We’ve already found out about the benefits of flexible working in your business, and one of the most popular forms of flexible working is working from home. Technological developments mean that it is possible for workers in many different roles to do their work at home, either permanently or occasionally. This can be great, and many people find they are far more productive at home than they are in the office, where there may be more frequent disturbances and distractions.
But successful homeworking needs managing carefully. Here are some tips to make sure homeworking works for your business.
It doesn’t work for everyone
While some people are more productive from home, others find it very difficult to get motivated out of the workplace environment, or may feel isolated. Similarly, some roles just aren’t suited to working from home. Even if on the face of it, the tasks involved can be done anywhere, if it is the type of role where interaction and bouncing ideas off colleagues is crucial, then prolonged homeworking may have an impact on quality. If you’re concerned, consider agreeing a trial period with the employee to assess the suitability of homeworking in the individual situation.
What about contracts?
If the homeworking arrangement is regular rather than ad hoc, or is agreed as part of a formal flexible working request, the employee’s contract will need amending, either in the form of a new contract or a letter amending the existing one. The new place of work and any other arrangements such as hours, absence arrangements, whether the homeworking days are fixed or variable, and also any work-related arrangements. You may want to consider a separate homeworking agreement outlining the roles and responsibilities of everyone involved, and giving guidance on effective working from home.
A home office
You must remember that your health and safety responsibilities as an employer are exactly the same, regardless of whether the employee is in an office or in their home. They need risk assessments on their working arrangements and equipment needs to be maintained safely. In practice, risk assessments for most homeworking roles can be carried out by the employee them self but don’t overlook your responsibilities in this area just because the employee is out of sight, and consider putting in place the right to visit and inspect your employee’s home office.
Employees should have a proper workspace, especially if it is a regular or permanent arrangement, including a desk or table at an appropriate height, a suitable chair and adequate lighting. You may need to discuss with your employee prior to the arrangement commencing who is going to provide any additional equipment that might be necessary, and also who will bear any extra costs that may arise, such as phone and broadband bills, additional heating and electricity and so on. Your employee should check whether their house insurance covers them working from home, and if not, you will need to agree who will cover any additional insurance costs involved.
What about security?
You may have a firm confidentiality clause in your employee’s contract, but when they are working in the office, this is backed up by working arrangements and an environment which means paper files and computer systems are more under your control and secure than they are in an employee’s home. Ensure that if your staff member needs to take confidential papers home, they are aware of their obligations in this area. If they are using their own computer, you must satisfy yourself that the appropriate security measures, anti-virus protection and backing up arrangements are in place, and for this reason may want to consider supplying a computer even if they are prepared to use their own.
Many homeworking arrangements come about via a formal flexible working request, which until recently have only been an avenue available to those with caring responsibilities. However agreeing to a request to work from home for this reason does not mean you need to allow your employee to be looking after their children during working hours. The vast majority of roles cannot be performed effectively while simultaneously caring for a child, and it is perfectly fine for you to specify that childcare must be in place during working hours.
Having said that, allowing ad hoc occasional homeworking for those with caring responsibilities in the event that childcare breaks down, or there is illness, may work well. Many roles are such that for the odd day, the employee can do some work during working hours while also looking after (for example) a sick child, and then make up the rest later in the evening.
Similarly, rather than employees ringing in sick or using up annual leave for domestic situations such as plumber or electrician visits, you could consider allowing staff to work at home on an ad hoc basis in those circumstances.
Obviously any ad hoc homeworking arrangements that support employees’ personal needs in this way require a certain amount of trust and monitoring, but as long as it is for emergencies only, this type of arrangement can generate a lot of goodwill and loyalty from employees and reduce other absence.
Homeworkers still need managing
Be careful your homeworkers are not out-of-sight, out-of-mind. They still need support, monitoring, guidance and contact, as well as training opportunities, appraisals and invitations to any social events. You may want to put something in their homeworking agreement or contract regarding a right to require them to come into the office on demand, which would normally be used for important meetings or for training.
What if it isn’t working?
You could put something in the contract enabling either you as the employer or either party to terminate the homeworking arrangement. However do bear in mind that if the arrangement was made as part of a formal flexible working request, this is a permanent change, and is no easier to revoke than it is to change any other of your employees’ terms and conditions. If it is a formal flexible working request, an agreed trial period is possible and will enable you to feel confident that the arrangement will work before committing to a permanent change.
If you have any further queries on flexible working in your business and need some advice,