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A guide to home working

Posted on by from Taylor Vinters LLP

The number of homeworkers continues to rocket with more than 800,000 added in the last decade, bringing the total up to 4.2 million. So, why have we seen recent reversals, with companies such as Yahoo! and Google banning homeworking altogether?

Home working bandwagon

For employees, the upsides of working from home are pretty obvious; a better work/life balance, no commuting, no distractions from colleagues, a feeling of autonomy and control, more family-friendly and flexible – the list goes on. 

For employers, there are various business benefits: productivity levels tend to increase, employees tend to be happier which increases retention rates while sickness levels plummet, the talent pool widens, overheads decrease and it’s more environmentally friendly. However, the day-to-day issues of monitoring and managing homeworkers is no easy feat.

The double-edged sword of home working

Firstly, home working doesn’t suit every employee’s working style or role, with unstructured working hours and some feeling that in order to be promoted or receive recognition, you need to be “seen” by peers and management. 

Even those employees who do thrive within the flexibility of home or remote working can struggle with reduced on-hand team support and social interaction, concerns of being excluded or not ‘in the loop’ with peers, and the sense (justifiable or not) of having to over-perform to justify home working. 

Secure your systems

Home working is only made possible due to advances in technology. With an increase in company data being stored in the cloud, on portable devices, the security of sensitive information is a growing concern for employers. 

A recent study found that 78% of employers felt that the risks of network intrusion and infection were considerably higher with flexible solutions than within the internal fixed office network. Cloud computing systems pose a huge data security risk for employers, which must be considered by the relevant business department(s) in collaboration with HR to ensure employees are clear on best practice and permitted apps and cloud-based services.

HR Checklist

Here are some top tips for HR professionals to keep in mind when managing a remote workforce:

1.    Employment contracts
Review your employment contracts and homeworking policy. As well as changing the obvious clauses such as place of work, consider the travel provisions and prescribe what will and will not be reimbursed in terms of attending meetings or visiting the office. Review your provisions on confidentiality and return of confidential information and company equipment upon termination. Update your monitoring-at-work policies and also your data security policies.

2.    Remote team culture
Breed a culture where homeworkers feel integrated and as much a part of the team as office-based employees. Ensure that they are invited to all work meetings, and social events (even if they fall on a day when the employee is normally working from home). 

3.    Workforce dialogue
Give your workforce a voice and listen to it. Allow them the flexibility to say if they want to come back to the office if for whatever reason homeworking is no longer working for them. Listening to your employees and giving them an option to work from home or the office is likely to mean that they will do what is right for them and for the business.

4.    Technology provision
Insist your home workers use secure company laptops where anti virus software is regularly updated and the laptop can easily be returned on termination of employment. Office equipment such as computers, tablets and printers should be treated in the same way as mobile phones or other technology that leaves the controlled environment of the office building.

5.    Working environment
The employer’s duty to ensure a safe working environment extends to those who are working from their homes. Consider ways you can provide the same safe working environment as for office-based employees. For example, provide for rest breaks and offer a workstation assessment. 

While an occupational health visit might prevent poor practices such as sitting cross-legged on a sofa and balancing a laptop on a cushion on one’s lap, it won’t capture deeper issues such as addictions, stress or depression which may be more visible or harder to hide with office-based employees. This highlights the importance of open communication, suitable monitoring methods, and developing a healthy and robust remote team culture.

Also, consider making the office workplace more comfortable; many companies have seen huge benefits of having ‘chill-out zones’ with sofas, sleep pods and ‘break-out’ areas at the workplace.

6.    Disciplinary procedures
Set clear definable tasks that can be easily monitored to avoid employees feeling like their employer is “big brother spying”, which will make your workforce feel uneasy and distrusted; some employers use accountability systems such as key stroke recognition, webcams and screenshot monitoring, which could pose a legal threat to an employee’s right to privacy.

Use the phone more and check in with your homeworkers intermittently and at unscheduled times, both to see their availability and task progress but also to ensure they feel supported and able to flag up issues quickly. Take steps to deal with those you identify as abusing home working arrangements in accordance with your existing disciplinary or capability procedures.

Anita  Rai

By Anita Rai

Taylor Vinters LLP

Anita Rai is an employment law partner at Taylor Vinters LLP.

 Taylor Vinters LLP

Taylor Vinters LLP

Taylor Vinters LLP is an international law firm in London, Cambridge and Singapore, specialising in technology, investment and private client.

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