How to make homeworking a success

When Dolly Parton sang about working 9 to 5 in 1980, the song reflected most employees’ regular office hours. How things have changed in the past 40 years – can working from home always works?

Remote working, condensed hours, plus flexible start and finish times are all commonplace among UK workplaces. Just 6% of UK employees now say they work a 9am to 5pm job. Flexible working has become the new normal.

Today, 31% of employees work from home at least one day a week. Smart, compact devices and faster internet connections have made working from all over the world, at any time, a possibility.

Flexible working is one of the most sought-after employee benefits, as it allows employees to fit work around other responsibilities. Approximately 90% of UK workers believe that flexible working would boost their productivity, and 58% say it would improve their motivation levels.

There are clear benefits for employers too by changing their own working practices to be much more flexible, in line with a modern working culture. With an agile and flexible workforce, employers can reduce the amount of office space required, saving on expensive overheads.

Working with global partners becomes easier, as employees can shift their working days to accommodate time differences. Offering flexible packages also provides a strong competitive edge in the battle for fresh talent. This is particularly beneficial now, when there are record levels of employment and a shortage of skilled workers.

On the surface, flexible working paints a rosy picture – a win-win for all concerned. However, there are some aspects that need particular attention from employers, as they require a carefully planned and joined-up approach. Making a success of homeworking requires more than just a smartphone and a laptop.

Health & Safety

Over the past decade, millions of pounds have been spent on designing nurturing and supportive office spaces. New furniture, such as ergonomic chairs that support the neck and back correctly, and sit-stand desks, have been introduced at great expense in an effort to keep workers healthy.

However, a H&S survey asked home workers if their employer had given them an ergonomic assessment of any kind on their workstation at home. Worryingly, 58% said they had not.

This lack of care and attention could have serious consequences for the physical health of home workers, storing up a potential epidemic of musculoskeletal issues – 37% of the home workers surveyed reported experiencing new back pain since working from home.

Wellbeing initiatives are often constrained by the boundaries of an office, and don’t extend to remote workers. Employers should be taking on board the ways in which their employees are working, and where from. By taking the time to assess and monitor employees’ homeworking arrangements, employers could prevent long-term problems and reduce absenteeism rates related to the musculoskeletal health of their remote workers.

‘Out of sight, out of mind’

Looking after your employees’ physical health is only part of the picture. Working from home can also have a significant impact on an employee’s mental health. While most home workers in our survey clearly enjoy working from home, using words like “free”, “in control” and “calm” to describe how it makes them feel, it also revealed some negative feelings. Around 25% used words like “isolated”, “remote” and “lonely”.

Working alone can be enjoyable for a limited period of time, but people by nature are social beings, and employees need to feel part of a team. It is the collaboration with others and the ability to see the impact of your efforts that really motivates people and keeps them engaged with their role and the business.

Our survey revealed that 75% of employers had made adjustments to connect home workers to the office, adopting the use of regular face-to-face meetings, video conferencing and dedicated employee benefits. However, 25% had made no changes at all, leaving their employees separated and potentially disengaged from the organisation.

Wellbeing for the modern workforce

Homeworking can increase employee engagement, job satisfaction and wellbeing. By considering what appropriate support and adjustments are necessary to keep up with a modern workforce, employers can reap the many benefits that flexible working brings.

However, remote working can have an impact on some people mental health especially if they live alone – you may need to consider how you keep in touch remotely and electronically to look after the welfare of your vulnerable staff and how you can sign post them to remote support if they need it.

Some Practical Considerations

  • Do you have the right equipment for staff to work from home? Such as IT and internet connections?
  • Are you prepared for staff to use their own laptops if you cannot get a work one to them and if so what cyber protection will it have?
  • Can you give restricted permission to your server information for security of information purposes? Do not forget your obligation under GDPR will still apply.
  • How can you track the work being done – who will do this in your business and how will it be done?

Remote Meetings

With the technical use of video conferencing the dynamics of meetings may change. It could be worth you are issuing some guidance to staff on how to a) chair a meeting and b) for delegates on how to conduct themselves in a meeting – some rules/protocols that work for your business.

Each business is different, and each business will require a different approach to the above questions.

Finally – It is worth remembering that some of your staff will be able to work from home and some will be ‘furloughed’ – no matter what, they still remain employees and they still have all the employment rights they had before all this happened. Tread carefully when making decision on your staff and get advice before you act.

If you need help please get in touch. We will be open during this period and happy to advise you.

Written by Heather Jones of Lamont Jones Limited
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