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?