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Work From Home Post-Lockdown: Why (And How) NZ SMEs Are Taking The Plunge

Working from home is nothing new. In 2018, it was revealed that about one third of the NZ workforce had worked from the comfort of their home office at least once – and since the necessities brought on by COVID-19, those numbers are likely to be even higher.

While the lockdown is now over and (hopefully) we won’t be returning to a total quarantine any time soon, many employees and employers are realising that working from home is a perfectly valid, viable, even preferable way to ‘do work’. Many are choosing to make it a permanent state of affairs, if only for part of the working week. This has a lot of benefits – but also a lot of challenges, despite remote work now being a part of the new normal.

 

The benefits of remote work options for employers

Offering flexible work locations and/or hours is often touted as purely an employee benefit, but the reality is that there are a lot of benefits for the business owners too.

  • Reduced overheads

Running an office is expensive. Rent, utilities, equipment like computers, desks and chairs – even niceties like coffee and office snacks add up. If you have a significant portion of your workforce operating remotely, you can reduce these expenses. Fewer people in the office could also mean you avoid having to upgrade to a bigger space as you grow. Hot desking has never been hotter.

  • Talent attraction and retention

73% of all workers in one 2013 Mom Corps study said that they think flexibility is the most important factor when seeking new employment. Fulfill that need, and you’ll be able to have your pick of the most talented workers in your industry. The fact that the same study found that 50% of the workforce would give up part of their salary for flexible work conditions could also mean you’d end up with lower payroll pressure too.

Offering work from home arrangements could keep those carefully chosen employees from moving on. A study from Airtasker found that 1 in 4 employees have quit their jobs because of a commute that was too long. Remote work offers a commute that’s only as long as the distance from bed to home office. No complaints there!

  • Increased productivity

A lot of business owners look at working from home with a side-eye because they are worried that their staff will concentrate more on the ‘home’ part than the ‘working’ part. The reality is quite different.

A 2-year study from Stanford found that staff worked more hours from home compared to those who worked in the office. The Airtasker study mentioned earlier had similar findings, discovering that remote workers took shorter breaks (18 minutes compared to 22 minutes) and worked an average of 16.8 more days every year.

Lower costs, lower turnover, increased productivity – and all you have to do is tell people they don’t have to come into the office. Easy, right? But as we’ve learned over the COVID-19 crisis, switching to work from home isn’t always so simple.

 

The challenges you’ll face with permanent work-from-home

Remote working comes with plenty of potential hurdles you have to tackle if you want to reap the rewards.

 

Technology

A workforce that relies on teleworking will need stable, functional and user-friendly technology. We’re not talking about just setting everyone up with a Google Drive account here either. To effectively allow a workforce to operate from home, you’ll need:

  • Software that’s suitable for the work to continue. Think Microsoft Office, but also communication tools like Teams or Slack.
  • Support for when things go wrong – and they will!
  • Training for those on the workforce who may not be so digitally savvy.
  • Backups, both onsite and offsite.
  • Infrastructure like a strong internet connection.
  • Security to avoid having customer details hacked, leaked or otherwise stolen and sold.

Thankfully, most businesses in New Zealand will already have a lot of these requirements covered. If you’re included in that, it’s still worthwhile to review. Pro-tip: don’t exclude your boots-on-the-ground staff from these tech conversations. They may have insights into the technology needs you and/or your IT team haven’t considered yet.

 

Processes

Any change in the work environment requires a process review and a mutual understanding of how remote work will be navigated in documentation. A lot of this will be unique to your business and industry, but some common discussion points are:

  • Health and safety in the home office
  • Expectations around communication and check-ins
  • How work processes may change e.g. someone in sales may center their face-to-face meetings in an area around their home rather than around the office.

 

Culture

Flexible work conditions don’t necessarily damage a business’ culture, but they do have the potential to change it, especially if lots of people are taking the remote option.

There must be discussions among staff and management around the expectations for work from home: whether the work hours will also be flexible, whether there will be any check-in or monitoring efforts, and what constitutes unacceptable behaviour while working remotely.

You should also keep in mind that relationships between staff can change as a result of remote work due to less face-to-face communication. This doesn’t mean they will get worse; in fact, sometimes relationships can strengthen as people adapt to the new way of working and make more effort to stay in touch with their colleagues. But again, it’s important to have these conversations with staff and monitor how things are progressing.

Lastly, there is the impact on mental health. Remote work, even part-time, can be isolating, and many workers returning to the office after COVID-19 will be thankful to have the presence of other people around them. Shared events like Zoom meetings or digital morning teas are a good start, but also remember to ensure that good effort is made by everyone to include remote workers in office events and meetings. This will mean that people continue to feel like they are a part of the business.

 

Summary

Continuing the new normal of working remotely is a big decision for any business to make. It offers happier employees, more productivity and lower overheads – but getting to that point will take investment in time, effort and capital.

If you’re convinced work-from-home is the way forward but don’t have the spare working capital to make it happen, speak with GetCapital today for your options for a fast business loan to get you the equipment and expertise you need to make the idea of remote work less remote. Apply today.