With it being easier than ever to keep in touch with the office, without the need to be desk bound, more and more employees are working from home, or are in roles involving travel where home is used as a base.
There are different degrees of homeworking or tele-commuting, with some employees working almost entirely at home while others work from home only occasionally. Employers must consider if the job and job holder are suitable for homeworking and the impact it may have on their business.
What is homeworking?
Homeworking or tele-commuting can cover a variety of arrangements:
- Working entirely at home apart from attending regular or occasional meetings or training at the office or with customers.
- Time split between the office and home or with customers.
- Some staff may work in the office and work from home only occasionally
Homeworking is a type of flexible working which, depending on the agreement between employer and employee, can be also used in conjunction with other arrangements such as flexible hours, working part-time, term-time working or the employer’s core hours.
However, homeworking and other forms of flexible working do not have to be used together. For example, an employer could stipulate that a homeworker works the same working pattern as office-based staff.
Things for employers to consider
One of the first steps for an employer is to consider whether the job is suitable for homeworking or tele-working. Many roles may be, but others may not. Employers may find that cost saving or a need for a wider geographical spread of staff mean they might consider homeworking. Some other factors to consider include whether the role needs:
- Team working
- Face-to-face supervision
- Equipment (and will it be cost-effective to install in the home)
- Equipment which can only be in the organisation’s office
Many homeworkers say they have a better work-life balance when working from home which will usually make for a happier workforce which in turn reduces stress and gives the best results in terms of job satisfaction and work performance. Homeworking may also be considered as a reasonable adjustment to allow a disabled worker to carry on with their role or may be agreed on a short-term basis for an employee who is being reintroduced to work following a period of long-term sickness absence. Working from home will allow them to phase their return to work as they increase their stamina and fitness.
On the flipside, homeworking can also present challenges to both employers and employees. For employers, it can be difficult to manage staff who work on their own and are away from the main office. For employees, they can feel isolated or struggle to manage the boundaries between their home and work life.
While homeworking can be seen as an attractive option, it will not suit everyone. A homeworker needs to be able to cope with working on their own with little supervision.
Homeworkers ideally need to be:
- Able to spend long periods on their own and be confident working without supervision
- Self-disciplined and self-motivated
- Able to separate their work and home lives.
Managers may find managing homeworkers more difficult than managing office-based staff.
Some key areas for managers to be aware of are:
- Building trust between manager and homeworker
- Agreeing how work performance will be supervised and measured
- Communicating effectively
- Training so both staff who work from home and their managers can do their roles effectively
A lack of trust can be the biggest barrier to achieving successful homeworking. It can be challenging for managers who prefer face-to-face supervision. Managers should make sure the employee knows what is expected of them within their role and how they are expected to work in sharing information and ideas with both managers and colleagues. Having systems or policies in place will help the organisation run effectively.
Performance management for homeworkers should be consistent with that of office-based staff, and regular face-to-face reviews will help assess progress or raise any concerns.
Office-based managers tend to communicate more frequently face-to-face with office-based staff. However, it is important to maintain communication with homeworkers. This can be through email, telephone or video conferencing, and regular face-to-face meetings. It is good practice for homeworkers to attend regular meetings in the office, as this can help with keeping in touch with the rest of the business.
Health and safety for homeworkers
Employers have a duty of care for all their employees, and the requirements of the health and safety legislation apply to homeworkers. The employer is responsible for carrying out a risk assessment to check whether the proposed home workplace’s ventilation, temperature, lighting, space, chair, desk and computer, or any kind of workstation, and floor are suitable for the tasks the homeworker will be carrying out.
The employer is responsible for the equipment it supplies, but it is the employee’s responsibility to rectify any flaws in the home highlighted by the assessment. Once the home workplace has passed the assessment, it is the employee who is responsible for keeping it that way.