3 August 2020 by , and Employment Alert

Policing the Fourth Industrial Revolution from an employer’s perspective

According to Klaus Schwab, “The Fourth Industrial Revolution is not a prediction of the future but a call to action.” How right he has proved to be with the ‘new normal’ imposed on us by the COVID-19 pandemic. Employers are finding themselves forced to consider the need to introduce flexible work options and rethink how they manage, monitor, and interact with their employees.

Clearly, technology will spearhead the shift into the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) and many of the changes undertaken as ‘temporary’ lockdown solutions can be expected to remain intact into the longer term. The anticipated efficiencies it will bring will drive the predicted changes across entire systems of production, management and governance.

Not to detract from some of the more exciting areas of the 4IR but some good old-fashioned fundamentals remain topical.

Work from home

Employers have to think about how their current policies, disciplinary codes and procedures fare in the work from home environment. This may mean that employers have to answer difficult questions such as:

  • Do my contracts of employment provide for employees working from home?
  • How can I ensure compliance and effectively monitor my employees without invading their (right to) privacy?
  • Does my disciplinary code cater for an employee who works from home but commits a misconduct?

A flexible working option policy (FWOP)

Flexible working options and having your office 10 meters from where you sleep, demands that lines should not be blurred. Many employers will have to manage employees who slack off on the one end and those who burn out and overwork themselves on the other.

So how does an employer avoid the conundrum of whether an employee is working from home or living at work? The answer lies in the formulation of an unambiguous and detailed FWOP, the key components of which should include:

Legal considerations

All good policies take the necessary legal framework into account, so consider the relevant legislation as a starting point in drafting an effective FWOP in order to ensure that the employer remains compliant in this regard.

Practical considerations

The disciplines and routines entrenched in existing policies and procedures should not be abandoned and the drafting of an effective FWOP will require, amongst other things, consideration of the following to ensure that the employer retains control:

Human resources

  • Application processes to participate in work from home options and the employer’s right to reassess or revoke flexible working options.
  • Processes for monitoring productivity and compliance.

Technical requirements

  • The imposition of positive obligations on employees working from home to meet specific technical requirements, such as wi-fi connectivity, electricity supply, and a secure telephone line.

Data Security

  • Measures for protection of intellectual property and databases together with encryption and password technologies.
  • Protection of personal information regulated by the Protection of Personal Information Act in environments where unauthorised access could be gained.

Conclusion

The measures addressed in this article highlight but a few of the considerations required when implementing a work from home scenario. The success and sustainability of implementing the practice will depend on the identification of all possible scenarios that could be encountered and then, formulating and implementing clear and concise policies to govern the way forward.

Heeding Klaus Schwab’s clarion call will ensure that employers are not dragged into the 4IR screaming and kicking.

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