The years 202o and 2021 saw a dramatic increase in homeworking due to COVID – 19. Homeworking is a valuable tool for the employer and also employees.
This is an effective home working guide for employers.
What is Homeworking?
Homeworking is a form of flexible working policy that involves the use of technology to enable employees/home workers to work away from the employer’s office. In this system, employees can either be mobile, based at home, or work from home occasionally. Homeworking has benefits to the employers but it requires policies and procedures to run smoothly and that is what this guide is about.
Types of Homeworking
This type of homeworking is frequent and is done on an ad-hoc basis. This can happen when there is a specific task the employee needs to do that requires concentration without regular office interruptions. This can also occur in cases of illness or adverse weather conditions. To authorize such a request the needs of the company has to be considered.
Regular homeworking is an agreement where the employee or home worker spends more than fifty percent of their contracted time working from home. The regular homeworker is to meet certain targets that have been agreed upon with the employer. To become a regular homeworker the employee has to put in a formal request to the employer. This formal response has to be reviewed and carefully considered by the employer or HR.
For this type of work, the employee spends a hundred percent of their time working from home. This also includes employees that permanently visit sites from their home base. This should be included in the employee contract. This kind of contract works best where the employee has an autonomous job. A formal request has to be filed before a permanent homeworking contract can be granted.
Benefits of Having Homeworkers for the Employer
Homeworking Increases Productivity
Working from home helps the homeworker to avoid the possible distractions that can occur in the office. This improves output and increases productivity. It can also improve the quality of work of homeworkers who value working from home as their work-life balance is improved. This can also lead to a greater commitment from homeworkers.
Homeworking Reduces Overhead
Having homeworkers can reduce overhead costs. If employees work from home, less office space will be used. This will, in turn, lead to a reduction in rent, utility bill and business rates. Also, if the business is expanding and needs more space it may be cost-effective to have where possible some employees work from home in order to create more space.
Homeworking for More Diverse Workforces
Having a flexible system where employees can work from home means that the firm will be able to capture a diverse group of employees. Disabled people for example or a mother will be able to get involved. This means that your firm is open to more ideas and talents. Each individual has their unique way of doing things and this may help the company grow.
Improvement in Company Reputation
Having a reputation for flexibility might be a plus and be attractive to talented employees. Having this reputation may also help attract more customers to your firm as well as stakeholders. There are benefits to being seen as a flexible firm and it may help with word-of-mouth advertisement.
Having a rigid system means that you are restricted to a particular region and territory. But with a flexible system, you do not have to consider geography as you can employ bright minds in a completely different country or continent. The flexibility of home working also helps you retain current employees. If for example, an employee has to move they can continue working for the company.
Reduced Carbon Emissions
Employees having to show up at work every day means that they contribute daily to pollution in society. Allowing some employees to work from home may be a way of showing that you care about the environment by reducing the number of pollution employees cause daily through commuting.
Some Possible Pitfalls of Homeworking
It is important to know the possible things to consider so you watch out for them and deal with them properly.
Separating home life from work life may be hard for the homeworker
The homeworker may easily let their work-life take over their home life and this can begin to affect their wellbeing. It may be necessary to produce a working guide for the employee or give regular breaks. It is also important to regularly check on the homeworkers.
For homeworking to function effectively there has to be proper management in place. This is more demanding than it would have been in an office building. There has to be greater trust between the homeworker and management. Also, effective communication tools should be set up for easy communication between the homeworker and the manager.
There may be some initial cost for setting up homeworking. This might include the cost of setting up communication tools, video calls but this initial cost will eventually even out with the cost saved from overheads due to reduced staff in the office. So, the savings may be greater in the long run for the company.
Access to employee representatives
Even though employees are working from home they still need to be able to communicate with their representatives i.e. trade union. As an employer, you should take reasonable steps for this to happen. You can have a space in the office for employees to meet with their representatives for example.
Homeworkers as carers
When a homeworker is also a carer you have to ensure that they know work time should not be used for caring for dependents. You should inform them that they are to create alternative arrangements for their dependents to be looked after by someone else during work time. This should be arranged before the employee becomes a homeworker.
The Legal Issues Around Homeworking
Health and safety of the homeworker
The health and safety requirements apply to homeworkers; therefore, you owe your homeworkers a duty of care. As an employer, you have to conduct an appropriate risk assessment to ensure that the ventilation, lighting, chair, table, computer, or any other work essentials in the proposed workplace is suitable for the work needed to be done.
This risk assessment must be carried out with the proposed homeworker’s task in mind. You are required to supply the employee with essential equipment. If there is any dysfunction to be rectified after the home assessment, it is the role of the employee to rectify this. It is also the role of the homeworker to keep the workplace safe after it has passed the risk assessment and they are required to inform you of any change in the workplace.
Handling an employee’s flexible working request
Employees with 26 weeks of service can request to work flexibly. You are not obligated to accept such a request but there has to be a reasonable reason for refusing it. You have to properly communicate and explain this reason to the employee. The law sets out eight possible reasons for refusal:
- It will place a burden of additional costs on the firm
- It will have a detrimental effect on the company’s ability to meet its customer’s demands
- The company is unable to reorganize work among its current employees
- The company is unable to take on new employees
- Homeworking will affect the quality of work produced
- It will affect the performance of the employee
- There is insufficient work during the employee’s proposed work period
- There are planned structural changes
Supervision and support of homeworkers
A homeworker is still subject to the same support and supervision given to an on-site worker. There should be regular daily appraisals with the supervisor. The supervisor should also be quick to pick up on signs of stress or difficulty and it should be dealt with immediately. The appraisal, reporting, and support system should be agreed on from the onset. There should also be enough opportunity for the homeworker’s work to be reviewed and a system in place to track the progress of the homeworker. If a homeworker complains that their health is being affected this should be raised immediately and the homeworker referred to appropriate care. As well as a risk assessment it may also be important to carry out a stress risk assessment and issues raised should be addressed.
Confidentiality and data security
Data security obligations do not change simply because an employee is now a homeworker. Regardless of the location, work is carried out by the employer and the employee is still; bound by GDPR and other data security laws. The homeworker must be reminded of this. It is also important to assess equipment provided to homeworkers during a risk assessment to see if they comply with data protection laws.
The tax status of an employee does not change simply because they are now a homeworker. The income tax and national insurance contribution should still be removed from the employee’s salary. It is important to inform your employees about the possible tax implications involved with homeworking. In the course of carrying out their job, the homeworker may need to purchase additional equipment. You can pay tax-free payments to employees to cover the additional cost involved with homeworking.
Under the Working Time Regulations 1998, the time an employee spends commuting to work does not count as working time. However, for a homeworker, the time spent commuting to the employer’s premises counts as working time. It is important to agree on the working times with the homeworker from the onset. It should be agreed if it will be a strict working time or flexible. If it is flexible core hours should be agreed and if it is fixed then breaks should be agreed on. This will help you ensure your employees are not overworking. Whilst agreeing on the working time it is important to ensure that homeworkers do not exceed the 48-hour limit on their working week and remember the traveling time adds to this. The only exception is if they have opted out of the maximum hours’ limit.
There is some mortgage agreement that prohibits the use of the property for business purposes without consent. It is important to remind employees to check their lease and obtain consent from their mortgage provider to work from home where stated. The homeworker should also get confirmation of cover from their home insurer in case a piece of work equipment causes damage. It should also be agreed from the onset if you will cover the extra premium.
Is Homeworking the Right Choice for Your Organization?
One effect of COVID-19 is the increase in homeworking. This type of flexibility has many benefits to the employer. It reduces cost, increases the quality and quantity of work, gives the company a good reputation, and gives the employer a wider range of choices. Before deciding to allow home working, it is important to consider the initial cost involved, if you can manage employees from home, how to give homeworkers access to their representative and how to handle a homeworker that is also a carer.
You should also be aware of the legal issues involved such as data security, health and safety of homeworkers, support of homeworkers, and basic things that should be agreed on from the outset. With the advancement of technology and the flexibility the 21st century brings, homeworking is definitely something to consider and implement where appropriate.