Hybrid Workplaces: A Changing Employment Landscape
Australian businesses and employers have now reached the one-year mark since many overhauled their business structure and engaged in hybrid workplaces. Unfortunately, this took the form of difficult decisions, which included standing down employees, making redundancies, reducing employee salaries, directing employees to take annual leave, and relying on JobKeeper. It also required businesses to expend resources to be able to operate online as well as to ensure compliance with local health and safety laws, as well as enforce hygiene and social distancing measures.
COVID-19 was the catalyst for flexible working and hybrid workplaces on a large scale. As such, businesses are facing a number of new considerations, obligations, and risks. From a work health and safety (WHS) or occupation health and safety (OHS) perspective, the new employment landscape has resulted in periods of both more relaxed and more restrictive COVID-19 measures. It has also resulted in new attention to safe home workplaces. From a business perspective, new considerations for a positive working environment surround trust and equality in the workplace.
Hybrid Workplace Obligations
Aside from the sudden business restructuring to operate online, one of the biggest difficulties that businesses faced was providing a safe and effective work environment for employees working from home. Employers have a continued responsibility to provide a safe work environment ‘as far as reasonably practicable’. While many businesses have been able to assist with tech support and ergonomic workstation set-up, and create an employee assistance program for those requiring social or professional support, some obligations are more difficult to oversee. For example, it is more challenging to manage the safety of someone’s home, which can include everything from security to home hygiene and temperature to domestic violence. It is also difficult to ensure that employees are working in accordance with their award, and are not working outside business hours, overtime, or through their breaks. The employee does have some responsibility over their health and safety, but the more instructions, policies, procedures, and assistance provided by the employer, the more likely that the employee can manage their unique circumstances – and that WHS or OHS obligations are met.
Hybrid Workplace Considerations
As it is likely that some level of hybrid working is here to stay in many businesses, your business will need to consider whether remote working arrangements are appropriate for your employees and suitable for particular work activities. Many businesses view remote working arrangements as not only possible but even beneficial, particularly now that home workstations are set up. If this is the case for your business, you should ensure that remote working arrangements are available to all employees equally. Though there can be some level of consideration for a particular employee’s circumstances, other employees should be able to seek the same arrangements. As such, some level of personal choice is important.
While employees work from home, your business may be using or considering software that bolsters employee accountability and monitors their work. While this can be beneficial in creating clear expectations and encouraging some level of standardisation across employees, it can also minimise trust. This may not only be harmful to workplace culture, but can carry privacy concerns.