Homeworking is now commonplace for many businesses and their employees. Despite being located remotely, having the right communication devices in place means you can stay connected, but how do employers effectively manage the impact of an increased demand to work from home?
There’s no doubting the number of practical issues associated with homeworking, from ensuring suitable communication systems are in place and in how remote employees can be managed and motivated.
The sudden nature of the Covid-19 lockdown meant that many employers implemented homeworking provisions on a casual basis and in some cases, this has meant only cursory consideration of key provisions, that would in more normal circumstances be considered in detail.
Some businesses have yet to formally address risk assessments or consideration of ergonomics – such as employees working from a kitchen table, an unsuitable chair, or badly lit room. In many cases, employers have not yet considered the potential impact on contractual terms and conditions of employment, in addition to the need to assess risks to business security, equipment, data and confidentiality.
When Covid-19 arrived without notice, there was an understandable knee-jerk reaction to putting in place temporary measures to get people working successfully from home, but businesses will now need to consider if what they have in place is legally compliant and measures up to best practice HR and Health and Safety.
Will home working become the new norm’?
Present activity would suggest that homeworking will become commonplace for many job roles and recent surveys suggest a significant number of employees have been reluctant to return to their usual place of work, their views compounded by school closures and lack of childcare facilities.
There are also a notable number of financial benefits to homeworking – for employers and employees, not least of which, the downsizing of physical office premises and the removal of travel costs and work clothing.
It’s also worth noting the law on homeworking:
All employees can request homeworking if they have worked for the company for at least 26 weeks through a statutory flexible working request.
The company does not have to permit flexible working, but does need to provide sound business reasons for its refusal.
Employees can only make one formal request every 12 months.
Often a flexible working request will include a request to work from home.
Understanding temporary homeworking
Working from home is temporary
Working at home is permanent
Assessing homeworking environments and making provisions
Employers have a duty to take care of the health, safety and welfare of homeworkers in the same way as for employees working on employer premises.
What is needed by employees will vary from role-to-role, but all homeworkers should be given what they need to carry out their job and now is a really good time to revisit homeworking provisions more formally, so that you can be sure you have effectively managed the shift to homeworking in a legal as well as practical way.
Considerations for homeworking provisions – albeit not an exhaustive list:
Risk Assessments – Are home provisions safe? Have risk assessments been undertaken of individual employee home facilities?
Mental Health issues – Has the suitability of the arrangement been assessed for each individual? Could it affect their mental wellbeing? Has consideration been given to the potential isolation homeworking can cause?
Consultation – has proper consultation taken place with employees on the shift to homeworking and has the temporary or permanent nature of the arrangement been agreed in writing?
Other legalities – Have you considered the impact on employee contractual terms? Health and safety responsibilities, for both parties? Data protection and GDPR?
Security of premises – Are employee premises secure? Do they have a discrete, ergonomically sound work-space where things can be locked away securely?
Interruptions and confidentiality – Will employees be able to work normally? Will other occupants distract them or place confidentiality at risk?
Homeworking agreements – have you made employees aware of the temporary nature of homeworking arrangements, despite them being asked to work from home due to the current coronavirus situation? Have you agreed with employees and put in place a homeworking agreement and homeworking policy, which clearly set out the working arrangements and company expectations of homeworkers?
Cyber Security and confidential data protection – How will you ensure cyber security and protect your business’ confidential data? Do employees use their own PC, broadband or phone? What virus protection and encrypting measures do both parties have to avoid a security breach? Are you and your employees aware of the importance of data protection compliance?
Insurance – What impact is there on your employer liability insurance? Is business equipment covered for loss, theft or damage whilst in the home of an employee? Does the employee have their own home insurance and does it cover or exclude it?
Leases and mortgages – Is there anything in the employee’s rental, lease or mortgage agreement that prevents employees working from home?
Managing employees working from home
Managing the workload of homeworking employees can be tricky and there may be concerns over whether full hours are being worked and conversely, how to ensure homeworkers take the necessary breaks and switch off at the end of their working day.
There are significant considerations for line mangers in how they adapt their leadership style to best support and engage employees. In uncharted territory for many managers and business leaders, it’s not just about the practical issues. Direct control or micro-management do not factor well with homeworking arrangements. Trust, empowerment and facilitation may well need to become a more recognised management style.
Maintaining contact and inclusion
Initiating regular virtual meetings with homeworkers will be key to helping them stay connected with internal support services and allow them to feel involved in business decisions which affect them.
Employees should be encouraged to raise any issues they are experiencing with homeworking, including any negative effects on Mental Health.
Setting targets for Homeworkers
Best practice suggests work is allocated in a clear, measurable way, without relying on perfunctory daily queries such as ‘what did you do today and why?’. Clear targets should be set to monitor employee productivity, with good internal communication facilitated. This could include the completion of certain tasks within a given time frame and virtual meetings to ensure good contact and support is maintained.
Training and briefing line managers will be key to managing homeworking successfully.
Managing homeworker misconduct
Whilst employees should be aware of your company disciplinary procedures, if you suspect them of abusing the homeworking arrangement, the reasons should always be explored in full before resorting to disciplinary procedures.
What if homeworking doesn’t work?
Homeworking isn’t right for everyone and with the correct homeworker agreement in place, employers will reserve the right to terminate temporary homeworking arrangements. However, whether employees will be permitted to return to the workplace on a permanent basis will almost certainly depend on the lifting of Government coronavirus restrictions.
Specialist HR Solutions’ Homeworking Policy and Agreement
If your business sees homeworking continuing, it will be important to formalise arrangements with your employees, to minimise employment risk to your business and to ensure employees are clear and well informed about their working arrangements.
We can help you effectively manage the shift to homeworking, by offering practical HR advice and support on getting it right and by providing you with the legal documentation you’ll need. We can provide practical training workshops for line managers and business owners on managing homeworking and returning to the office.
For more information on how we can provide you with HR advice and support on this topic, contact us on 07762 629448, or click here.
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