February 20, 2018

The rules around working from home

There has been a huge increase in the numbers of people working from home in recent years. According to research by the TUC, nearly a quarter of a million (241,000) more people worked from home in 2016 than in the previous decade, which was an increase of 19%. This increase includes people who work almost entirely from home and people who work sometimes from home (the latter is sometimes called telecommuting).

A lot of employees like being able to work from home. It’s a form of flexible working and being able to take advantage of it can lead to all sorts of benefits, such as cutting down on commuting time, the ability to achieve a better work life balance and the ability to work in a job that otherwise would have been impractical due to distances.

Another reason that many employees like it is because they say they get more done working from home than they do in a noisy office. Research by cloud managed services provider CoSo Cloud found that of the 39% of survey respondents who work remotely at least a few times a month, 77% report higher levels of productivity when working off site, with 30% saying they achieve more in less time and 24% saying they achieve more in the same amount of time. Not only that – some people are willing to work longer hours (23%) than they would onsite and 52% are less likely to take time off when working remotely, even when they are sick.

Given these statistics, perhaps it’s not surprising that plenty of employers also think homeworking is a good idea.

However, homeworking isn’t always plain sailing and it does need careful managing. The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) has produced a document that focuses entirely on how to make homeworking work. Called ‘Home is where the Heart is: A new study of homeworking in Acas – and beyond’, it details what employers need to think about. It includes the following:

– establish whether or not the job is suitable for homeworking. Not all jobs are
– think about how team working is going to be managed
– how will face to face supervision be managed?
– What equipment is necessary? Is it practical and cost effective to provide it in a person’s home?
– What equipment/tasks/events can only take place in the office

On top of these considerations, employers also need to think about how the individual will manage homeworking. Will the employee be able to handle long periods of being on their own? Will they work well without much supervision? Are they self motivated and self disciplined? And will they be able to draw a line between their work life and home life? Far from slacking off when working at home, Acas said homeworkers and partial homeworkers are more likely to clock up more hours than their office counterparts. On the flipside, homeworkers and partial homeworkers report significantly lower levels of work-related stress than office workers. But, homeworkers are more likely to report feelings of isolation.

The Acas report suggests that partial homeworking is the best option, if possible, giving employees the flexibility to work from home, lower levels of stress and higher levels of wellbeing.

But, managers need to be aware that supporting homeworkers and partial homeworkers is different to supporting office-based staff. Even when people are out of the office, they need to be kept in the loop, kept up to date with what is happening in the office and in the organisation and what colleagues and peers are doing. There needs to be high levels of trust between managers, workers and colleagues.

Managers need to set and communicate clear expectations about how the set-up will work and agree it with any homeworkers. And managers may need to communicate some of this with the wider team – such as ensuring face to face meetings aren’t arranged on a day that the partial homeworker doesn’t come into the office or that teleconferencing is set up.

Even when an employee is partially or entirely based, the employer still has a duty of care towards the employee during their working hours. That means getting all the normal HR stuff right, plus health and safety – ensuring the employee has the right desk, etc.

Some organisations insist that homeworkers work set hours, much as in an office. Others are happy to let homeworkers set their own hours or work on a more ad hoc basis, taking the approach that it’s output that counts, rather than hours. Whatever approach an organisation takes, it needs to be clear and it needs to be agreed. There are no hard and fast rules, unless you make them.

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