One of the work trends that we have seen in 2020 is how many companies in Singapore are now allowing their employees to work from home, whether voluntarily or involuntarily. Similarly, many employees now know how it’s like working from home and some of the challenges of doing so.
However, what should already be clear for most of us who have experienced working from home is that a higher level of trust from managers is required. At the same time, self-discipline and the ability to continue producing at a high standard with minimal supervision is also needed for workers, who are expected to continue producing a reasonable level of output, in spite of any work-from-home challenges that they may face.
In a recent poll that we did on the DollarsAndSense Business Community, we asked whether companies should set clear HR policies for those working from home.
Perhaps, a surprise (to me) is that most of the respondents voted for companies to set clear HR policies for employees working from home.
However, even as we introduce some work-from-home HR policies, it’s important to be mindful of work-life boundaries, so that we achieve the right outcome where we minimise the disruption that working from home has on our personal lives, and yet ensure that our personal lives do not affect our productivity for the company.
Not Everyone In The Company Is Working From Home
Before introducing any policies, one of the things to remember is that even when companies allow their employees to work from home, it doesn’t mean everyone is automatically working from home. Whether by choice or necessity, some employees will still be working in the office.
So even if we think that having an official working hour is no longer needed for employees who are working from home, this may not be practical since the company will still have employees who are working at the office which they need to cater for.
In such a situation, it may be deemed unfair for people who are showing up on time each day to be observing their co-workers enjoy what they may see as a different set of rules.
That said, we need to recognise one of the main advantages of letting employees work from home is to allow them to enjoy flexibility. What’s the point of letting people work from home, while still insisting that they stick to a rigid working structure?
HR policies should address any of these discrepancies and to bring people together, rather than cause further division over why some people are allowed to play by a different set of rules.
HR Policies That Makes Sense In The Office May Not Seem So Reasonable When Working From Home
Whether knowingly or unknowingly, many of us have norms that we follow when working in the office. For example, even if we have flexible lunch hours, we are still unlikely to go for ‘lunch’ at odd hours, such as 10am or 3pm.
Many companies, even flexible ones, typically expect their employees to go for lunch within a certain period (e.g. 11.30am to 2pm). This is a very reasonable policy that most workers are happy to abide by, especially if they can still choose to go for a slightly earlier or later lunch.
It’s also logical since none of us would want to go looking for a co-worker in the office at 10 in the morning to discuss work matters, only to be told that the person is having brunch somewhere outside with a friend. Neither do we want to have a last-minute client meeting scheduled at 4pm, only to realised that our colleague who is required for the meeting is out for a late lunch.
While this may seem reasonable if everyone is working in the office, such HR policies may not be feasible to enforce for employees who are working from home. For example, an employee who is working from home and who typically have lunch with his mom, may not appreciate being told they can’t go downstairs for lunch at 3pm. And even if they are allowed to, is this something that they ought to let their superior know?
Nobody would want to feel like a prisoner in their own homes, with rules from the company governing what they can or can’t do during office hours.
A good HR policy should be flexible enough to accommodate both employees who are working in the office and also those working from home. It should give people working from home some flexibility without making the people in the office feel like they are being shortchanged.
Recognise And Accept That There Is A Going To Be Differences Between Working In The Office And From Home
While we may like to romanticise that working from home is similar to working in the office, the truth is that we also have to accept that it’s not going to be exactly the same. And the sooner we – both employers and employees, understand what some of these differences are, the sooner we can developed the right HR policies to tackle these differences.
For example, if you work overtime in the office (and many of us do) and need to discuss a matter with our colleagues, it’s easy to see whether or not our co-workers are still working for the day. If they are, we can just pop by their desks and ask them a question. If they are not, we will just talk to them tomorrow. This is pretty logical, and you don’t need any HR policies to address it.
However, if we are working from home, this becomes difficult to observe. Some people may think it’s okay to call a co-worker after office hours to discuss a matter, others may disagree. And what happens when you start having co-workers who prefer starting work late and to end later? What if this isn’t due to his/her working preference but rather, as a result of having to take care of children earlier during the day (e.g. prepare dinner for the family).
HR Policies Aren’t Just A Set Of Rules To Manage Employees, But Also To Protect Them
It’s easy just to presume that HR policies are meant to manage us as employees, even as we work from what is supposed to be our sacred place – our homes.
Perhaps the right way to look at HR policies is that they should be developed to help us tackle the challenges that we face balancing our personal life, enjoying the flexibility of working from home, and also the expectations of our employers and co-workers.
HR policies can provide guidelines from the company’s point of view, on how we should manage our time while working from home. It can also address different people’s expectations of what work from home should look like, rather than for individual employees to decide what are the dos and don’ts that they agree with.
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