Employees working from home
The key issues to consider if you decide that working from home is a possibility for your business
Allowing staff to work at home on either a full or part-time basis can bring a range of business benefits - from increased productivity and greater staff motivation to more effective use of your premises.
Home working can help you retain staff and widens the base from which you can recruit, boosting your chances of recruiting successfully.
Coronavirus and working from home
Staff working from home has become a new normal for many businesses following the outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) that has led to offices and commercial premises having to shut to protect the health of staff and other members of the public.
Allowing and enabling staff to work from home can lead to positive and negative experiences for both employees and employers. This guidance will help you as an employer make the most of your staff working from home whether this is in a direct response to the coronavirus pandemic or a long-term plan.
This guide will help you decide whether home working is a possibility for your business and sets out key issues and considerations when introducing and managing staff working from home.
These considerations include health and safety obligations and how to ensure employees are provided with the appropriate equipment to carry out their job effectively.
Advantages and disadvantages of employees working at home
Key advantages and disadvantages of home working - from productivity boosts to problems monitoring performance
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.
- 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:
- Difficulty monitoring performance - there could be difficulty managing home workers and monitoring their performance. See effectively manage employees who work from home.
- Cost of working from home - initial costs of training and providing suitable equipment, including adaptations to meet health and safety standards.
- Problems with staff development - difficulty of maintaining staff development and upgrading skills.
- Information security risk - information security problems could be more likely to occur.
- Increased telecommunications costs - for example, increase in telephone or broadband bills or the requirement to supply your employee with a mobile phone for work purposes.
- Communication problems - could increase feelings of isolation amongst home workers.
- Decreased staff morale - it can be harder to maintain team spirit when employees are working at different locations.
- 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.
Types of work and skills suited to home working
When weighing up whether to let an employee work from home, you should consider the nature of their job.
Jobs suited to home working
Some types of work are particularly suited to home working. For example:
- telesales and marketing
- customer service
- consultancy and professional services, such as accountancy or HR administration
- writing, editing, research and translation
- some types of administrative work
Skills employees need to work at home
You also need to consider whether employees themselves are suited to working away from your base. They're likely to need skills in a number of key areas:
- time management and self-discipline
Home working isn't for everyone. Bear in mind that if you allow one person to do it, you may be setting a precedent that others will want to follow, so it's best to have a clear idea from the start of how home working could fit the needs of your business. You should establish fair criteria for home working as this will minimise any discrimination risk.
Remember, too, that in some cases you're legally obliged to seriously consider requests for home working. Employees with 26 weeks service can request a range of flexible-working patterns from their employers - including the right to work from home.
Read more on flexible working: the law and best practice.
Employment contracts and working from home
An employee's place of work is stated in the written statement of their terms and conditions of employment.
When an employee starts working from or at home, it may be necessary to amend the written statement as a result.
You must follow set procedures when changing an employment contract.
See how to change an employee's terms of employment.
Providing equipment for employees who work at home
As an employer you're likely to be responsible for providing, installing and maintaining all equipment unless the employee uses their own.
Equipment you need to provide may include:
- workstation, including suitable desk and chair
- filing cabinet, drawers and shelving
- PC with office software, anti-virus software, email and broadband internet connection
- dedicated business telephone line
- stationery and office supplies
Advances in technology can allow you to create virtual teams where employees work together despite working from home. A basic virtual team could be two employees talking over the phone, or you could use more sophisticated tools like high-speed internet, email or video conferencing.
IT equipment can be expensive, so make sure it is compatible with your existing systems and meets a genuine business need.
Read more on how technology can facilitate working from home.
Remember that you still have health and safety responsibilities for people who work at or from home. Read about your health and safety obligations towards home workers.
Insurance and rates
You'll probably need to extend your business insurance to cover equipment used by employees in their homes. The employee's home insurance policy is unlikely to cover this. They should check with their insurer to make sure they're covered for working at home.
It's also worth mentioning to potential home workers that if they use part of their home exclusively for work, they may have to pay business rates for that portion of their home. It's a good idea to get them to check the position with their local council. See how to use your home as a workplace.
You also need to ensure that employees take care of business equipment and information in their possession. Employers must ensure that data protection principles are adhered to eg establish procedures to be followed in terms of the storage and security of information and what to do if any item is damaged or lost.
Effectively manage employees who work from home
Working from home can bring a wide range of benefits for both businesses and employees, but it needs to be properly managed to be successful.
Monitoring and assessing the performance of people who work at home is perhaps the most significant managerial challenge. It can be helpful to measure their effectiveness in terms of their output rather than the hours they work.
Agree set goals and deadlines for particular tasks. Keep a close eye on how well the targets are being met and give feedback promptly and sensitively if things go wrong.
Training can prepare employees and help them develop the skills they need. This might include:
- self-management skills, eg in time management
- general skills, eg in using IT more effectively or writing reports
- job-specific skills
For staff who work alone, a sense of isolation is one of the factors most likely to make home working fail. As a result, it's important to put formal systems in place to ensure people feel part of the team. For example:
- frequent two-way feedback sessions about work and work-related issues
- regular scheduled visits to the workplace
- inclusion in social activities
- clear procedures to follow and people to contact if things go wrong
If an employee's job is home-based from the start, it's a good idea to carry out their induction at your premises. Home workers are more likely to be focused and productive if they have a chance to establish a clear idea of the people and company they're working for.
Your health and safety obligations towards home workers
As an employer you have the same responsibilities for ensuring the health and safety of home workers as you would for staff based at your premises. Your duties are likely to include:
- carrying out a health and safety risk assessment - see managing the risks in your business
- purchasing compulsory employers' liability insurance if you don't already have it - see liability insurance
- ensuring equipment is fit for its purpose
- testing, certifying and maintaining electrical equipment provided by the business
- ensuring computers can be used comfortably and without disturbing glare, see how to ensure your employees are operating computers safely
- making sure lighting levels are appropriate
- avoiding trailing cables to reduce the risks of trips and falls
- ensuring staff are suitably trained to work safely
- keeping records of, and if necessary reporting, any serious accidents, illnesses or injuries experienced by home workers
Remember, too, that employees who use computers regularly - including home workers - are entitled to an eye test paid for by their employer.
Home workers must take reasonable care of their own health and safety, as well as that of other people such as family members, neighbours and visitors. They must also ensure they use work equipment correctly.
For information on your business' health and safety duties, see what you need to do about health and safety.
If you have employees who use their home as a base and generally don't work from your premises, you may have additional health and safety responsibilities to them. See how to ensure the safety of lone workers.
How technology can facilitate working from home
You'll need to keep in touch with employees who work at home. At the very least, you should consider installing a dedicated work phone at the employee's home or provide them with a mobile phone.
This makes it easier to work out billing arrangements and, as you won't need to see the employee's phone bill, preserves their privacy.
Broadband internet connections have made emailing colleagues and business contacts and sharing documents quick and easy.
With virtual teamworking your employees do not need to be working in the same place, or even at the same time, in order to work together. Consider the following options:
- Different time, different place - employees work separately and keep in touch with you and each other via email.
- Same time, different place - employees can communicate with each other in 'real time' through telephone conference calling, video-conferencing or using instant messaging.
- Different time, same place - employees can access your business network or databases by connecting to an intranet or extranet. A virtual private network is a more secure, but expensive, way of doing this.
- Same time, same place - even working from home, your employees will still need to meet face-to-face occasionally. Email and electronic diaries allow you to arrange meetings and transfer documents, while wireless technology allows you to meet anywhere.
- Any time, any place - mobile phones and laptop computers with wireless internet access mean that your employees are always accessible and can work wherever they are. Read more on mobile technology.
There are important security issues. For example, data security could be compromised if employees working from home use their work computer for personal purposes. It's best to provide staff with a computer and make it clear that it's for business use only.
Install anti-virus and firewall software on users' PCs and use passwords to control access to their computers and to your network. Make sure home workers have read and understood your IT policies and know their information security responsibilities.
Employees who deal with sensitive information should be particularly careful about:
- Keeping equipment at home - they should make sure that their premises are properly secured.
- Transporting equipment from one place to another - items should never be left unattended in a public place.
- Using public internet access - public computers can store information that has been entered.
- Working in a public place such as a train - information on a laptop screen could be seen by others.
- Destroying data that is no longer required - eg a cross-cut shredder should be used to dispose of sensitive papers.
Read NCSC's guidance on home working: preparing your organisation and staff.
Responsibilities of home workers
Employees who work from home have a number of key responsibilities.
- check whether there are any restrictions on home working within the terms of their lease, mortgage or tenancy agreement for the property
- keep their insurance company informed about the new use of their home
- check if planning permission will be required and apply for it if necessary, though this is unlikely to be the case for a home office
- check if business rates are payable on the part of the property used for work
- ensure their own health and safety and the safety of anyone visiting or living in their home who could be affected by their work
- ensure that they keep sensitive information safe and secure, eg by destroying data securely when they have finished with it
Employees should also be aware that if they set aside a room to work in that has no domestic purpose, they may be liable for business rates on that part of the property or capital gains tax if the property is sold.
Read more on how to use your home as a workplace.
Managing employees working from home: seven top tips
Allowing staff to work from home on either a full or part-time basis can bring a range of business benefits, including greater staff motivation and increased productivity.
The following top tips highlight key issues you should be aware of if you are considering home working as a possibility for your business.
1. Consider an employee's job and skills: When deciding whether to let an employee work from home, you should consider if the job is suited to home working. For example, telemarketing and writing could be particularly suited to home working. The employee is also likely to need skills in a number of key areas including communication and time management. See types of work and skills suited to home working.
2. Be aware of legal requirements: When an employee starts working from home, it may be necessary to amend their written statement of their terms and conditions of employment. See employment contracts and working from or at home. You will probably need to extend your business insurance to cover equipment used by employees in their homes. See providing equipment for employees who work at home.
3. Provide appropriate equipment: As an employer, you're likely to be responsible for providing, installing and maintaining all equipment unless the employee uses their own. Equipment you need to provide may include a desk and chair, PC or laptop and printer. See providing equipment for employees who work at home.
4. Encourage communication: For staff who work from home, a sense of isolation is one of the reasons that home working may fail. It's therefore important to put formal systems in place to ensure people feel part of the team. See effectively manage employees who work from home.
5. Train and monitor employees: Training can help employees working from home to develop the skills they need, for example, time management or writing reports. Monitoring employees' performance is also important to ensure targets are being met. See effectively manage employees who work from home.
6. Be aware of health and safety responsibilities: You have the same responsibilities for ensuring the health and safety of home workers as you would for staff based at your premises. Your duties are likely to include ensuring equipment is fit for purpose and that lighting levels are appropriate. See your health and safety obligations towards home workers.
7. Consider information security: You should ensure that employees adhere to data protection principles. For example, data security could be compromised if employees working from home use their work computer for personal purposes. You should make clear that the computer you provide is for business use only. You should also install anti-virus and firewall software, use passwords to control access to your network and ensure workers have read your IT policies. See how technology can facilitate working from home.