By Silke Rathbone, Principal Partner at LabourExcel
While remote working is not a regulated form of working in South Africa, employers and employees alike need to tread through these grounds cautiously. No, remote working is not new to South Africa or the world; however, it has become front of mind over the last 24 months, in lockdown especially and following the aftermath of COVID-19.
So, when I say tread cautiously, what do I mean?
THE KEY ISSUES TO CONSIDER AROUND REMOTE WORKING
First and foremost, while a remote working concept was, in many circumstances, a necessity over lockdown, it may not be such a good idea now that the dust has settled. Many employees, now used to the comfort of working from home or even at some remote location instead of a set office, have baulked at the idea of going back. While many have twisted their employer’s arms into letting them stay remote, it may not be the most practical means anymore, both physically or financially. Weigh up whether having your employees away from the office still works, or if it would be more beneficial to the company to have them under one roof.
The POPI Act, which became an official part of our lives in 2021, has brought about many data protection questions, even more so when staff are not being openly monitored in an office environment. Consider whether the remote working setup covers all aspects of the POPI Act. For example, is confidential and private information safeguarded and protected in the current working arrangement? This can be easily remedied by ensuring all your staff are on a safe and secure cloud-based platform, where all files are saved 24/7 and access is protected by secure passwords or 2-factor authentication.
When it comes to your employee’s health and safety, we need to bring in the Occupational Health and Safety Act 85 of 1993. This means that the employer, no matter where their employees are working, must ensure that the working environment and surroundings are safe and healthy. What constitutes a workplace? A workplace is described as any premises or place where a person performs work during their employment. This means that remote working, whether at the person’s home or in a coffee shop, falls under this description. So, how does an employer ensure the remote working location is safe, secure and healthy? An employer can put many risk assessments into place with a checklist to ensure the criteria are met. An employer can do this even after such a remote working arrangement has been going on for a while.
When your employees are at your own offices generally, depending on the contractual arrangement, you supply them with all the equipment, software and processes they need to perform their duties. That may mean a PC or laptop, tablet, stationery, platform software and anything else that aids them in being productive. Ideally, an employer should check whether employees working remotely have been sufficiently equipped..
Checking in with your remote working employee may prove a little bit more taxing than if they were in your office space. Virtual meetings can become tiring, and both employer and employee may find that much is lost over this online way of connecting. A suggestion is to schedule a monthly or more frequent in-person meeting.This may be at the employee’s remote space or instead at a generic location, just to change it up a bit.
Keep the connection going by encouraging employees to set time aside to team up or connect with their colleagues. It can be a lonely existence when you are always alone. A regular check-in session can help fuel morale and creative juices. I recommend summarising your remote working conditions and putting a remote working contract or policy in place. This helps to clear the blurred lines and helps all parties involved breathe a little easier.
If you’re in need of such a policy, please do reach out today.
LabourExcel specialises in offering a variety of Labour Law and HR Solutions. Silke Rathbone, one of the Principal Partners, has crafted and honed her skillset and assists corporates and individuals along the Labour journey to ensure they understand what is required of them at all levels.