The UK is well prepared for outbreaks as seen in previous pandemics, for example Swine Flu 2009/2010. As a country, we are planning for what could happen and taking precautions to delay the spread of the illness. A campaign for hand washing, general hygiene and staying away from the likely infected has had an impact of the rate of growth. However, like most things – it will get worse before it gets better. Our offices have had numerous calls regarding the virus and how to deal with employees suspecting they have some symptoms and how to manage this situation. We have written a “Question and Answer” factsheet for our clients – if you think you may find this useful, please contact us.
The government have a 4-part plan to manage the outbreak. Part 1 is to contain the virus, this is done by detecting the virus early, self-isolating those infected and minimising contact with anyone infected or has visited an infected country. Part 2 is delay the virus, this is the main talking point for government this week which has now been actioned. The plan is to delay the virus until the summer, this should take the pressure off the NHS and away from the winter months where the NHS deal with all manners of flu and Pneumonia cases. Part 3 is to research and learn the characteristics of the virus and how it can be immunised against. Part 4 is mitigate. This final stage will manage the lasting effects of the virus by providing support to those with long term effects from the virus and minimise the impact on the economy, public health and most importantly, society.
The government are already advising those showing symptoms to self-isolate for 14 days. This can have a huge impact on businesses being short staffed and a slow down in productivity and meeting the needs of the business and the clients. Larger companies, for example Apple, Google and Amazon are already maximising the homeworking option for all applicable staff. Even if the staff are not showing signs, they are being given the option to work from home to decrease the spread of the virus. How can this be applied to smaller companies with smaller teams and less accessible funds to make this happen?
Top tips for successful emergency home working
Providing the right equipment. It is imperative to find out beforehand what equipment is needed. If only the basics (computer/ internet/phone) are required, it would be beneficial to ask applicable employees if they already have access to these items already. The employee may ask for compensation for using these items for work use and this needs to be agreed individually. If some employees do not have the relevant equipment and the company cannot remove the items from site, it may be a possibility to hire them.
Keeping in touch. This is an important factor for home working. We recommend utilising programmes that provide virtual meetings (either audio or video calling). During this outbreak and the requirement for home working, the majority of companies providing this service are offering free trials with better benefits than usual and upgrading contracts of current clients for free. Online Conferencing programme Webex have recorded 22 times more usage than the average day online. It is important to check in regularly to ensure work is being completed as agreed and any questions can be answered if needed. We would also advise using a VPN service to secure the network when working with client information. This protects your company against data protection breaches. Again, this can be used on a free trial basis.
Clarify roles and responsibilities. Working from home means your priorities can change unexpectedly. Being surrounded by home distractions and other family members can cause issues for the employee needing to concentrate. This is also an issue for employees with no space at home to dedicate as a workspace. It is realistic to expect slightly slower productivity so it is important to reiterate the importance of prioritising work and the expectations of management to reply to urgent work and emails within office hours and get the less urgent work completed in the evenings if necessary.
There are some triggers that can cause home working to have a bad reputation. These can be avoided with good management skills, a clear understanding of expectations and good communication channels.
Complete isolation is the biggest problem for home working. Wellbeing should be considered when enforcing emergency home working. Do not expect employees to stay inside 24/7 as this is unrealistic. Instead, encourage healthy eating, exercise and good hygiene (as lined out by the Department of Health). Further guidelines advise to stay away from those experiencing sickness and large crowds of people. However, it will be safe to take walks for fresh air.
Work and home life imbalance. Having the office in your home can make it extremely difficult to switch off from work. Having access to continued working can lead to over-working, working unsociable hours and not taking the entitled rest breaks. It is important to encourage sticking to the normal routine and ensuring breaks are taken away for the screen. This may differ for parents and carers if schools/ nurseries are shut down as well. In this situation, an agreement needs to be in place with the employee of what is expected and if any annual leave needs to be taken or responsibilities lessened to avoid unnecessary stress.
Lack of communication. Virtual meetings, emails, calls and instant messaging should all be utilised to keep the employee feeling supported and kept in the loop. It can be helpful to set up a group chat to encourage casual catch-ups so the employees don’t feel isolated from the office environment.
Does a new contract need to be issued to reflect this? No, due to the homeworking being an emergency measure it is a temporary situation and contracts do not need to be amended. It may be helpful to draft an agreement between the company and the employee outlining the expectations, compensation if applicable and the correct usage of company property in terms of computer and phones.
The situation with Corona Virus is constantly changing and home working may be enforced sooner than expected. It would be helpful to meet with your team and reassure a plan is in place should this happen. Take individual details of what is needed for a successful home working team and support those unfamiliar with programmes they do not usually use, for example, VPN and video calling including sharing documents online.
If home working is not applicable for your team – continue to follow the advice given by the government and the department of health. These guidelines are updated regularly so please keep an eye on national and local news and across our social media platforms. Our consultants can advise on home working on an individual basis if you need further guidance, please call us on 01206 700 690 or email us at email@example.com