It is an understood, and understandable, fact that people at all stages of their career work best when they are able to achieve an appropriate balance between work and all other aspects of their lives, not least because it reduces the stress and strain of keeping the domestic, professional and social plates spinning. HR consultant Tara Daynes explains how allowing key employees the occasional felexibility to work from home might benefit your bottom line.
Most organisations should recognise that effective practices to promote work-life balance will benefit
Whether on an ad-hoc basis rather or through a formal flexible working arrangement, there are business advantages to arrangements which allow certain staff to work from home.
both the organisation and its employees, and employees should be valued for their contribution to the business (their output) rather than their working pattern (their input). It is a joint responsibility between the organisation and its employees to discuss workable solutions, but one of the most common is working from home.
Whether on an ad-hoc basis rather or through a formal flexible working arrangement, there are business advantages to arrangements which allow certain staff to work from home on occasions. Home working can be very efficient and productive use of staff time, and is now even more feasible given advances in technology, such as remote access to networks, web-based email, the Cloud etc. Working from home can be an effective way of clearing paperwork or doing work which requires concentration and where an employee needs to be free from distractions (although it is arguable that the TV/cat/children/fridge could constitute quite palpable distractions!)
As well as the practicalities, there can be a huge positive impact on employee relations. Showing that you trust your employees enough, and are flexible enough, to let them work from home can be extremely encouraging for staff. It demonstrates that you value them by recognising and accommodating their needs. And this increases their loyalty to, and engagement with, the organisation – leading to more productive, effective staff.
Working from home is most suitable for staff whose work can be done remotely and in isolation, e.g. writing papers, policy documents or complex material, dealing with emails, IT etc. It is less suitable for those who need to deal directly, on a day-to-day basis, with customers and/or with colleagues, such as through meetings or presentations. That said, thanks to technology such as Skype, conference calls, dialling in to meetings, webinars and podcasts, people can be ‘virtually’ in the same place at the same time!
Having a proportion of your team working from home (or from someone else’s home, or from a train, or from a coffee shop – in fact from anywhere with a phone, laptop and an Internet connection) can save the business a lot in space, travel and other overheads. In fact, some smaller organisations have embraced the ‘virtual office’ so much that they have done away with a workspace altogether, in favour of staff all working remotely. But before you send everyone home with a new Blackberry, there are plenty of things to think about when considering ‘working from home’ arrangements.
When the cat’s away, what will the mice do? Managers who wish to work from home should think about their team – are they diligent and self-sufficient enough to be remotely managed, or are there some people who will need more close supervision? The same applies in reverse – while productivity could theoretically increase when people work at home, there is the danger that the opposite could happen unless proper monitoring processes are in place.
To deal with this, the member of staff must be accountable for the work they complete at home. Managers should be advised beforehand of the work to be undertaken, and, on return to the office, evidence of work produced should be available if necessary. The member of staff should be contactable at home by phone and email (but not badgered every half hour – trust and employee empowerment are critical to keeping staff motivated.)
Careful workload planning will probably be needed, so that the homeworkers have enough to keep them occupied throughout the day, and won’t be succumbing to daytime TV by mid-afternoon. Think about the work that can and cannot be done from home, and ensure that people manage their time and diaries so that they can make the best use of their time at home.
Be aware that you have less control over what happens to confidential work information when it is off your premises, whether that is hard copies or electronic. As data controller, you are responsible under the Data Protection Act for your client information, plus you will want to ensure your own organisation information is kept secure. So be sure to manage the risk by checking that anyone taking home or accessing data remotely is able to follow security procedures. This may be technological – such as passwording documents and laptops - or organisational, such as keeping filing cabinets locked.
Just because staff are working from home doesn’t absolve an employer from their duty of care or other legal obligations, such as the Working Time regulations and health and safety issues. Staff should have appropriate equipment and facilities to work from home – this may involve a workstation Risk Assessment being carried out by a trained employee. Sitting of the sofa with a laptop is fine for the odd half-hour, but for full days of homeworking, a properly set up workstation will be needed.
Staff have some personal responsibility too though, and should ensure they manage their time effectively, allowing for a lunch break of least 30 minutes. That said, there are no rules to say that an eight-hour working day has to take place between 9am and 5.30pm – homeworkers may well start a bit later and continue through to the evening, if that suits their domestic commitments such as the school run. Staff should ensure though that their working conditions are appropriate and that there are no distractions that may compromise the quality of their work, such as childcare responsibilities.
It’s a good idea to formalise your rules and procedures around homeworking in a documented policy, particularly with reference to work monitoring, equipment, IT and data security, the health and safety side and Risk Assessments. The HSE ‘Homeworking’ guidance document is very useful on this last area, referring not just to VDUs and workstations, but also manual handling, use of electrical items and substances hazardous to health.
Finally, invest some time and effort in training, so that all your careful planning and policy-making doesn’t go to waste! Homeworkers will need training in data protection, security measures and workstation health and safety. Managers will need training on the people management techniques needed to manage staff remotely and ensure work gets done effectively and efficiently.
With the right planning and preparation though, homeworking can save you money and provide you with more engaged, productive and happy employees – so you should see a return on that investment.