The key challenges and opportunities for organisations:

The line between work and home was already disappearing, but that dissolution accelerated with the onset of COVID-19. This, along with the use of alternate forms of resourcing (e.g. onshoring, outsourcing and automation), brings with it critical implications for work type. In all of this, the role of the CHRO is incredibly important. Organisations face a set of strategic choices and trade-offs as they look to stay a step ahead of risk.

The key challenges and opportunities for organisations:

Performance management in a hybrid environment. The traditional model involves attaching value to seeing people working at their desks. Organisations will need to adjust their approach to measuring and managing performance to take account of a new normal in which people are dispersed. Proximity bias (leaders unconsciously favouring workers with whom they have the most direct contact) is likely to be a real challenge that will need to be overcome. Leaders will need to ensure that employees who come into the office are not favoured over those who do not and that leaders are up to the task of managing teams with consideration for these circumstances. Different strokes for different folks. While remote work became a blanket policy during pandemic lockdowns, organisations now need to look more closely at which policies apply to which employees. For example, there may need to be different rules around flexibility for new employees being onboarded versus long term employees when it comes to coming into the office and/ or working remotely. In a similar vein, some employees may be covered by different awards or agreements, requiring consideration for specific conditions.

Work Health and Safety (WHS) obligations in a home work environment.

Organisations conducting a business or undertaking have a general responsibility to eliminate or otherwise mitigate risks and hazards arising out of the conduct of that business, including at a place of work. Organisations need to check in with their legal teams on where their responsibilities begin and end when it comes to health and safety in hybrid work environments, ensuring that the programs and processes that they have in place for the office translate to a hybrid environment, where there is capacity for an employer’s obligations to extend to any physical location in which an employee is performing work. Putting in place special provisions to ensure managers are aware of the signs of domestic and family violence, creating mechanisms for employees to communicate concerns, and knowing how to respond in circumstances where this is suspected will also be critical.

Balancing change with a need for ongoing flexibility.

Organisations must properly document change in order to meet contractual and compliance needs. However, given the pace of change, this needs to be done in a way that retains capacity for flexibility. Employers need to be able to experiment with new models and avoid entrenching change in a dogmatic way. Contracts, policies and procedures to reflect new ways of working should be drafted with this priority in mind.

What questions do CHRO’s need to be asking?

  1. Have we taken account of where our people are working? There may be ethical risks, cybersecurity risks, and immigration, payroll or labour laws around remote working or intellectual property and confidential information protection risks to consider. For example, immigration laws may restrict a worker’s capacity to work remotely from a jurisdiction that is different to the jurisdiction of their employer. Where employees can work remotely out of jurisdiction, it may be difficult to track different obligations that attach to their employment (for example, different payroll tax and long service leave laws can differ and enforcing business protection provisions, such as restraints or confidentiality obligations, can be difficult when an employee is located in another country.
  2. Have we properly considered the terms on which we are hiring people, including those working remotely? A hybrid workforce may increase the potential to supplement direct employees with contingent or outsourced labour or gig workers. If so, correct characterisation of workers, employment taxes, and business risk all need to be assessed and addressed. For example, non-employed workers don’t have the same obligation to a company as an employee, and in most jurisdictions retain ownership of intellectual property created for a client.
  3. What’s our selection process for who can work from the office, and who can work elsewhere? Are we determining this fairly and in a way that will contribute to positive work outcomes at an individual and organisational level? There is a risk that differential treatment can lead to unlawful discrimination, which needs to be considered on an ongoing basis in terms of likely and then actual impact. Ensuring decisions are made based on clear and fair principles and empowering team-level decision making is important.
  4. Are we adjusting our approach to performance measurement and management? Are we training our leaders to assess employees fairly and effectively in this new environment? Remote working is likely to make ‘soft’ relational criteria harder to judge. Performance criteria may need to change to recognise measurable behaviours and outputs that aren’t necessarily ‘seen’, and take account of criteria that are relevant to a person’s role being performed in a hybrid working environment.
  5. Have we considered how remote work affects the remuneration of employees? Is pay being adjusted to reflect living costs of their chosen location?
  6. Have we sought help to understand the extent of WHS obligations to employees in a home work environment? Are our leaders fully aware of their obligations to provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and free of risks to health – whether that’s physical or mental health – as far as is reasonably practicable?
  7. Have we adapted our approach to onboarding for a hybrid environment? Are we setting people up for success, and in a way that takes account of appropriate performance criteria and WHS obligations?