Homeworking covers a number of working situations, including outworkers or piece work, incidental homeworking and agreed and defined regular homeworking. It is the shift from traditional office working patterns of being physically present in an office from “9 to 5” that is being adopted as a more productive way for the modern business to operate efficiently. Keeping pace with the high demands of business management in the 21st Century, working across international boundaries and maximising employee working hours has transformed the way we work. Employers are creating work environments that support an agile, dynamic and resilient organisation by introducing different ways of working flexibly. This reduces travel time and achieves a work life balance bringing benefits to the employee and employer alike with research by ACAS finding a mixture of home and office working providing the most job satisfaction and work performance while reducing stress.
Latest statistics from the Trades Union Congress (TUC) show that one in 16 workers (6.1% of the workforce) now work from home or fulfil the majority of their working role away from the office1. This is an increase of 27.7% in the number of homeworkers in the last decade, with 61,000 people in Wales and 169,000 in NW England regularly working from home in 2018, with the highest regional proportion, at 1 in 12, being in Southwest England. It is estimated that an additional 4 million UK workers would like to work from home for at least part of their working week.
Homeworking – as part of your operating strategy can bring many benefits to your business, attracting fresh investment and new talent. Office space costs are reduced, less time and energy is wasted on travel to and from the office and potentially your staff will have less sickness absence.
The dark side to the operation is that if managed incorrectly – homeworkers can feel isolated from the rest of the business and detached from a corporate working environment. This can lead to rogue / maverick behaviour and actions being taken where employees view themselves as independent to the rest of the business.
In the absence of a suitable framework and guidance; the homeworker may work beyond their contracted hours through fear that their manager may not trust / believe they are ‘working enough’ and fail to switch off. Homeworking is not suited to everyone and some may struggle to concentrate as they would in the office and could be less productive.
The employees’ home environment may also not be suitable. A strong working relationship between employee and employer will help any homeworking policy implementation and mitigate against the risks that arise from the activity.
The CIPD recommends establishing a homeworking policy clarifying the organisation’s view of and approach to homeworking, clearly defining what is meant by ‘homeworker’. There are permanent, regular and ad hoc home working arrangements and the business should provide enough information in a policy to enable an employee to determine which category applies to them.
Other areas which should also be addressed as part of the policy include but are not limited to:
Under UK Health and Safety legislation, it is an employer’s duty to consider the potential cause of harm to their home workers or other people as a result of the work being undertaken within the home. A risk assessment should be completed to identify the required controls needed to manage the risks.
The business could consider the production of homeworking guidelines and a checklist to support the process and with organisations such as the CIPD offering examples that can be used.
When considering whether an employee is eligible for homeworking, managers should document whether:
This could form part of the overall risk assessment and it may be appropriate to establish a homeworking agreement based on the findings of the assessments. There is guidance available from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) on conducting a risk assessment which is free to download at www.hse.gov.uk/risk
The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) has produced guidelines recommending four key ingredients for managing productive home working:
They have produced a guide for employers and employees which can be downloaded from their website.
Ensuring there is sufficient contact with colleagues by drawing out contact and touchpoints back at base and/or the use of office buddies to keep up dialogue.
Agreeing how you will keep in touch – weekly calls, visits to the office and how often these should be.
Ensuring managers are sufficiently trained to recognise the trigger signs that the work environment is not right, the employee is overworking or withdrawn from the team.
Homeworking arrangements require a documented framework, assessment, guidance and agreement between employer and employee, with ongoing communication, to operate effectively and reduce the risk of ambiguity over roles and responsibilities for both parties.
If managed effectively, homeworking can be a productive and worthwhile option for many employees and employers, allowing them to get the best out of their working time and the organisation.
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