Working from home – the ‘new norm’?

The Government’s announcement on Tuesday 22 September 2020 means that, for many, continued or a return to homeworking, is much more likely. Further, given that the Government has indicated its current restrictions will probably continue for 6 months or so, this is unlikely to change in the short term.

Working from home can provide benefits (column 1) and challenges (column 2) to employers and employees alike. To name but a few:

Increased productivity

Reduced overheads/ cost saving

Flexibility/ diversity

Employee engagement/ job satisfaction

Wider recruitment/ employment pool

Environmental

Staff management

Staff development

Isolation

Wellbeing

Health & safety

Accordingly, we thought now was a good time to remind you of some of the issues to bear in mind.

  • Communication: This is key for both employers and employees. Communication can be harder and take more time and effort when staff are working remotely. However, arguably, it is more important than ever. Effective communication facilitates good staff management/ engagement and prevents feelings of isolation. Team/ individual meetings, calls and emails can be just as effective with staff working in different locations.
  • Managing staff: Supervising and managing staff working remotely can also be harder than in the traditional working environment. It is important for employers to communicate and monitor expectations throughout. Performance management issues may still need addressing and the employee working remotely should not prevent this, although additional factors may need to be considered (e.g. the right to be accompanied, support etc). Mutual trust is a key component to successful remote working.
  • Health & safety: Employers retain responsibility for the health and safety of their staff. However, as staff are working from their own homes, the employee also has responsibilities in this regard.
  • Disciplinary/ grievance issues: These may still arise and, if so, will need addressing. Although the process is substantially the same, employers will need to consider additional practicalities (e.g. how/ where to conduct the meeting, the right to be accompanied, support etc).
  • Systems/ technology: It is advisable for employers to check in with staff working from home to ensure their systems and technology remain fit for purpose. Particular regard should be given to issues of confidentiality, data protection and back up methods. What may be acceptable in a crisis situation may not be sufficient for long term productivity and growth. Both parties should also consider back up measures if systems or technology fail.
  • Boundaries: One of the benefits of home working can be the increased flexibility it offers. However, expectations and boundaries should be clear and adhered to as much as possible.
  • Additional pressures: Many staff have competing responsibilities, particularly caring ones. While this was a major concern for some during the initial lockdown, schools and childcare providers now remain substantially open. It is important for employers to make it clear that, although there will be exceptions, homeworking is not a substitute for childcare. However, employers should remember staff may have other caring responsibilities (e.g. elderly or sick relatives) where the support is less available.

It is advisable to have a homeworking policy to frame the arrangement.

This is a brief, general overview so do not hesitate to contact our employment law/ HR specialist Rebecca Ryan (rebecca.ryan@leedsday.co.uk; 01480 442040) if you require more tailored advice and support regarding a current issue or would like to a homeworking policy.


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