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June 24, 2020
Homeworking: The New Normal?
In the urgency of the COVID-19 lockdown, many employers implemented homeworking provisions on the hoof. This frequently meant only cursory consideration of key provisions more normally considered in detail.
No risk assessments or consideration of ergonomics; a kitchen chair, table and laptop would do. Failing to consider the potential impact on contractual terms and conditions of employment. Failing to assess risks to business security – equipment, systems, data and confidentiality. And, of course, we’ve all got used to ill-timed interruptions from younger family members and “noises off” from pets during important business calls! All this was understandable. COVID-19 did not announce itself with a 30 day consultation period.
Is working from home soon to be the norm?
Word on the street suggests that homeworking may well become the “new normal” for many roles. Certainly, various surveys project that a significant majority of staff are currently reluctant to return to their workplace and this is compounded by school closures and lack of childcare facilities. And, of course, there’s a financial bonus if you to agree homeworking and downsize your physical premises.
Also, it’s worth bearing in mind that an employee can initiate a statutory request for flexible working and, often, this includes homeworking. Now they’ve tasted it, more statutory requests will undoubtedly follow.
Here’s some important considerations, but we’re not for a moment suggesting they’re exhaustive:
Are the provisions safe? Have you risk assessed the employee’s home facilities?
Is the arrangement suitable for the particular employee? Could it affect their mental wellbeing? And will they cope with the potential isolation homeworking can bring?
Consultation – have you had a proper conversation with the employee about this? Or are you reacting to an employee’s statutory approach under flexible working legislation?
What about the legalities? The impact on their contractual terms? Health and safety responsibilities you both still have? Data protection?
Are their premises secure? Do they have a discrete, ergonomically sound work-space where things can be locked away safely?
Interruptions and confidentiality – are you satisfied that they will be able to work normally? Will other occupants distract them or place confidentiality at risk?
How do you ensure cyber security and protect confidential data? Do they use their own computer, broadband or telephone? What virus protection etc. do you/they have? Are confidential communications encrypted? Do staff understand the importance of data protection compliance? Do you?
Insurance – is there any impact on your employer liability insurance? Is your equipment covered for loss, theft or damage in their home? Does their own home insurance cover or exclude it?
Leases and mortgages – is there anything in their rental, lease or mortgage agreement that prevents them working from home?
Managing employees who work from home
And, of course, you still need to be able to manage the work properly. You may be thinking more about what you need to do to ensure they work their full hours. Actually, getting a homeworker to switch off at the end of their working day is sometimes equally, if not more, important.
You need to lose that mental image of ranks of desks fronted by a supervisor. Control and direction or micro-management do not lend themselves well to homeworking. Trust, empowerment and facilitation may well need to become your new watchwords.
So how will you handle this “new normal”? Best practice suggests you allocate work in short, clear, manageable chunks. How does this impact your previous ways of working? Are your line managers fully briefed? How will everyone communicate? A daily “what did you do today and why” interrogation is certainly not the answer.
Moorepay’s homeworking consultancy
If you see homeworking continuing more permanently, it’s important to get things right. Now is an ideal time to review your provisions very thoroughly.
Mike is a Senior HR Consultant within the Moorepay Policy Team. He is responsible for the developing of employment documentation and is an Employment law advisor. With over 30 years of senior management and HR experience, Mike has managed teams of between 30 and 100 employees and is familiar with all the issues that employing people brings.
He has also served as a non-executive director on the Boards of several social enterprises and undertook a five year tour of duty as Executive Chair of a £30+ million annual turnover Government agency.