Some have been doing it for years, but Covid-19 has led to a big increase in the number of people working from home. What’s more, in many organisations it is proving popular, as staff and their senior management recognise the various benefits.
But while the pandemic has driven the increase in home working, are the benefits being shared out evenly? There may be savings to organisations on, for example, office overheads, but we must not replace these with additional overhead costs to the home worker (heating, lighting etc.). Put simply, there needs to be a win-win for all involved. It must also be remembered that not everyone can work from home, whether it’s because they don’t have access to high-speed Internet, or because their home environment is simply unsuitable (for any number of practical or personal reasons).
But how should organisations manage the shift to home working? Working on the sofa may be ok for short stints, but it is hardly a serious long term solution. So organisations should consider how best to make home working a success. Speaking to your staff is a good place to start. Remember too that setting up a home office is likely to incur costs. Indeed, simply providing a laptop and mobile phone is rarely enough. Regular home working requires a suitable work space away from interruptions and household noise like the TV or washing machine. In addition, home workers will need secure access to the organisation’s IT network.
It is also worth reminding ourselves that an organisation’s duties don’t change when someone starts working at home. Individuals have the same employment rights; and employer obligations towards health, safety and welfare are in no way diminished. For example, ensuring staff can deal with the isolation from colleagues and other challenges that home working brings must be properly assessed. Equally, the ability to perhaps work more flexibly must not result in them working for longer; and they should be encouraged to take regular breaks away from their computer screen.
Of course, a key to effective home working is good management. The individual needs to be well organised; and the organisation needs to support and motivate its home workers. Staying in touch, making good use of IT and regular phone calls, is a necessity.
Organisations also need to respect privacy. After all, the individual is working in their home, so measures will be needed to protect the home worker from obtrusive phone calls at any time of the day or night. Equally, any personal data that is needed for their work must be kept safe and secure.
To put home working on a proper footing, an organisation should develop an effective policy for both regular and casual home working. This can cover all the important aspects, including risk assessment, provision of equipment, and contributions towards the home worker’s energy and insurance costs, and so on.
Eventually, we will come out of the lockdown. When this happens it is expected that much of the new home working will continue. So if organisations see this as the future of work, they should get it right from the outset, and not take their home workers for granted.