Getting the best from homeworking 

Last updated: 22 Sep 2020

The enforced period of lockdown has meant that many of us have experienced working from home for the first time in our working careers.

Although not planned, many have surprised themselves how well they have coped with the transition from office to home. But for others it has been a much more challenging experience.

Juggling caring responsibilities and work commitments means home has become inseparable from work leaving some feeling stressed and unsupported. Even for those who are happy working from home, the experience can lead to unsettled sleep patterns or cause aches and pains from working in cramped spaces.  

Many employers have noticed that homeworking has created new opportunities saving costs by reducing the size of their office footprint. Google, Facebook and Fujitsu are some of the most high profile companies preparing to shift a higher proportion of their staff towards homeworking.  

What are the most important issues you should look out if for your employer suggests a shift towards homeworking? 

  • Homeworking should be voluntary –  If you were working in an office before the lockdown and your employer has decided to make a current home working arrangement permanent, your employer should seek your agreement. If there are particular difficulties for individuals working from home, or you do not wish to make this change, you should talk to your employer. Where an agreement is not possible and your employer insists on a change to your work location you will need to seek advice from the union, as your rights will depend on your contract and personal circumstances.

  • One size does not always fit all – Lockdown has allowed everyone to broaden their horizons about what work can be done remotely. It shows that homeworking can work just as well as office-based roles in some cases, but not all work is the same. Some jobs can only be done safely in a secure office others will need to be closely supervised. But even in jobs where remote working is a good fit, work routines and team dynamics will vary. New employees will find it more difficult to integrate with their work colleagues and those picking up new tasks may benefit from informal mentoring and advice in a shared office space. So there will always need to be a mix. Finding the right balance is something that you need to discuss with your employer if this is a step you are considering.

  • Remote working can be unfair for women – While the flexibility of remote working can be attractive to many, it can also reinforce divisions in the home. Research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies during the pandemic found that women were more likely to take on the burden of additional caring responsibilities. There is also a risk that the best opportunities for progression and promotion will go to those who are office-based. This means that equality considerations should be right at the top flexible working arrangements. Any changes should be closely monitored to ensure that those who are working from home do not miss out.

  • You need a safe home office environment – An office creates a space where the employer can regulate office security and is able to ensure that good health and safety practice is applied. Although the employer is still responsible for your welfare when you work from home many of these responsibilities are shift to the homeworker. You can safeguard your positon by designating an office space in your home. This should be an area where you can work without being disturbed, can take part in private business calls and ensure that sensitive material is not seen by others in your household. If this kind of space is not available then homeworking is probably not going to be the best choice in the long run.

  • Line management support  Many roles do not require direct supervision but there is still a need for management direction. The conversation with your line manager should be an opportunity to get meaningful support and direction. Working out the best arrangement to have regular catch ups will help to build up a good working relationship. This is particularly the case when setting work objectives. Make sure these are clear, relevant and achievable.

  • The employer should provide you with the equipment you need – As a minimum you will need IT equipment that is connected to secure your work systems, an office table and chair and any office stationery. Temporary measures taken during lockdown will need to be compared with what you would normally expect in your office. Some employer support is allowable, but remember some essentials, such as a good broadband connection, are not tax free.

  • Make sure you have the right to disconnect – The rise of e-presenteeism brought on by the pandemic has left workers vulnerable to an overwhelming feeling of burnoutAs commuting time turns into more work time, it can be difficult to stick to your core work hours. Remote working can feel like it is a never-ending stream of Zoom meetings. Any agreement to work from home should be accompanied by the right to switch off work devices at specified times and core hours for the organisation of meetings.

  • A right to privacy – Working from home can blur the divisions between home and work. Your employer has the right to expect you to comply with procedures that protect data, but in return workplace monitoring should be proportionate, transparent and clearly set out in data privacy policies.

  • Keeping in touch with office colleagues  Working from home has many benefits but it can also leave you feeling isolated. Scheduling regular catch ups with your colleagues is a good idea even if you can only do this remotely at the moment. If your homeworking arrangement becomes important then you will need to schedule regular face to face meetings with your work colleagues.

  • Get a share of the benefits from homeworking – If remote working can be made to work within your organisation it can generate some tangible benefits. For the homeworker, less downtime travelling to work, more flexibility over work hours and a dedicated home space. The employer can make savings on the costs associated with running an office and the employer may want to cut some employee benefits. Make sure you are not short changed. If the employer wants more employees to work from home they will need to seek an agreement with the union.  

Prospect makes sure you have access to independent and expert advice on issues like this and many others – so that you can get the best out of work. Make sure you have access to the help you might need, when you need it, by joining today.