing] hours and days of work, what it involves, eg how often video conferencing meetings are to be held, when the employee should be expected to attend at the normal place of work or other relevant arrangements," Robinson said.

He said that the onus is on employers to check their employees' safety in the remote environment. As part of the discussion, they should check that home technology is adequate and be clear on the ground rules.  He also advises employers to insure any workplace equipment used remotely and to discuss fringe benefit tax and deductibility with an accountant.

"It's important to have a long term plan: benefits and downsides should be monitored and outcomes should be reviewed," Robinson said.

"It would be reasonable and normal for any working from home arrangement to be subject to regular reviews and reassessment."

4-day-week chief executive Charlotte Lockhart said that many businesses had already taken on the cost of supporting staff to work from home.  The next step is to realise the savings through a smaller office space and lower expenses.

"Companies with branch networks are considering using that network better to provide a more 'close to home' work option for staff who need to use office facilities from time-to-time, Lockhart said.

"If we manage to hold on to this rather than reverting to old habits, business leaders will make material differences to their people's lives, their costs of employment, the environment and the communities we live (rather than work) in." 

As part of the rise in remote working, for employers looking at hiring, online job website SEEK has a new 'work from home' category, allowing ads to be placed to attract remote applicants. 

COVID-19 alert level 2 distancing requirements and hygiene standards mean that many people continue to work remotely. Offering remote working as a permanent arrangement could result in significant cost savings over time - both for employers and their staff.