Homeworking can be a very popular option with staff, providing them with a degree of flexibility whilst also assisting them in meeting the demands of their role. With studies showing that modern workers tend to gravitate towards roles that do offer flexibility such as this, homeworking can be a good way of both attracting and retaining key talent to your company.
Given the latest Government announcements and the potential that the restrictions and advice could need to be in place for up to 6 months it is perhaps time to be looking at the longer term benefits (and potential challenges) of homeworking / flexible working.
Staff who are able to work from home can be available to look after their children if necessary, something that can be very helpful to working parents in particular particularly where school bubbles may break down and self-isolation needs to take place. Such an option can help to avoid them having to take prolonged periods of time away from work or even leaving their role entirely, an issue that can lead to working mothers in particular missing out on key opportunities for progression.
From your point of view, having some staff work from home can free up space in the workplace, meaning that you will need to facilitate less desks, and the associated costs, for staff. Whilst different employees will work in different ways, some people may be at their most productive when they are able to work in their own, quiet surroundings. It can also help to make your workplace more Covid Secure by allowing employees to work at a greater distance from each other.
During the coronavirus outbreak, asking staff to work from home puts them at a decreased risk of getting the virus and therefore having to spend a prolonged period of time away from work whilst sick. This is because they will have less opportunity in which to come into contact with it, such as on public transport. There is also less chance of them bringing the virus into work with them if they do remain at home.
Legally, as an employer, it is entirely down to you who you decide to let work from home and your decision should depend upon the nature of your offering. That said, who you should consider letting work from home on a short-term basis, especially as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, will ultimately depend on the needs of your business.
For example, it would be acceptable to only permit staff who have to use public transport to work from home, as they may be more likely to come into contact with the virus on busses or trains than those who drive or walk. Homeworking does not need to be a company-wide implementation. However, you should take care to avoid favouritism. If some employees are to be allowed to do this over others, you should be open and honest with your workforce and outline why this is.
Before permitting an individual to work from home, you should first assess the impact that such an arrangement could have on your company. Fundamentally, regardless of the reasons behind the homeworking arrangement, you need to make sure that it is not going to place your business at a significant disadvantage.
Firstly, consider if the employee’s job can feasibly be done from home, and the ease in which they would be able to do this. In a temporary arrangement, especially considering the coronavirus outbreak, you are going to want to make this transition as easy as possible. If it is going to take time and money in which to establish their home work space, or if you do not feel it is feasible, this may not be the best option for you to consider.
Then, you need to look at the individual themselves. There is obviously going to have to be a degree of trust between yourself and them that they will be able to do their job and not use homeworking as an excuse to, essentially, not do it.
- Are they good at managing their own workloads and daily pressures?
- Do they get easily distracted?
- Have they had any disciplinary issues since they were employed, or have displayed forms of behaviour that has given you reason to doubt them?
Fundamentally, you must assess if you think they would be reliable when they cannot be under the direct supervision of management. You could however also consider whether a time tracking system may be a useful tool.
Employers have a duty of care towards the health, safety, and wellbeing of their staff, and this extends to those who work from home. To this end, before permitting any member of staff to enter into a homeworking arrangement, you need to check that their home environment is suitable.
You will need to assess the space that is in their home in which they will have to work and whether there are any hazards that could place them at risk. If they are to use any appliances, such as a computer, you will need to make sure that this will not place them at any undue risk that they would otherwise not have come into contact with had they stayed in the usual workplace.
All employees who are allowed to work from home should also be reminded of the company’s health and safety policies.
Ideally, a full health and safety risk assessment should be conducted on the workspace, but if this is going to be a quick arrangement then there may not be time in which to facilitate this. Instead, you can ask the employee to conduct an assessment of their working space and report back to you in order to determine its suitability.
From here, you should determine what you may need to provide to the employee, such as a company laptop, a telephone, or particular forms of software. This will vary from job to job; for some, a connection to the internet may suffice. For others, they may need to be given more appliances in which to do their job.
It is important to take care in this situation and, where possible, avoid the employee using their own personal devices. It may be difficult for you to get the employee working again if their appliance breaks or is unreliable.
If the homeworker is likely, in the course of his or her work, to obtain or use personal information about individuals, you should ensure he or she is trained fully in the requirements of the General Data Protection Regulations and current Data Protection Act relevant to data security. Issuing, or re-issuing, your data protection policy is advisable.
Consider also if they are going to need to take confidential information home with them and if this will remain safe whilst in that environment. For example, do they have cabinets in which to store files to keep them away from children that may be present and, if not, is this something that you would be able to provide?
At this stage, you should ask the employee to sign a written agreement which outlines how long the period of homeworking is to last for. If it is being introduced as part of your response to the coronavirus, you may consider stating that it will be regularly reviewed and that the period of homeworking will cease when it is no longer deemed to be necessary. Within this agreement, employees should be reminded of the expectations placed upon them by the company, such as disciplinary procedures. It should also be specified what hours they are expected to work; you may wish for them to continue to work their usual hours or, alternatively, may be happy for them to change these on a temporary basis.
The agreement should also specify that staff should not work for longer than their usual hours, in line with the Working Time Regulations 1998. At no point should you encourage them to do so if such a provision is going to mean they are working for longer than 48 hours per week and they have not signed an opt-out agreement.
Once the period of homeworking has begun, it is important to keep in regular contact with the employee. You should set them clear targets to work towards and invite them to outline why these targets have not been met as a way of making sure that tasks are still being completed. One option is to request that they submit daily or weekly reports whilst the period of homeworking continues. By keeping in regular contact, you can also keep them up to date on all developments, such as the company’s continued response to the coronavirus issue.
It is also important to maintain this contact with the employee in order to ensure that they are not being adversely affected by the arrangement. Whilst some individuals may prefer working from home, others may start to feel isolated, something that could potentially impact upon their performance. If an issue such as this does start to develop, it may be that the agreement needs to be re-assessed.
If you would like any further advice about how best to implement the new guidance, please do contact firstname.lastname@example.org