The Office for National Statistics' data recorded a high of 4.2 million people working from home in the UK in January-March 2014. This is up from 1.3 million in 1998.
Given the rise of powerful portable technology (smartphones, tablets, laptops), and better internet connections across most of the country, it's not really a surprise that more businesses are letting their staff work from home.
So, should you let your staff get in on the home working act, too?
Well first things first, what you need is a Work from Home policy
There's plenty to think about when drafting this policy. For example, there are certain jobs where working from home simply isn't possible—such as bar or waiting staff, or front-of-house jobs in retail. You'll be able to name a dozen more just off the top of your head.
You should specify in your policy which roles in your business—if any—are not viable for working from home.
If any of your employees carry out the majority of their job duties at a computer, you may find that they could comfortably work from home.
What does it mean to work from home?
Some businesses allow their staff to work remotely on a full-time basis, whereas other companies might have a work from home rule where the employee works three days in the company's office, and two days from home.
If you choose to arrange the home working of an employee, discuss how much time you'd be happy for them to spend at home, rather than at the office.
You also need to complete a risk assessment of their proposed home workplace. You need to check the suitability of their:
- Workplace's ventilation.
- Workplace's temperature.
- Workplace's lighting.
If your risk assessment throws up any health and safety risks in the home—such as poor lighting, it's up to your employee to fix this problem.
If any equipment that you provide to your employee is faulty or a risk to their health and safety, it's up to you to correct it.
Once the home workplace passes the risk assessment, your employee has a responsibility to maintain those workplace conditions.
Is there a working from home law?
In a word, no.
When an employee has 26 weeks' continuous employment, and hasn't made a statutory request in twelve months, they have the right to request flexible working (such as working from home). While you do have to acknowledge their request, and handle it in a reasonable manner, you don't have to accept it.
When discussing the possibility of an employee working from home—if they've requested it—you should try to find out their reasoning. Accepting their request to help them manage family commitments, or cater to a medical condition, shows your staff that their well-being matters to you. This can increase their loyalty to your business.
It could also save you money.
What are the benefits of letting staff work from home?
- First, you might find that you can cut costs, especially if you're either a small business or your employee works from home on a full-time basis. If they're not in your central workplace, you might be able to reduce certain overheads, like rent, utility bills, equipment costs, business rates, and more.
- Second, if you're open to hiring staff who work from home while they're in another country and time zone, you open your recruitment process up to a larger, possibly better pool of talent.
- Third, without the morning and evening commute, your employees can save over an hour and a half day—for some people, it's even higher. This can lead to a better work-life balance, and happier employees—they might use this time to see their children, or exercise, for example.
- When an employee is happy with the terms and conditions of their employment, they're not going to be searching for other jobs, and this means that staff retention increases, and turnover falls.
- Fewer sick days, since staff suffering from a cold or the flu are more inclined to work from home. But also, staff are less likely to get ill due to stress.
By implementing an "occasional" work from home policy, where your staff work part-time from home and the rest of the time at your office, you lower the risk of:
- Your employees suffering from stagnation in their role because they never have any review meetings to discuss their progress.
- Your employees not feeling like a full member of the team due to not seeing colleagues on a regular basis.
- Employees not receiving invites to company meals or nights out, or feeling like they can't attend because they don't know anyone.
Isolation can be bad for an employee's morale, so it's your job to manage your home-working employees. This should involve:
- Agreeing on how you will supervise their work hours, and measure their performance, when they work from home.
- Establishing a method that you will use to communicate when staff work from home. Here at BrightHR, we love using Slack for unified collaboration.
- Any training that will make it easier for staff to work from home and for their colleagues to work as normal without them in the workplace.
Risks to consider when drafting your Working at Home policy and procedures
For staff to work at home, in nearly all cases they need:
- A computer or laptop.
- A phone.
- Good internet connection.
- Any software that the business uses.
- A suitable working environment.
If you plan to let your staff use their own device, you need to think about how they will keep any important data safe and private. Your policy should include work from home rules such as:
- Employees must protect their own devices with antivirus software where necessary (you may want to provide a financial contribution).
- Employees must store and save all files in the company's central cloud storage, not locally on their device.
Declining flexible working requests
When an employee requests flexible working, you should think about the pros and cons of the flexible working, and then hold a meeting with them to discuss their request.
You may find that they shed light on an advantage you hadn't seen, to sway your decision. By the end of the meeting, you should let them know the outcome of their request, and offer an appeal process if you've turned them down.
Working from home won't suit all businesses. Understanding the benefits and risks of your staff working remotely is the only way you'll know whether you should let them do it.
But, if you're a BrightHR customer, our BrightAdvice team offers free employment law advice, to help you work out what's best for your business when you're making important decisions.
If you're not a customer yet, book your demo of BrightHR today and improve your business for as little as £3 per month.