Fourteen FAQs on homeworking
- What is homeworking?
- How can homeworking benefit my business?
- What are the disadvantages of homeworking?
- Do I need to offer homeworking to all employees?
- What are the legal implications of homeworking?
- What equipment do I need to supply for homeworking?
- How can people in the office stay in touch with homeworkers?
- How hard is it to manage homeworkers?
- Should homeworkers be allowed to use their own IT equipment?
- How can we ensure data accessed from home is secure?
- How can projects be managed with remote workers?
- What hours should we expect homeworkers to work?
- Are flexible working and homeworking the same thing?
- What IT policies should homeworkers follow?
1. What is homeworking?
Homeworking is a mutual agreement that enables employees to work from home some or all of the time, rather than at your premises.
Modern communications and information technology have made homeworking (sometimes referred to as ‘remote working') more viable than ever.
2. How can homeworking benefit my business?
It depends on the tasks you need your employees to complete. Some tasks cannot be achieved in a domestic setting. Moreover, some employees might not want to work from home, or may not be suited to it.
For it to work, the employee must have effective time-management skills, be disciplined, motivated and self-sufficient. They'll also need good communication skills.
You may see productivity gains; away from workplace disruptions and time wasted on commuting, some employees can get significantly more done at home.
With fewer people in the office, you may also see a reduction in your overheads (particularly if homeworkers use their own equipment). And if allowing employees to work from home - even occasionally - gives them a better work-life balance, this may improve motivation and loyalty to your business. It might also help you attract a greater pool of talented people.
3. What are the disadvantages of homeworking?
Some staff members might be tempted to abuse your trust and do less work while out of sight, while having to monitor and manage remote staff can add to your workload. Most successful businesses rely on effective teamwork, and having some staff working at home can hinder productivity if you don't get the right technology and systems in place.
You're likely to have to invest in extra technology to facilitate homeworking - and you may encounter some communication problems even despite this. You will also have to take additional steps to guard against theft of your equipment, data or information.
4. Do I need to offer homeworking to all employees?
If they do comparable jobs that can be undertaken just as effectively at home, then yes, you should offer homeworking to all employees. If you don't, you may be seen to be guilty of favouritism or discrimination, which can cause serious problems.
Homeworking could well be part of flexible working conditions you are legally obliged to offer to certain staff members.
5. What are the legal implications of homeworking?
Depending on the employment status of the worker, your homeworker could have the same employment rights as any other employee - for example, the right to National Minimum Wage, statutory holidays, leave and pay, rest breaks and time off.
You have a legal duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of all your employees - including homeworkers. Among other obligations, employers must carry out a risk assessment of the tasks carried out by an employee.
This means identifying potential hazards and taking sufficient steps to prevent harm to them or people who may be affected by their work. This should include making sure equipment is safe and that the employee's work space is suitable and does not cause discomfort.
Employees who use display screen equipment and computers regularly - including homeworkers - are entitled to an eye test paid for by their employer.
6. What equipment do I need to provide for homeworking?
Homeworkers will need a desk and chair, reliable, fast broadband connection and a laptop or desktop computer with the necessary software installed. They may possible also need a smartphone or other mobile device, and peripherals such as a printer.
Most employees are likely to have these devices already, which will raise the question about whether or not you allow them to use their own equipment (and, in the case of the broadband connection, cover their expenses when used for the business).
If you have an IP-based telephone system, you should be able to provide a line for the employee, either via a smartphone app or by adding their fixed line number to the system. Check with your supplier to confirm what's possible.
Providing remote access to your network can also make it easier and more efficient for workers to access emails, information and data they require to carry out their job. You might also consider using cloud-based services or setting up a virtual private network or company intranet to help facilitate homeworking.
7. How can people in the office stay in touch with homeworkers?
There are lots of options - everything from a simple phone call or email to video conferencing. Also consider collaboration tools that allow team members to communicate with each other and contribute to a project, wherever they are working.
However, the important thing is not to neglect face-to-face contact. It makes the employee feel less isolated and more part of a team, while giving you both the opportunity to discuss progress and any problems they might be encountering.
8. How hard is it to manage homeworkers?
This depends on the employee and their role. Managing employees who work from home is inevitably more of a challenge than managing those who work on your premises.
Life will certainly be a lot easier for you if they are trustworthy, hard-working, motivated and have everything they need to be able to do the job (including knowledge and skills as well as technology).
If in any doubt, monitor the employee's output and compare this with expected productivity if they were based at your premises. Right from the start, homeworking employees should know exactly what is expected of them. Setting goals and deadlines will remove any doubt.
As and when they happen, you and your employee should seek to find solutions to any problems caused by their working from home. Also be sure to include homeworkers in any social activities and make sure they know what to do in an emergency.
9. Should homeworkers be allowed to use their own IT equipment?
There are some significant benefits for allowing homeworkers to use their own devices. Most significantly, it will reduce any capital expenditure relating to employee equipment, but it may also raise their satisfaction levels, as they get to use familiar devices.
The downsides principally relate to a lack of control over security. While you can implement device management software that enables your IT team to monitor devices remotely and prevent malicious software from infecting the network, the fact remains that the employee is free to use their own device as they wish.
Such concerns can be tempered by robust IT policies, but when it comes to employee-owned equipment, a degree of openness and trust is vital.
10. How can we ensure data accessed from home is secure?
As soon as data leaves your premises, it becomes inherently insecure; laptops can be stolen and internet connections intercepted while people work in coffee shops.
However, the threat of cyber crime shouldn't prevent you from taking advantage of homeworking. You just need the right control measures in place.
Any devices used for homeworking (whether they're the property of the business or the employee) should have up-to-date antivirus and malware protection installed and be obliged to connect to your company's VPN (Virtual Private Network). This will ensure any devices used at home are protected against viruses and directly attached to your network.
Cloud storage is the best way to avoid the need for files to be stored locally on homeworkers' devices. This, combined with robust password and encryption policies will make it much harder for anyone outside the organisation to access confidential business information.
If possible, it's also a good idea to encourage employees to use VPN tunnels or tethered smartphone connections when working in public places such as coffee shops. This will prevent chance hackers from intercepting communication on an open network.
11. How can projects be managed with remote workers?
Undertaking team projects as a homeworker has always been a challenge, but it's been made far more accessible thanks to advances in technology.
People who work at home don't have to miss out on project updates or the progress of others, but you'll need some clear policies and helpful technology in place to make it work.
If homeworkers can't physically attend project meetings, video calling services such as Skype are a great alternative, because they retain eye-to-eye contact and the ability to share information.
Office-based team members who are expected to collaborate with homeworkers should also be encouraged to keep external colleagues in the loop. This can be made easier by using web-based project management software that enables all team members to chat, update task progress and share information from one platform.
Traditional contact shouldn't be neglected either, and even if office visits aren't practical, everyone should be encouraged to pick up the phone and make a call if it feels like the most efficient way to communicate.
12. What hours should we expect homeworkers to work?
The number of hours undertaken by homeworkers is no different to that of office-based employees; it should be governed entirely by their contract of employment.
Where homeworkers may differ, however, is in the way they apply their hours. A home office provides the opportunity to work more flexibly, which is why homeworkers may work hours other than the standard nine-to-five.
There are exceptions, of course - for example, if the employee is a shift worker, or needs to be available to clients or colleagues at particular times, it is reasonable to ask them to work set hours as they would in an office.
13. Are flexible working and homeworking the same thing?
No, but they are often related, as noted above.
Flexible working can include homeworking, but can also cover wider arrangements such as job sharing, working part-time, compressed hours, flexitime or other non-standard working hours or locations.
14. What IT policies should homeworkers follow?
Employees who work from home should follow the same IT policies as those in the office.
IT policies are designed to safeguard your business, although there are some that require particular focus from homeworkers, such as those that relate to protecting your data.
Depending on the type of data you store as a business, homeworking employees will, just like everyone else, have to observe data protection rules - particularly if the type of information they'll be accessing relates to customers.
Common examples of IT policies your homeworkers will need to follow include: