Taking a flexible approach to homeworking

Sally Gwilliam, Senior Employment Solicitor, Genus Law

12th January 2017

Allowing your team access to flexible and homeworking can increase productivity, release creative thought and reduce property overheads. Indeed some companies are also taking the innovative approach of doing away with allocated desks, or in some cases office space altogether. A number of suppliers of flexible working space are springing up across Leeds and other large cities, allowing businesses and their employees the availability of hot desks and the ability to network with peers in a far more free and open environment; perfect for growing businesses.

But is flexible or home working always right for a business? Sally Gwilliam, Senior Employment Solicitor at Genus Law, looks at homeworking and gives some top tips for employers to consider.

The ACAS guide on homeworking has identified a number of reasons why there has been a steady increase in people working from home, including employers looking to cut overheads, technology making it easier for roles to be performed outside the office, more employees asking to work flexibly, increase in numbers of employees caring for family, rising costs of commuting, Government policies encouraging people with disabilities back into work, and employers reporting the success of homeworking.

So what should employers consider when deciding whether to allow employees to work from home?

Here are our top tips

  1. Assess whether homeworking is right for your business

The benefits of homeworking can include workers with increased productivity and better motivation, retention of skills which might otherwise be lost due to new family commitments, relocation or disability, and team flexibility. However, for some businesses, and for some roles, homeworking is unsuitable because of its impact on team working, and the management of homeworkers.

  1. Identify the right people for homeworking

Not all roles are suitable for homeworking. Homeworkers need to be able to work alone without having physical support and service. Allow homeworking on an equitable basis in order to avoid complaints of favouritism and keep an eye on productivity.

  1. Make the most of technology

Check a potential homeworker’s broadband speed and consider video conferencing. IT systems must be simple to use for the home worker, with minimal installations and maintenance, whilst still protecting the business.

  1. Prevent breaches of confidentiality and data loss

Consider investing in mobile device management software or sign up for a cloud service. Employers will need to ensure that appropriate safeguards are in place which may include the use of encrypted email, locked cabinets, anti-virus software and the enforcement of a policy that business critical data is only stored on central systems.

  1. Contract of employment

Ensure a homeworker’s contract of employment is fit for purpose and reflects the working arrangement, as well as giving the employer appropriate control over the employee. For example, employers may wish to consider including an obligation on its homeworkers to attend the office from time to time, set out a homeworker’s core hours of work (to reflect office working hours), include a right to enter the employee’s home in certain circumstances and a right to bring the employee’s homeworking arrangements to an end.

  1. Carefully consider health and safety issues

Before allowing staff to work from home, arrange for at least one home visit and keep a record of the risk assessment. Risks associated with fire, noise, hazardous substances and electrical appliances are as important in the home as in the office.

  1. Include the home worker

Communication is key. People who work from home can become isolated, especially in small businesses where internal communication isn’t as comprehensive as large organisations. Make it a priority to keep them in the loop.

  1. Requests to work flexibly

Ensure that all requests by employees to work from home are dealt with in accordance with an employer’s statutory obligation to consider flexible working. While employers are not obliged to agree to an employee’s request to work flexibly, they should be alert to a potential claim for discrimination in refusing a request, where for example, the request is made by a woman returning from maternity leave, or by a disabled employee.

  1. Employees who are carers

Make it clear to home workers and potential home workers that homeworking is not a substitute for suitable care arrangements, that dependants need to be looked after by someone else when they are working and, if necessary, care arrangements should be put in place to cover the time when the employee is working.

  1. Home working policy

Finally, put a homeworking policy in place and make sure that it is implemented. This should not form part of an employee’s contract of employment so employers can amend it from time to time to reflect any lessons leant. Make sure all home workers full understand and have signed up to the homeworking policy.

What should employers do when faced with a flexible working request from an employee?

Despite its advantages, it is inevitable that flexible working arrangements will not always a suitable arrangement for some businesses.

By law, employers are required to consider requests for flexible working in a reasonable manner and must reach a decision within three months from the date on which the request was originally made. However, this does not necessarily mean employers are obligated to grant every request for flexible working received.

If you would like any assistance in creating a flexible or homeworking policy that works for your business, or assistance in responding to a formal request for flexible working, please contact us at employment@genuslaw.co.uk or call 0113 320 4540.