The following information has been developed based on questions received during the ‘COVID-19 and flexible business continuity’ webinars.
Can staff access the special COVID-19 leave option if they have carers responsibilities, if the schools aren’t officially shut? For example, can they use an hour or two hours a day from the special leave, to help when they are trying to home school their kids and work from home.
We understand that it is difficult to work with children at home, and most flexible working policies appear to prohibit it, as they did not anticipate this at the time of development. The Premier and Cabinet Circular states that the special leave is only if schools close, and we do not have alternative advice to that.
Agencies will provide their own guidance on how leave or other provisions can be accessed, and you should always refer to that in the first instance. When it comes to applying that guidance, we suggest that within your teams, take a flexible approach to flexibility itself. That means having open (and regular) conversations with your team about how they are going to manage work outputs and caring/home schooling children during this time, what leave arrangements may be possible, and if their industrial arrangements allow flexibility in the way work is planned and arranged. Some options include altering core hours, working shorter days using temporary part-time arrangements or leave provisions, and working in a job share arrangement (review ‘Top Tip’s’ for further advice on working and caring/home schooling children during COVID-19 restrictions).
As we need to be flexible about flexibility, can an employee swap work days to manage home schooling and working from home? For example, if care assistance is available on a weekend, could an employee work a Saturday and take a weekday off in its place?
The days an employee can work are set out in their agency’s award and flexible working agreement, and this may not always be possible. In most instances, working on a weekend is classified as overtime and under the award must be paid or taken as time in lieu (by mutual agreement). Other awards do not specify set days, therefore working on a weekend may be feasible if discussed with manager and approval via mutual agreement.
We suggest that each employee talk with their manager and obtain advice from their department or agency’s Human Resources team or Industrial Relations team about their award, working conditions and flexible working agreement, and what flexible working options are available to help manage caring responsibilities and workload. There is also further information about types of flexible working on our website. These could provide additional options for discussion.
How do I manage people when I can’t see them?
It is vital that managers build trust amongst team members, be good communicators and able to listen, able to help their team connect and collaborate, and to help team members manage their time effectively – these skills are also important for flexible working.
Managing people is about:
- Building trust among team members
- Being a good communicator and listener
- Helping your team to connect and collaborate
- Helping team members to manage their time effectively.
These skills are just as important, if not more important, when working flexibly.
To begin a conversation about working remotely, you can initiate a team discussion where everyone is encouraged to consider the business outcomes you wish to maintain or improve, and what the essential outputs will be, while also considering what kinds of flexible work options there are and how they may be incorporated into the team’s working lives. Agree on quantifiable measures of performance, e.g., projects completed, client satisfaction, team engagement, support for team goals, and monitor these as you would as a manager.
Together the team can plan for the changes and how to overcome any challenges. You may need to share your preferred overall approach, parameters and guidelines for flexible working with the team before engaging in more detailed one-on-one discussions. Have clear and agreed performance goals in place at the beginning: include both standard job-related tasks, as well as communication with other staff and participating in training and development activities.
It is also important to agree on your communication protocols when working remotely. What is the process for team meetings? Can these be scheduled on a day that everyone is available to meet virtually, i.e. a time with no/minimal interruptions due to caring responsibilities? How will the team use email, Skype, phone conferencing etc. How might the structure of meetings change to get the most out of the ‘connected’ time?
We already work long hours in our agency. Does this mean that we have to be ‘on’ 24/7?
There is no general expectation for people to be working out of normal hours, unless this is agreed within the team. The best way to address this is to have an open discussion with your team about the work that needs to be done and your own expectations as a manager, with respect to best practice workplace health and safety principles.
If you are working out of business hours, you can minimise impact on recipients by using an email signature tag line such as ‘I am sending you this message now as I work flexibly and I do not expect you to read, respond or action it outside your regular hours.’ Otherwise – use the “Delayed Delivery” feature in Microsoft Outlook to delay sending emails until agreed office hours.
Can the special leave provisions be used during the school holidays for people needing to care for children with no alternative activities available?
The Premier and Cabinet Circular states that the special leave is only if schools close, so it cannot be used for school holidays.
We understand that it is difficult to work with children at home. In fact, most flexible working policies appear to prohibit it, because they did not anticipate this situation when developed.
Agencies will provide their own guidance on how leave or other provisions can be accessed, and you should always refer to that in the first instance. When it comes to applying that guidance, we suggest that within your teams, take a flexible approach to flexibility itself. That means having open (and regular) conversations in your team about how everyone can realistically manage work outputs and any caring/home-based schooling children during this time, what leave arrangements may be needed, if projects need re-prioritising, and if the relevant industrial arrangements allow for flexibility in the way their work is planned and arranged. Some options could include altering core hours, working shorter days using temporary part-time arrangements or leave provisions, or sharing the job short-term if enough work has been paused that two people with similar skill sets and needs can share a role to cover the remainder. Once plans are settled (and checkpoints agree), then discuss the road rules around communicating and connecting with each other (letting each other know when they’re available, which communication platform, and how you’ll all check how you’re all going). The key is to maintain an equilibrium between business, team and individual outcomes during a time that’s unlike anything most of us have experienced.
Further advice on working and caring/home schooling children during COVID-19 restrictions is available in ‘Top Tips’
What if not everyone in the team is volunteering to help deliver team outcomes? (e.g. younger staff being loaded with more work). There is a tension between flexible work from home and still getting team outcomes to function across the team. Are there any suggestions to help navigate this space?
This is where a team-based approach and encouraging a shared sense of responsibility for team outcomes is important - but younger workers should not feel pressured to take on extra work. If overall work is too much compared to availability, then have that discussion with your leader - you will need their guidance on pragmatic approaches to what can be delivered, and what may need pausing or re-prioritising.
How to make flexibility work as a team is important both pre COVID-19 as well as during COVID-19 restrictions. The ‘flexible working toolkit’ provides useful tips and additional supporting resources about helping one another identify and agree business, team and individual outcomes, how to manage for outcomes (work allocations and workloads) and managing team cohesion.
It is vital that managers build trust amongst team members, be good communicators and able to listen, able to help their team connect and collaborate, and to help team members manage their time effectively. We want to get out the other side having maintained an equilibrium between our business, team and individual objectives.
How can we encourage all team members to switch on video? It makes it more engaging for participants, but many team members don't feel "camera ready" so we are looking at blank screens which can be unmotivating.
Ask your team if they're happy to have at least one meeting each week that everyone attends and is a 'camera on' meeting, then note its camera on in the invite.
We also recommend you gently explore (in a 1:1) with anyone in your team who hasn’t been using the camera. There could be a real range of reasons, and they may not even be comfortable explaining them. Some people have real boundaries between work and home, and they may not want to let their teammates ‘in’, or there’s been a bad experience in the past, or their bandwidth could be dodgy. Cameras are great, but be prepared to be flexible about it.
How would you deal with a staff member who absolutely will not engage over video face to face?
We recommend a confidential discussion to explore why they do not want to engage in any meetings via video/camera. It is important to allow the employee to feel comfortable and possibly provide further advice as to why they would prefer to not connect via video/camera.
Respect any misgivings, look at other options to virtually communicate and agree on what platform could be used instead – or if they have a picture at least!