In what seems an age ago, on 23 March 2020 the Prime Minister instructed the country to only leave home for very limited circumstances. This included travelling to and from work, but only where this is absolutely necessary, and work cannot be done from home.
Since that date employers have made arrangements for employees to work from home, wherever possible. For some companies, who have working from home (or remote working) arrangements in place for some time this was business as usual, but for many organisations having en-masse working from home arrangements were brought in at speed to enable business to continue.
So where are we now? It looks like these hastily introduced arrangements look to be required for sometime. A recent CIPD survey, which surveyed 1,046 UK employers organisations reported the average proportion of the workforce conducting their roles from home continuously was more than half (54%).
Some businesses are reviewing their structures to reduce or remove the need for office space, as part of cost cutting measures. Some businesses are bringing some staff back to the workplace, by operating rotational working arrangements.
In all cases however, the employer has legal obligations towards their workforce and it is important to review arrangements and ensure that, as an employer, you are meeting your these responsibilities.
So, what should employers consider when introducing home/agile working:
1. Employee contracts
An employee can request to work from home (or work remotely) and if agreed this constitutes a change in their contract of employment.
If the employer requires the employee to work remotely a consultation exercise would be needed to seek agreement. If the employee doesn’t agree to the change, perhaps citing their health, the lack of working space then the employer will need to decide if they want to impose this change, and potentially risk a breach of contract.
Employers also need to be aware of potential discrimination when considering requests to work remotely, or in creating plans of who can work from home.
Some employees are not able to work from home due to their circumstances or because of the role they have.
2. Productivity and management
Many organisations have reported an increase in productivity, others are bringing employees back as they believe productivity has fallen.
The CIPD survey found that of the 44% of employers who reported putting in place additional measures to support home working in the future, 46% were looking to invest in line manager training specifically focussed on supporting and managing home workers.
To ensure that remote working is successful this means that managers need to be equipped to hold virtual meetings, manage performance remotely and approach catch up, welfare and other meetings differently.
3. Health and safety
An employer remains responsible for taking reasonable steps to protect the physical and mental health and safety of homeworkers. Many employees ‘made do’ with home furniture, however as lockdown restrictions have eased it is now possible to conduct risk assessments to establish any risks and identify measures to reduce those risks. A good example is workstation assessments.
Employers must not overlook these health and safety responsibilities if they agree to a long term remote working arrangement.
There are many benefits to working remotely, including the reduction in travel time, the opportunity for a better work-life balance, but it has been reported during the pandemic that many employees have been struggling with their mental health, due to lack of contact with the workplace and colleagues.
Indeed, for many employees the ‘water cooler’ moments and interacting with colleagues are key parts of their engagement with their role and their employer. Other issues have been reported, such as not being able to ‘switch off’ as the workplace has become the same space as the home.
If someone works at home permanently their employer has to be mindful of the effect that isolation and reduced human interaction can have on mental well-being and take steps to counteract such issues manifesting themselves.
4. Data Protection
As many employers are aware the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) mean that personal data has to be protected. Businesses will already have clear policies in place around Data Protection, but these will require a review to ensure that employees are clear how the Regulations impact or change how they work, if they are based remotely.
Employers should consider how data is protected if physical information is moved from the workplace, who may have access to information in the home, how information can be confidentially stored, and measures to reduce removing data from secure storage systems. Of course, there could be a technological solution to these issues, but employees should be made aware of their responsibilities towards data protection.
As part of Data Protection considerations, are there any security issues with using technology remotely, such as encryption for devices, secure internet connections or any potential data breaches as a result of stolen or lost devices? This may mean engaging specialist IT services.
It is recommended that a Data Protection Impact Assessment risk assessment is undertaken to identify and minimise the data protection risks of remote working. The ICO has a useful resource. (DIPA)
At the start of the pandemic employees worked using their PCs or laptops on home furniture. This might be a dining room table, kitchen chair etc. For others their bedroom became their office.
If an employee is a remote worker then the responsibility to provide suitable equipment for employees remains the employers. For traditionally office-based roles, this could mean providing office furniture (a suitable chair and desk) or other equipment. The responsibility for maintaining this equipment is also the employers. This extends to providing any technology, such as a PC, printer, telephony equipment and employers must be sure that all equipment provided is safe to use.
Providing this equipment is likely to have cost implications.
6. Expenses, insurance and tax implications
As well as providing the equipment the employee needs to do their job, there are other requirements such as Broadband/Wi-fi, telephone lines and any additional utility bills. Household insurance premiums may also be impacted if the permanent workplace is in the home. Where an employee's workplace is their home, the employee is likely to expect the employer to cover these increased costs. The employee may also have to check with their insurer or mortgage provider that they can work from home.
Any policies that are in place need to reflect who will be responsible for any additional expenditure, how any tax relief from working from home will be dealt with and if these changes impact areas such as claims for mileage allowance. (Given the workplace is no longer the business address).
7. Policies, procedures and expectations
Finally, many policies and procedures are written on the basis that employees are based in the employer’s premises. Policies may need to be reviewed to be clear on expectations around areas such as:
Engagement with managers or other colleagues
Providing professional development opportunities
Ensuring sickness leave is recorded
Working hours and ensuring annual leave is taken
Dealing with remote working requests
There is much to consider when moving to a more agile workforce and it is important these areas are considered as part of any agreements to work from home, or any plans to introduce home-working arrangements.
If you haven’t reviewed your policies and procedures I can help, so please get in touch.