As I write this at home on a Thursday afternoon in my pyjamas, large glass of whiskey in hand, Netflix on in the background*, the benefits of working from home from an employee's perspective have never seemed clearer. Many employers have though traditionally been reluctant to permit employees to work from home, perhaps fearing that working remotely means not remotely working.
Working from home is often seen as a perk of leaving the world of employment behind and starting one's own business. However, in recent years the number of employees working from home has been on the rise.
Historically, working flexibly has been associated with - and particularly attractive to - those with caring responsibilities, but since 2014 all staff with at least six months' service have been entitled to ask to work flexibly. While employers are not required to agree to such a request, they may only turn it down for one of the business reasons prescribed by the legislation, and if the applicant has a protected characteristic those considering the request will also need to think through any potential indirect discrimination issues before refusing it.
Technological improvements mean that working from home works much better than it did even a decade ago, with IT and phone systems typically enabling a fairly seamless transition from office to home. Rising house prices also mean that more and more members of staff face a long commute to the office, increasing the attraction of working from home at least on a part-time basis.
For an employer, the goodwill fostered by allowing employees to work in a way which suits them can have real value in terms of job satisfaction and loyalty. If working from home is adopted widely throughout the organisation it can also enable employers to reduce office space, possibly through adopting a hot-desking policy.
I'm also of the view that there is some work that really can be done better from home, free from the distractions of office life. However, some of these 'distractions', like chats by the tea point/water cooler/printer, have the benefit of building team camaraderie and enabling unstructured discussion of ideas that can be of real value to employers. Working from home for significant periods can be lonely, or alternatively might come with its own distractions, as South Korea expert Robert Kelly found out when an interview interrupted by his children went viral.
For employers looking to make working from home work, the following tips may be of some assistance:
• If an employee asks to work flexibly, consider whether they should be encouraged to use the formal flexible working application policy;
• Document the arrangements agreed (or, if the request is refused, the reason for refusing it);
• In many cases, a trial period will be appropriate – if so, aim to be clear about how long the trial will be and diarise a time to catch up with the employee to discuss how the arrangement is working;
• Consider how working from home may affect communications within the team. If significant numbers of staff work from home part-time, would it be helpful to ensure that there is one day of the week when everyone is in the office, enabling a full team meeting to take place? If this isn't practicable, consider arranging for staff working remotely to participate in internal meetings by speakerphone or (better) video call/conferencing;
• Acas has published a guide to homeworking which is worth reviewing, and includes some guidance on health and safety and insurance issues connected with working from home.
*Only joking, Employment Team partners.