Homeworking – is it time to abandon the office? With an uncertain economic future and some proof that working from home can be effective it could be the time to appraise whether the practice can work in the long term.
At first it seems attractive and homeworking is often high on employees’ lists when they request flexible working.
There are benefits for employer and employee
- Lower overheads with less need for office space
- Employees can focus their time and energy that they would otherwise lose on commuting (and that provides climate benefits too)
- Potentially more flexible hours perhaps particularly for out-of-hours responses (although you should agree these and not, of course, take advantage)
- Asynchronous work – meaning fewer interruptions and greater creativity and productivity
- For the employee it may be easier to manage childcare
There can be drawbacks too
- Stress – some of this will be particularly pertinent to the current lockdown:
- Isolation especially for those who live alone – work has a social aspect
- Family stresses – there has been a 50% rise in domestic violence calls during the lockdown
- Small flats may not provide adequate workspace
- Shared flats could raise GDPR issues and company espionage
- Lower exercise – most commutes involve some walking at least
- Humour can be lost – workplace banter does have a role
- Like any lifestyle change it will bring some stress just because of the need to adjust
- Aside from wellbeing there may be health and safety considerations:
- Ergonomic compromises on workstations
- Slips trips and falls
- Lone working
- Mental health
- Tone and nuance:
- I like to quote Tony Blair crossing the Atlantic immediately after 9/11. Blair felt the tone and nuance of a face-to-face meeting with Bush was crucial. His flight was the only one to cross the Atlantic that day.
- The most up-to-date conferencing software struggles to convey nuance and to some degree tone.
- Teamworking means the total output is greater than the sum of the individual components – being present means the opportunity to bounce ideas off each other spontaneously. Whether video conferencing can achieve this is open to question.
- Incidental training. How often have you turned to a colleague and asked: “Do you know how to do xyz”?
- Collaboration is easier when colleagues are present.
- Send a “Hello” email every morning that the employee works and encourage others to do the same.
- Make use of enterprise networking and project software such as Trello, Slack and Yammer.
- Have a scheduled “coffee break” online using conference software. These give the opportunity for some small talk and enable employees to stay connected. Especially important during the lockdown and for lone workers.
- Introduce guided mediations, which law firm Pinsent Masons have done.
- Review your employee assistance options – HR is the last department a troubled employee will call. Is this surprising?
- Outside of the lockdown, ensure a reasonable amount of face-to-face contact. Especially if there is no video conferencing, it at least facilitates working relationships if you can put a face to a name.
- See also: New ways of working – tips to stay ahead
Other action points…
- Have policies to cover:
- Use of the employee’s own device (e.g. Smartphone)
- Social Networking
- Data Protection
- Health and safety
- Make sure you are satisfied with the employee’s workstation and environment
- Retain the right to do a risk assessment of the home workplace
- Ensure their, and your, insurance policies cover the homeworking (Employers Liability Insurance Certificates can be made available electronically)
- Provide clarity on:
- reporting relationships
- performance management
- expenses employees might incur.
- How you will communicate on an ongoing basis
- How to encourage and motivate homeworking employees
- How you will listen
- Training on time management
- What other training employees may need
Malcolm Martin FCIPD
Author Human Resource Practice
Blogs are for general guidance and are not an authoritative statement of the law.