Current statistics show that 60% of adults have worked from home during the Covid pandemic this year. Many of these roles were ones where homeworking had never been available before, and may have been jobs where it would have been considered impossible to complete the responsibilities from home.
The government advice has changed as the pandemic has progressed, from people being required to work from home, to them being encouraged to go back to work, to the current position where again staff are required to stay home if they can.
These changes have placed many additional responsibilities on businesses to ensure their workplaces are safe when staff do return, as well as to ensure they have appropriate processes and systems in place to manage a remote workforce.
Reasons for staff working from home during this time are varied, and may include:
- Following government advice
- Isolating due to them living with someone with symptoms
- Isolating due to being a close contact of someone with symptoms
- Childcare reasons whereby they need to be home (children isolating, childcare provisions shut etc)
- Businesses asking them to stay home to reduce staff numbers in the office
How can I manage my staff effectively?
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 aspects of homeworking that need careful management and consideration. Many of these can be overcome 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.
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 guidance continues to be updated.
For some staff, homeworking is not possible. It is essential that the risks of these staff coming to work are minimised as much as possible and your environments are Covid-safe.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Our Homeworking Toolkit is also available to support you, you can find out more here.