The most frequent question I am asked is, “How do we productively manage employees working from home?” This question is not only important during the lockdown. It will also be crucial post lockdown because the working from home trend will, in many cases, continue forever.
It is a serious challenge for every executive and supervisor to manage people who are not physically where you are. In this situation managers are not routinely able physically to visit the employees’ workstations to see that they are there, to check their work quality and to provide guidance. And the manager’s presence can no longer act as a deterrent against slacking off.
Due to the above headache HR professionals need to support management in installing mechanisms to replace the old methods of managing employees.
This firstly involves the development and implementation of amended policies to regulate the new working arrangements. The new Working From Home policy should, amongst others, include:
- The requirement to work from home based on the lockdown regulations,
- Changes to work systems, tasks and responsibility, and
- A results focussed work performance monitoring system.
Secondly, HR should facilitate the setting up of reporting systems where the employee’s work output and results are closely monitored via carefully designed report formats. However, before work performance can be monitored and evaluated each employee’s responsibilities must be defined in detail in specific key result area agreements. And realistic standards for each employee’s performance must be very carefully arrived at and documented.
Thirdly, HR should work with the IT department to ensure that telephone, email, virtual-meeting and other communication facilities are working optimally.
Fourthly, Performance Improvement Programmes (PIP) have become crucial implements for managing remote working. However, these must be extremely carefully designed and implemented. HR needs to obtain expert assistance in setting up PIP systems and must get loud support from the very highest authority in the company for preserving the integrity of the performance management system.
Where there is clear proof that an employee is being properly assisted and still refuses to put in the necessary effort, the reason for this should be thoroughly investigated. If this establishes that the performance shortfall is the employee’s fault a more disciplinary type of corrective process should be used.
Likewise, employers are entitled to discipline employees who break Covid rules. However, employers are still required to prove that their disciplinary steps are procedurally fair and substantively rational.
In the case of Van Wyk and another vs Africa Spice (Pty) Ltd  1 BALR 102 (CCMA) The respondent, being an essential service, decided to continue operations under lockdown level 5, but required only 15 of its normal staff of 120. Those who volunteered to work were selected on condition that they remain in the workplace 24 hours a day for the duration of the lockdown so as to avoid the risk of contracting Covid. However, the two applicants broke this rule by leaving the premises after knockoff time. They were dismissed for breaking a workplace rule and for insubordination.
The Commissioner noted that the main motivation of the rule was to avoid workers risking Covid infection by using public transport. As the level 5 lockdown had ended when they went home and neither had used public transport they had not broken any rule. The applicants were reinstated with retrospective effect. It appears that this employer overreacted in trying to adapt to the lockdown.
However, adaptation to lockdown conditions is only one priority for employers. Ensuring that the business survives and prospers during and post Covid is equally crucial. As financial prosperity can be achieved neither via luck nor magic, businesses need to implement new systems for promoting the super-productivity ethos essential for counteracting the financial devastation of Covid.
In SA a fairly unique and very powerful obstacle to productivity is the fact that, for hundreds of thousands of workers, the word ‘productivity’ means exploitation, neo-apartheid abuse and capitalist greed. Companies have reluctantly ‘lived with’ the workers’ aversion to productivity. However, now with the severe damage done to our businesses by Covid, this productivity aversion mindset urgently needs to be reversed.
The key to changing the negative mindset of workers lies in convincing them that their increased productivity works strongly for them and not merely to make the owners of the business richer through worker exploitation.
To book for our 12 March webinar on Retrenchments In the Covid Environment please contact Ronni on [email protected] or 0845217492.