Working from home during the pandemic: Guidelines for not-for-profits

Working from home2

Employees of many not-for-profit organisations are among the millions of Australians now working from home as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether you’re an employer who’s instructed staff to work from home, or an employee grappling with new technology and kids underfoot, here’s some information to help ease the transition.

Our Community partner Moores, which provides legal advice to not-for-profits, contributed to this help sheet.

Before you start

What if my organisation’s workers don’t want to (or can’t) work from home? And what if I can’t afford to pay them?

If an employee doesn’t want to work from home, the first thing to do is to talk to them and try to resolve the issue. If you can’t agree, normal (and perhaps modified) industrial provisions apply.

Where it’s not feasible for an employee to work away from the usual workplace, you should do your best to keep the person in the paid workforce. If necessary, try to negotiate a reduction in hours or salary before deciding to lay people off.

Charities and not-for-profits in many cases are eligible for government assistance; up-to-date information on this is available at the Funding Centre. Remember, after the virus crisis has passed, you’re going to have to rebuild, and you don’t want to have to start again without your experienced staff.

Where you can’t maintain your existing staffing, normal redundancy provisions will apply.

Key considerations for not-for-profit employers

Okay, everyone in your office is “in”, so you’ve decided to push on with a home-based workforce. Here are some of the nitty-gritty questions you’ll need to deal with.

Which of your operations can be carried out by employees working from home?

You might only be able to provide online or “non-contact” services in the current environment, unless your operation is considered an essential service as defined by authorities in your area. Some parts of your operation may have to be put on hold for the duration, if that’s possible.

Do you have – or need – a working from home (WFH) policy?

If you don’t already have a WFH policy and you want to develop one, examine the links the end of this article as a starting point. This includes reputable examples of existing policies, guidelines and toolkits. One excellent example is the City of Gold Coast's working from home guidelines, which include a policy, standards, agreement and checklist. You will also find an example of our own WFH agreement.

You should also keep an eye on the SOS resource page as Our Community releases further tools, templates and guidance.

Have you set clear expectations for working from home?

Encourage your employees to look after their health and safety, such as by taking regular breaks and managing their ergonomics.

You should also ensure that no employee is unreasonably disadvantaged by their new conditions of work (as opposed to being disadvantaged by the pandemic, which is of course disadvantaging almost everyone).

Are your arrangements flexible enough to support your workers’ personal circumstances?

It’s likely that many of your staff will be juggling work with their responsibilities as a parent or carer. Measures you can take to support them and to help them to maintain their productivity include enabling flexible start and finish times. Read more here:

What do your employment contracts permit in relation to WFH?

Loose agreements are open to uncertainty. Check them.

What equipment, furniture, infrastructure and systems will your employees need to work from home?

You should ensure – as far as possible – that your employees have access to ergonomic equipment. That could mean, for example, getting employees to take their chairs or other equipment home from work. You will need to record who has what, and check your insurance coverage.

The basics include a phone, a stable internet connection (easier said than done), a laptop with all the necessary programs, and possibly an additional monitor, if needed.

Obviously, your employees will need to be able to communicate and connect with stakeholders and each other. For information on some of the most useful tech tools available for meetings and more, see our help sheet on working from home tech tools for NFPs.

Your CEO and IT manager might be able to deploy many of those new tools and technologies remotely, but consider whether your staff will need support or training to get them up and running at home. This could be as simple as emailing a set of instructions to your staff.

Who will pay for running costs and equipment?

Consider how and when you will reimburse employees’ out-of-pocket costs, and set appropriate limits on expense claims.

Have your employees completed a WFH self-assessment?

Once you’ve worked through the preliminaries, you’ll need to ensure the ergonomics of their workspace are appropriate.

Using photos or a video hook-up to review their WFH set-up can help to identify risks.

Keep in mind that you’re liable if someone hurts themselves at “work”, wherever that work is carried out, so aim to check each home workstation in person or electronically, and help the employee to fix any hazards you can see.

In the short term, minor risks such as a worker missing an adjustable chair can be managed, but you must take care to avoid an unsustainable work situation in the longer term. You should document the steps you take to manage risks.

For checklists you can use to manage self-assessments and the like, see the links at the end of this help sheet.

How and when should your workforce communicate while WFH?

Embrace online meetings and consider regular check-ins by phone, videoconference, group chats etc. Working remotely can be isolating, so it’s important to bring people together. Here are some more handy tips on basic working from home survival skills.

Sharing files and documents online can be convenient, but when you are working with vulnerable clients and valuable intellectual property, it’s important that employees understand how to protect private and confidential information. (Here’s a confidentiality policy for reference.)

Does your insurance cover WFH arrangements?

The Institute of Community Directors Australia provides information on the types of insurance an organisation needs.

Do you require employees to keep records of their hours, consistent with your own obligations?

From 1 March 2020, employers may be required to keep a record of hours worked by employees on annualised salaries, covered by relevant modern awards. For more information, see the website of the Fair Work Ombudsman.

On a related subject, this tech tools help sheet provides information on employee-monitoring software.

What about excessive hours, overtime, and time off in lieu?

Organisations should consider strategies to manage potential burnout and provide access to health and wellbeing supports, such as the Employee Assistance Program. This applies whether or not your employees are working from home.

Do you encourage inclusion?

It’s a stressful time for everyone, so it’s critical that the welfare of your staff is at the forefront of your mind. Consider what measures you can take to help keep people working cooperatively. For example, a crowded conference-call can make it difficult for people to share their opinions. Pause to allow time for people to ask questions and remind attendees that they can use the chat box (or other communication methods) to share their thoughts or questions.

Are your staff connecting and having fun?

Maintaining morale is crucial. Encourage staff to share photos, or to make a time to (virtually) share a meal or drink via the tech tools we’ve mentioned. Encourage people to contribute creative ideas that will help your team stay positive, engaged and energised.

Key responsibilities

Here’s a summary of who’s responsible for the various aspects of your organisation’s working from home provisions during the pandemic:

The CEO is responsible for

  • Determining what areas of the organisation’s operations can be operated with staff member working remotely
  • Determining which, if any, of the organisation’s sections or employees will be required to work from home
  • Determining means for operational teams to divide responsibilities and monitor contributions effectively to meet organisational goals.

The IT manager is responsible for

  • determining software/hardware to maximise productivity of the organisation’s workforce working from home
  • where necessary, training staff to operate equipment effectively
  • maintaining the security of organisational communications

The HR manager is responsible for

  • maintaining salary payments to staff working from home
  • accurately recording working hours for casual employees
  • determining means of evaluating individual performance while employees are working from home

The OH&S manager is responsible for

  • maintaining the workplace health of employees (ergonomics, OH&S risks, etc)
  • inspecting the employee’s workplace and approving it for work purposes (where necessary, remotely through electronic media)
  • maintaining insurance cover for employees working from home, covering all aspects of the work they are required to undertake

Professional assistance

Our Community legal partner Moores contributed to this help sheet. For more information, you can purchase Moores’ downloadable COVID-19 Employer Response Pack or contact Skye Rose, Practice Leader, on (03) 9843 0427 or srose@moores.com.au.

#SaveOurSector

This help sheet is just one of the ways the Our Community Group is working to support not-for-profits through the COVID-19 crisis, as part of a major campaign to help the not-for-profit sector to survive, re-invent and sustain.

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