The insistence of some bosses to keep employees coming into the office even when they are technically permitted to work from home has been labelled as "alarming" and counter-productive by CPA Australia.
A survey of more than 1,200 people conducted by Australia’s largest professional accounting body has found that a third of workers were technically allowed to work from home, but they were discouraged against doing so by their employers.
“It’s actually quite alarming,” says CPA Australia general manager of media and content Dr Jane Rennie.
“Despite governments urging businesses to let employees work remotely, a huge number of workplaces are actively discouraging employees from doing exactly that.”
The survey results, released amid a surge in COVID cases nationally, comes on the heels of advice earlier this month from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, the country’s key decision-making committee for health emergencies, that employers should consider the ‘feasibility of some employees working from home and support employees to take leave when sick’.
While the CPA survey revealed that 50 per cent of workers were technically allowed to work from home and encouraged by their employers to operate remotely, 33 per cent who were technically allowed to work from home were discouraged by their employer.
The broad-based survey didn’t identify the industries in which the respondents were employed, but 12 per cent of those questioned said they were not permitted to work from home at all.
However, 5 per cent of respondents were unsure of their employer’s policy, which Rennie says is "surprising this far into the pandemic and a problem in itself".
“Employers need to clearly communicate their organisation’s policy on remote working to their people.”
Rennie says the big issue for businesses is to balance their duty of care to employees with the needs of the business.
“Now is not the time to insist your staff are in the office 100 per cent of the time. It's unwise to discourage people against working from home," she says.
“All businesses have a duty of care to keep their employees safe. Workplace flexibility and working from home can help prevent infections from sweeping through workplaces.”
Rennie says working from home is equally critical for business productivity, especially at times of peak COVID outbreaks to discourage employees from showing up to work sick.
“Bosses who fail to stop outbreaks in their workplaces run the risk of exacerbating staff shortages, affecting workplace productivity, harming morale and ultimately affecting client outcomes,” she says.
Rennie says a lack of digital capability by some small and medium-sized businesses could be a reason for discouraging remote work.
“Australian small businesses are digital laggards among the Asia-Pacific,” she says.
“We need government support to improve small business’ technology training particularly in the areas of cybersecurity and data privacy.”
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