It is becoming increasingly common for traditionally office-based employees to work from home for or all of their working time. Data from the Office for National Statistics show that 4.2 million people in the UK spent at least half their working time at home in 2014.
Some businesses maintain that they can only thrive if they have all of their employees under the same roof at the same time. On the other hand, others point to reduced costs, reduced office space, increased productivity that comes with a happier workforce, and the ability to adapt to what could otherwise be disruptive factors.
It is about finding a balance between what works for the employer and what is good for the employees. Assuming, as an employer, you are minded to agree to an employee or employees working from home, what should you consider before home working is agreed? Here are ten factors to consider:
#1. Is the job suitable?
Not all jobs can be done remotely. You will need to consider whether the role can be performed just as well away from the office by someone working on their own. You will also need to be satisfied that the employee will be happy spending long periods of time alone, and self-disciplined enough not to waste their time watching television or being unduly distracted by domestic matters.
#2. How will you manage employees who work from home?
You will need to determine what level of contact is expected between the manager, team members and the employee. Discussions may be required about working time, and whether the employee will be required to be in the office on certain days, or for team meetings, and whether office time will vary according to needs of the business.
If the arrangements are to work, it is essential that there is trust between the home-worker and their manager.
#3. Does the employee have somewhere suitable to work from?
The popular image of someone working from home is that they spend their time sitting on the sofa wearing their pyjamas with a laptop computer balanced precariously on their lap while they drink yet another mug of coffee. This is far from ideal and may soon cause health problems arising from poor posture.
So, it is important that the employee has somewhere suitable from which to work and that includes having a suitable chair and a table of the correct height. Not only that, it must not be used at the same time for a conflicting purpose.
Here is a real example from some years back from a company I then worked for. That company employed a number of document consultants who worked from home. One was married to a pub landlord whose inn provided hot and cold food that was prepared in the kitchen of the landlord’s flat above the pub. It was from there that my then colleague worked while the inn’s staff prepared food around her using the same table. There was also the inevitable electric cable for the laptop computer trailing across the floor of the busy kitchen. Needless to say, these working arrangements were stopped immediately when they became known. That leads us neatly to…
#4. Health and safety
By law, all employers are responsible for their employees’ welfare, health and safety at work “so far as is reasonably practicable”, and must carry out risk assessments. This includes homeworkers. Employers should risk assess the proposed home working arrangements before they start, and conduct regular re-assessments, which may include stress, isolation, workplace equipment, first aid, and accidents.
What equipment will be used by the homeworker and who will pay for it? Will he or she provide their own device such as a computer, laptop, or tablet computer, telephone, and Internet connection? If you are providing the equipment, can the employee (and members of their family) use it for other purposes?
Disabled employees may need special equipment, you are required to provide by way of making a reasonable adjustment for their condition just as you would have to have done had that person been office-based.
If the employee is using his or her own device, you will need to ensure that suitable maintenance arrangements are in place for when IT problems arise, as they inevitably will do. Are there any other duties they can perform from home in the event of their device not working? If there are none, will the employee be required to take leave while their device is being repaired or work from the office?
If you provide the equipment, does the employee know who to call if there is a fault or breakdown? Moreover, is it practicable for the company’s I.T. support to maintain equipment that may be physically located many miles away?
#6. Data security
Employees who work from home need to understand the procedures they must follow and what is, and what is not, an authorised use of data. For example, you should consider:
Who has access to the computer or device, and to any personal data stored on it?
How and when are backups of that data to be made? How and where are those backups to be stored?
Is the employee’s home regularly left empty? Is it properly secured?
Is the software password protected and is the data encrypted?
Will paperwork and other documents be stored securely?
How is work transported from home to office and vice versa?
How will confidential waste be disposed of?
Employers who are in regulated businesses, such as financial services, will need to pay close attention to whether allowing home working contravenes any regulatory requirement imposed on both the employer and the employee. This is especially so if the employee is using their own device.
#7. Flexible working
A request to work from home may form part of a flexible working request. Any employee with at least 26 weeks service may request flexible working. Employers must consider requests in a “reasonable manner”. The ACAS Code of Practice on the right to request flexible working provides guidance that employers are expected to follow.
There is, however, no right to to be allowed to work flexibly. All the employee is entitled to is to make a request to work flexibly and to have their request dealt with reasonably.
The assumption is that if the “ACAS code of Practice on handling in a reasonable manner requests to work flexibly” is followed, the request has been dealt with reasonably.
It should be remembered that home working is not a substitute for suitable care arrangements. Whilst working flexibly can make it easier to work around drop off and pick up times, employers should make clear to the employee when working time is and what is expected of them during working time.
#8. Trial period
Not all home working arrangements are totally successful from either the employer’s point of view of from that of the employee. Having a trial period of a suitable and agreed duration is a good way to see if it really is practicable for the employee to work from home during the times they want. At the end of the trial period, both parties should have a meeting to review how successful or otherwise the home working was and what lessons can be learned from it.
#9. Will everyone want to work from home?
That is unlikely for the following reasons:
Not all office based jobs successfully lend themselves to home working;
Even where home working is practicable, some people will need to be in the office, which means the opportunity to work from home will not be open to everyone with the qualifying service; and
Not everyone will want to work from home. There is an important social aspect of working with other people. Loneliness and isolation can be serious problems for home workers.
#10. Contractual provisions
The employee’s contract of employment will need to have some special provisions that are not normally found in a traditional office-based contract of employment. These additional provisions will include:
Notifying the employer in advance of any change of the employee’s home address so that a new risk assessment may be carried out before they start work there and so that insurance cover can be transferred to their new home address;
A right for the employer and their authorised personnel to enter the employee’s home at all reasonable times by prior arrangement to conduct a risk assessment and to install, inspect, maintain, and remove the employer’s property.
With the development of the “gig economy” some employees may choose to cease being employed and provide freelance services instead. This could be particularly attractive if the employee has skills he or she can provide to several firms. Employers should take care to ensure that the employee is genuinely a self-employed freelancer, not an employee or worker in disguise.