Post-lockdown Homeworking: Key Considerations for Employers
The COVID-19 pandemic and the numerous lockdowns which have ensued have seen a large proportion of the UK adapting to working from home. The longevity of the pandemic has caused homeworking to become an almost normal part of daily life and it has caused many to question if returning to the office full time is the best way forward. Indeed, the Government's Flexible Working Task Force has shared its view that flexible working should be the default position for all workers post-pandemic.
This article looks at key considerations for employers when implementing new long-term homeworking and hybrid working policies.
Benefits and drawbacks to homeworking
Working from home has benefits and drawbacks for both employers and employees. For many employees, working from home has allowed them to develop a much healthier work/life balance, spend more time with family and save money. There are also many potential benefits of homeworking for employers too. These include:
- Reduced overhead costs – with fewer employees in the office at one time and client meetings increasingly being conducted remotely, the need for expensive workspaces and overheads could be reduced.
- Increased productivity – Employees spend much less time travelling and preparing for work which has been shown to increase productivity and work output.
- Staff recruitment and retention – Employers allowing homeworking will have access to a wider geographical pool of talent, and flexible working arrangements are often seen as a perk by jobseekers. Further, being able to offer temporary or permanent homeworking could help retain workers who might otherwise have left due to relocation or family responsibilities, for example.
- Company resilience – Employers who are properly set up for homeworking will be better equipped to withstand disruptions such as extreme weather conditions. Unfortunately for some, snow days will be a thing of the past!
Key considerations for employers
Organisations thinking of entering into homeworking or hybrid arrangements with their staff have numerous things to consider to ensure a smooth and successful transition from the full-time office culture of old. Some of the key considerations are set out below:
A switch to homeworking or a hybrid of home and office work could amount to a change in the terms and conditions of an employee's employment, namely their contractual provisions in respect of place of work.
If this change has been instigated by the employee, or is in any event favourable to them, then there should be little problem in obtaining their consent to alter their contracts. However, if the change is caused by a company-wide push from the employer to move to remote working, some employees may be less willing to consent. In this situation, employers should consider their options in advance and consult with employees as much as possible. Concerns can then be dealt with in a timely manner, which may aid a smoother transition.
Data protection legislation requires employers to put in place sufficient measures to prevent unauthorised or unlawful processing of data and to protect against loss or destruction of personal data.
Remote workers may need updated training on their obligations to highlight what is and is not an authorised use of data. It may also be useful for employers to carry out an assessment of the data privacy implications of home working.
The assessment could ask questions such as:
- Who will have access to the employee's computer?
- Is the computer and data on it properly secured?
- Are employees required to change their password regularly?
- How are paper files stored?
- Have staff been given training on their data protection obligations?
Health and safety
Employers have a statutory duty of care for their employees' welfare, health and safety, "so far as reasonably practicable", and this duty extends to those working from home. Employers must therefore conduct risk assessments of all employees' work activities inside and outside of the office. Two issues of particular note in the context of homeworking are:
- Equipment – Employers should ensure employees have suitable equipment, including sufficient lighting and safe technology. If electrical equipment is provided by the employer for use in the home, the employer has responsibility for its maintenance and examination.
- Mental health and stress – Some employees may feel isolated and lonely without regular in-person contact with colleagues. Some may also struggle to maintain a healthy work/life balance as there is less supervision and physical separation between work and personal life. Systems should be put in place to regularly check in with staff, support them and ensure they are adapting to homeworking well.
There is no obligation on employers to cover the costs an employee incurs from working at home. However, some may choose to contribute specified amounts to their employees to cover increased electricity and broadband bills, for example.
If employers already have expenses policies in place, it is advisable that these are reviewed to ensure they are still relevant and sufficient for both the employer and employees' needs. If not, now may be the time to reflect on the needs of the business and its employees and introduce one.
Key Points for Employers
COVID-19 has forced many businesses in the direction of homeworking, but with so many benefits being realised, employers may begin to think about implementing homeworking more permanently. There are many things to consider to ensure this is done effectively and legally, protecting both employers and employees. Employers should ensure they consider all the implications of moving to homeworking, develop a sound policy to compliment the move and maintain an open dialogue with employees about the potential changes.
If you are an employer who is less keen on implementing a firm-wide homeworking policy but are receiving requests from individuals to switch to flexible/home working, please see our previous article for further advice: How should employers handle flexible working requests following lockdown?
This article is for information purposes only and is not a substitute for legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Please contact Sophie Hay or Rachael Lloyd to discuss any issues you are facing.