Staff working at home pays off

MICHELLE SUTTON
Last updated 13:00 18/09/2012

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A Nelson boss is offering technology to staff letting them work from home instead of coming into the office each day.

Johnston Associates Chartered Accountants director Dean Steele said he started giving staff digital devices - iPad, iPhone, or Blackberry - about five years ago so they could work from home or a mobile location. It was offered to all employees, but only contract staff could work from home, while permanent employees were based in the office.

Working from home is a trend spreading across the country. Telecom is New Zealand's largest employer currently trialing it with 50 Christchurch call centre staff.

Steele urged other employers in the region to follow suit, saying it helped retain and attract quality staff, while also competing for work around the world. He introduced the initiative after losing a client to an Auckland accounting firm, which outsourced work to Fiji.

Gilligan Rowe and Associates were able to offer his previous client cheaper rates by sending accounts to Fiji, Steele said.

"The way we are working these days, it needs to change. The traditional 8.30am to 5pm job just doesn't work anymore for a lot of people," he said.

Johnston Associates secured and retained two senior accountants, aged 30-40, because they could work fulltime, mainly from home using their digital devices. The woman both had children, but were among the most productive staff and would have left the profession had they been forced to keep a traditional 9am-5pm job.

"They just come in whenever they feel like it," he said.

They were still eligible to make partner and other benefits under their contracts.

"They just get paid for the work they do, not for going to the toilet. They are both very good, I wouldn't have got one of them to take the job otherwise."

The technology-led initiative relied on a degree of trust, but if someone abused the system it would soon show up in their productivity, he said.

It had enabled the firm to pick up clients from Christchurch, Tauranga and Wellington, because location was no longer an issue and its fees were cheaper than companies in major cities.

Council of Trade Unions secretary Peter Conway said the union had no concerns about the use of technology or innovation, and hiring contract staff to work from home rather than the office, as long as agreements benefited both parties.

However, it became an issue when employers hired contract staff to avoid employer obligations with permanent staff.

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"We would be concerned about issues affecting secure, permanent employment. Some contractors are completely vulnerable and dependent on what the company is providing," Conway said.

- The Nelson Mail

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