8 tips to make it work for your business

Daytime TV, Facebooking, raiding the fridge, pyjamas until lunchtime or productive, contemporary, quality-time working?

Whatever your view of working from home, it is on the rise.

With one in seven UK workers now working from home on a regular basis, representing 4 million workers in the UK (ONS 2015), home working is becoming a norm in many industry sectors.

Statistically, you are more likely to work from home if you are male (due to the higher number of self-employed men), live in the South of England, hold a management position and work in the private sector (Personnel Today, 5th June 2015). Clearly home working lends itself to certain job sectors more than others: IT and service industry positions are often well suited to working from home whereas any roles with a large face to face element, for example, teaching and medical roles, become challenging to fulfil remotely.

Positives of home working

The obvious advantages to home working are numerous; no more long and sweaty commutes, saving both time and money; flexibility to work around personal commitments and appointments; the peace and quiet of working in your own home without the frequent interruptions of office working.

There are advantages for the employer too, affording companies the opportunity to rent more economical office space which could mean the difference between a desirable, central office location as opposed to an out of town or less prestigious property. Home working also widens the pool of talent to those that may be out of reach for office working.

Downsides of home working

For all the benefits, there are downsides too, for both parties.

For the employees, it can be challenging to get a simple IT set up right with remote working and to have access to all the documents or information needed. But at a deeper level, the sense of belonging for those who work the majority of their time from home can be all but lost if not carefully managed. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, social interaction is ranked third most important for psychological health, behind basic physiological needs and safety. Home workers need the same level of engagement and interaction with colleagues as office workers in order to safeguard the psychological contract between worker and employer. This applies if there are five or 500 staff.

Employers must tackle logistical issues such as scheduling meetings with remote workers, although with technology now so readily available, this issue is fast becoming obsolete. Marissa Meyer banned home working in her first year as CEO for Yahoo, citing the invaluable contribution of ideas generated in hallways and the canteen to business growth (BBC News, 27th February 2013) and certainly there is the argument for the creative process that is unleashed in a shared workspace not being replicated with remote workers.

Employers must also ensure that they are not over-looking or undervaluing home workers in comparison to office based staff. Research by the London Business School points at the continuing importance of ‘passive face time’, with home workers at risk of reduced promotion opportunities, smaller pay rises and lower performance evaluations than their office based peers (BBC News, 27th February 2013).

Health and safety for home working

Workplace health and safety regulations extend to home workers, so employers of all sizes have a duty of care to ensure that employees working from home are working safely and have the required set up and equipment necessary. Risk assessments should be carried out to determine the suitability of work spaces. This could mean investment from the company, as well as the individual, in order to make home working viable.

8 tips for making home working work for your business

As an employer, if you offer home working there are various steps you can take to ensure that it is introduced both as a viable option for the business and a positive experience for the employee:

  1. Have a home working policy: it should clearly outline the expectations of home working, the process for applying to work from home and the parameters of home working;
  2. Establish a framework to show which roles are suited to home working;
  3. Ensure that home workers understand their contractual hours and the times at which they need to be available for work: this should ideally be a signed agreement;
  4. Communicate with your employees: ask for feedback, have an open forum to discuss interest in home working, is it something that would be of interest to a wider group than you have initially considered?
  5. Include relevant health and safety information in your Employee Handbook, for example, setting up your computer at home, desk space required, list of equipment needed;
  6. Ensure that home workers are included in the same development review process as office workers and that everyone has the same access to information on job opportunities, social events and company news;
  7. Invite home workers to attend meetings and social events in person: putting a face to a name can really help relationships within a team or company;
  8. Challenge your own policy: is there anyone who could be disadvantaged by your home working policy?

Home working: inclusion

The message to employers of home workers should be one of inclusion. Remembering birthdays, being aware of people’s lives outside the workplace, as happens with colleagues that share a physical space, makes a real difference to engaging home workers. Investing time in their safety, wellbeing and motivation will pay dividends.

Claire Healy, HR Consultant