Many have found themselves suddenly working from home in 2020, with no plan or policy. The reality is in a pandemic, packing up the computer and taking it home to work is relatively easy, most have been able to make do. Longer term, issues will begin to arise and if homeworking is set to be a permanent fixture a policy will ensure decisions are made up front and everyone is clear on both their requirements and entitlements. When planning for homeworking what do you need to think about and what should be in a homeworking policy?
Homeworking means different things in different organisations and even within organisations, be clear on the definitions. Is homeworking enforced, a contractual requirement? Is it optional? Or is the role mainly office based but requests can be made to work from home?
If working from home, is the individual expected to be at an office set up in their home or can they work from anywhere? Is this person expected to be at home working most of the time or are they field based, travelling out to clients and only at home when not on client sites?
The individuals contract of employment should clearly define their working location, including requirements to travel to an alternative location. Their main location of work could be an office with options to work from home, their main location could be their home with either options or requirements to travel into the office. It is certainly useful if an individual is based from home to have a contractual requirement to travel to either a specific office location or requirement to travel for face to face meetings as required.
Degree of Flexibility
How much flexibility is permitted around homeworking? Not just where they work but also when. Is there an expectation that a regular start and finish time is adhered to or are you offering complete work “where and when you work best” policy? Define the requirements based on what you need from individuals, consider the type of work they do and the need to work with others.
Provision of Equipment
Decide what equipment the company will provide, consider desks, chairs, phones, monitors, docking stations. Safety equipment such as foot rests, wrist rests, fire extinguishers may need to be provided.
The organisation may want to supply internet connections, either putting in a dedicated line, making payment towards the individuals domestic line or they may expect the employee to provide this. There are advantages to separate internet connections including security, business contracts with business support from broadband companies and remote access into machines for maintenance and support.
If the company supplies equipment, define any permitted personal use. If requiring employees to supply their own you may want a contractual requirement to maintain such equipment. Specify what happens if vital equipment such as an internet connection is not available, what back ups are possible or required? Consider how equipment will be supplied. Does the employee purchase and claim back on expenses or does the company order centrally? If there are costs of installation who will cover this? What about if the employee moves house and new installation is required?
What can be expensed? Consider stationary, printer inks, equipment, postage - what is needed? Is it purchased and expensed or purchased centrally?
Is the organisation going to contribute to employees costs of working from home? There are limits on contributions that are not taxable, is the employer planning to pay this or require the employee to organise their own tax situation?
When is travel expensed? Travel to locations other than the normal location of work would normally be expensed. This is one reason it is important to have defined the arrangement, occasional homeworking would not normally attract expenses for travel into the office whilst being based from home would attract expenses for travel to the office.
What about meals? When are meals expensed? Is there a requirement to be away from the home for a particular amount of time? Can the employee claim expenses for their lunch or only when required to make a purchase to use a location for meetings?
Are there times the cost of temporary or hot desking facilities could be claimed? There are potential benefits to working in these locations and therefore covering the costs may be beneficial.
Consider what can and cannot be expensed and ensure the policy is clear.
Communication is often listed as a negative of homeworking, it doesn’t need to be, if planned well and the right resources are put in place. It’s easy in an office environment not to think about communication and assume it happens naturally, the reality is people will still complain about lack of communication. Homeworking can force organisations to overcome this by having to think about communication.
Consider what needs to be communicated, messages that just need cascading, two way communication, internal and external requirements. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and over communicate. A common mistake is excessive meetings resulting in lower productivity as more talking is done than tasks actually achieved, not to mention the negative impact on morale of excessive meetings.
Once you know what you’re communicating, consider how, when is a meeting the best option? Should email or instant messaging be used? Is video calling really needed or can you just pick up the phone? Is etiquette needed around planning phone and video calls or is it acceptable just to call someone?
Communication works better when using the right systems for the job and people know how to use the systems properly. Don’t forget allowing for informal communication, this happens in the office and is part of team building, ensure colleagues have opportunities for informal communication.
The policy should clearly show how performance is managed for homeworkers, although it may just be a reference to another more detailed performance management policy.
When someone is working from home, they cannot be seen, you can no longer judge but how long they are in the office. Simply because they sent an email at 6am and another at 10pm doesn’t mean this is the hours they were working. Whilst this may be seen as a disadvantage it should be turned to an advantage. Seeing someone sitting in a chair has never been a good indicator of performance, focus on the outcomes you’re expecting from that individual and measure performance on achievement of those outcomes.
Whether the individual is working with personnel data covered under the General Data Protection Regulations or confidential company data, consider how you will keep data secure. Detail expectations on individuals, such as locking devices as well as the security on those devices.
Health and Safety
As the employer you are responsible for the health and safety of employees when working from home. Your policy should detail obligations on the employee, such as the completion of Display Screen Equipment assessments and when and how electrical equipment will be PAT tested.
Access to their Home
There may be legitimate reasons for an employer to require access to an individuals home, such as for the installation, set-up or maintenance of equipment or to carry out health and safety assessments.
Consider not only physical access to the home but also remote access to devices as carrying out these activities on an employees personal internet connections may be restricted and carry risk to the individual.
Your policy should detail when and why the employer may require access to an individual’s home.
Practical Recommendations for Employees
Your policy should recommend individuals make the appropriate checks on their mortgage or rental agreements as well as home insurance to ensure working from home is permitted.
Recommend that employees have a dedicated workspace that they can shut away when not working and is safe and comfortable. This will not only help with productivity whilst working but also support their time away from work. Rest time away from work is important for maintaining good mental wellbeing. It is easier to merge work and home when everything is done in the same building, whilst this has it’s benefits employees should be supported to make the most of those benefits whilst ensuring they can close down and have a break.
Preparing a homeworking policy will ensure everyone knows what is expected and allows decisions to be made in advance. In addition to your policy, support those working from home by ensuring they have the right training, skills and resources to do the job and fully use the tools provided. Those who have never managed homeworkers before may need additional support to adapt management styles to new ways of working.
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Article last updated: 7 December 2020
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