Employees working from home

Advantages and disadvantages of employees working at home

Guide

Home working opens up a new range of possibilities for the way businesses can work and structure themselves. With the outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, home working has given some employers the flexibility they need to continue their business operations while prioritising staff and customer health and wellbeing as part of their public health responsibility.

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, working from home was on the increase as many employers identified the benefits that it can bring to their business and the improved work-life balance for their employees. Even if you don't think working from home would be beneficial for your business, employees with 26 weeks service have a statutory right to request flexible-working arrangements such as home working and you, as an employer, have to seriously consider such requests.

Advantages of employees working from home

With increasing numbers of employees working at home - or using home as a working base for at least part of the week - it's clear there are a number of benefits for business, such as:

  • Flexibility and agility - home working enables more agility and flexibility in working arrangements. With employees no longer tied to an office, they may be better placed and more willing to work flexible hours such as earlier or later in the day or even at weekends. This may help you meet certain business needs eg if you are trading with customers residing in a different time zone.
  • Improved employee retention - home working can help retain employees as the flexibility of home working can help them meet childcare needs, reduce their commute and enable them to fit their work around their personal life. Being allowed to work from home, staff will also feel increased levels of trust from their employer, which can contribute greatly to staff loyalty.
  • Attract new talent - home working can be offered as an incentive to come and work for you helping you to attract new talent to your business. Even just offering the option to work from home will give you an advantage in the job market over competitors that don't offer home working as an option to their staff.
  • Increased productivity - due to fewer interruptions, which would normally occur in an office environment. By contrast, working from home allows for a quieter environment that can facilitate more focused work. You may also find that employees will work longer hours as they can also use their time saved from commuting to start work earlier, later or both.
  • Increased staff motivation - by working from home staff will feel more trusted by their employer as the working relationship isn't as closely monitored and employees are allowed a degree of autonomy to get on with their work. Staff will also be happier developing a home working routine that suits them better and this can contribute towards them feeling more motivated to give their best.
  • Improved staff health and wellbeing - working from home eliminates the need for a commute to work that can be stressful to your employees. Time savings such as this also enables staff to get extra health benefits such as additional sleep, spending more time with family, exercising or preparing healthier meals.
  • Financial benefits - savings on office space, office supplies, utility bills and other facilities. Staff may also be able to take advantage of the tax relief available from HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) for working from home - see claim tax relief for your job expenses - working from home.
  • Convenience - you may have staff that do a lot of visits to customer locations and are therefore not regularly in the office. Allowing them to base themselves from home may be more convenient and leads to further time and costs savings.
  • Better work/life balance - working from home can help employees improve their work-life balance eg staff that would have had to commute will now be able to use that time for themselves giving the basis for a better work-life balance. Staff are also able to fit in household chores around their working day giving them more free time in the evenings eg loading or unloading the dishwasher or preparing dinner on their lunchbreak.
  • Technology makes it easier - the internet has made it possible for staff to be continually connected to the office. Tools such as Skype have made communication between colleagues and teams much easier and at times can lead to more efficient and effective meetings.
  • Less sickness absences – staff are more likely to feel happier and more energised working from home and therefore less chance of their immune system being negatively impacted by burnout. Also the fact that employees are working in isolation there is less chance of infections spreading as would be the case within an office environment.
  • Less need for regular holidays - working from home can feel like a break from the office even though staff are still working. Working from home staff will feel more energised and will be able to spend more time with their family and therefore will not feel the need to take as much leave. However it is your duty as an employer to ensure staff take their holidays - see know how much holiday to give your staff.

Disadvantages of employees working from home

Though there are some disadvantages to employees working at home, most of these relate to those working from home for all, as opposed to part, of their working week:

  • Working from home doesn't suit everyone - working from home might not be suited to everyone's personality or ability. Some employees might prefer the routine and structure that working in an office environment provides them. Some staff may prefer personal interaction with colleagues and also find face-to-face guidance with their manager extremely beneficial in helping them complete tasks and achieve their goals. You also need to be mindful of employees with a disability. Working from home may have a negative impact on the support they need to do their job. Working from home may also not fit in with everyone's home-life eg some people may have young children that may be unaware of boundaries and cause interruptions during the working day. Others may not have the physical space required to create a suitable dedicated working area.
  • Staff feeling isolated - individuals working from home may feel a disconnect from their colleagues and organisation as a whole that an office environment naturally allows. To address this issue employers could ensure that communication is more regular. So by scheduling quick catch-ups by phone or regular team meetings through other technologies like Skype, staff are given more opportunity to feel involved and part of the team. More informal and social catch-ups would also help counteract any feelings of isolation.
  • Difficulty monitoring performance - there could be difficulty managing home workers and monitoring their performance. Different personalities may also respond to monitoring with varying degrees of positivity. You could look at setting goals and targets with workers that are easily measured so that if their targets aren't being met you can identify and remedy any performance issues at an early stage. See managing staff performance and effectively manage employees who work from home.
  • Home distractions - although home working removes the distractions that may occur in the office if a worker doesn't have a suitably quiet dedicated working space at home they may get easily distracted by household noises or other members of their household.
  • Potential burnout - where an office provides a clear physical distinction between work and home life, working at home can lead to staff forgetting to differentiate between work-life and home-life. This may lead to employees finding it difficult to know when to switch off from work leading to longer hours, increased stress and inevitable burnout. Employers should encourage their staff to take regular breaks and remind them of the importance to take their leave.
  • Cost of working from home - initial costs of training and providing suitable equipment such as laptops, mobile phones and other IT equipment. You will also have to consider adaptations to meet health and safety standards.
  • Problems with staff development - you may find that not having staff in close physical proximity leads to difficulty in maintaining staff development and upgrading skills. However you could encourage staff to take the opportunity to learn new skills through online events and courses. To get started search for events on our Events Finder.
  • Information security risk - information security problems could be more likely to occur when staff are working from home. There is increase risk with laptops being taken home and the need for staff to access servers remotely. Employers should ensure they put measures in place to protect company data by installing encryption software and remote-wipe apps if mobile devices provided by you go missing. Virtual private networks also encrypt your data and provide secure access to a remote computer over the internet. This helps keep your files and data secure yet accessibility to your staff. See IT security and risks.
  • Negative impact on mental health - the switch to working from home may have a negative impact on your worker’s mental health if they are unable to find a routine that works for them, are struggling to separate work and home life or are feeling isolated. To help you can encourage your employees to develop a working routine, set up a dedicated work space and set boundaries for other household members. Create more opportunities for staff to stay connected by communicating through regular chats and team catch-ups. Eating healthily and taking regular exercise can also help improve mental health especially when woven into a regular routine. See 7 simple tips to tackle working from home from the NHS.
  • Decreased staff morale - it can be harder to maintain team spirit when employees are working at home on their own.
  • Not all jobs suit home working - working from home suits some jobs better than others. Equally, working from home suits some personality types but not others. Some people may prefer colleague contact by face-to-face communication.

The coronavirus pandemic has given some employers, that may not have otherwise considered working from home an option for staff, a practical insight into how it affects their business and employees. It has enabled employers to have first-hand experience of the advantages and disadvantages of home working. This experience can be very beneficial in feeding into the future direction of employees' working practices moving forward.

A shift towards home working doesn't mean employees have to work only at home. Often splitting time between home and the workplace is the most productive solution and you may want the homeworker to attend meetings to keep them fully involved and informed.

For further information see the Labour Relation Agency's (LRA) practical guide to working from home: COVID-19 and beyond.