During the current pandemic crisis, business leaders handling the avalanche of government legislation have had another issue on their minds – when this is all over, how many people can I leave working from home? Rob Williams, Denis Barnard and Lisa Ali examine what needs to be in place for people to work from home effectively and safely.
It’s a tempting prospect. A reduction of office space and the on-costs in city centres will go straight to the bottom line. In theory, a number of activities can easily be performed remotely and the ability of many businesses to adapt to working from home during lockdown has shown how viable it is.
Without doubt, HR leaders will be tasked with investigating the feasibility of WFH and then implementing it. They will need to consider the individual and their surroundings to judge how WFH will impact them, physically, emotionally, financially and socially.
- How work friendly is the home environment?
Does the employee live in a reasonably quiet neighbourhood? Outside noise should not be sufficient or prolonged enough to cause loss of concentration.
Do they have a suitable space in the home to assign as a workspace? Ideally a room or part of a room that’s airy and well-lit. If they can look out of a window without the light affecting the screen, so much the better; staring at a wall for several hours a day is dispiriting.
Many employees will jump at the chance to WFH, but in the medium to longer term they may suffer that “office withdrawal” and depressive symptoms that we have certainly observed over the past few months
Do they have suitable furniture, such as a desk or table that gives enough space to work and spread out papers and any other work materials?
If they’re going to spend a significant amount of each working week sitting at thier desk, the chair they use becomes crucially important. Working at the kitchen table with a chair designed for 30-minute meals will result in injury.
- How up to date is the home technology?
There are key tech questions which can scupper WFH. HR professionals need to speak with their technology team to assess the requirements, and match them against that of the current provider. It makes sense that if it suits the employer to have someone working from home, give the people the tools to do the job.
Is the current broadband of sufficient speed and bandwidth suitable for supporting work activity? Some software demands a lot of resources, and if a lot of high density files are being handled, this is a primary need.
If your employee has a company computer or laptop at home, there should be no performance problems, but it is worth checking.
To ensure that WFH employees are able to stay in touch and collaborate with colleagues, they should have access to applications such as Microsoft Teams, Slack or Trello.
From an HR point of view, check that self-service platforms are accessible so that remote employees can use it to log in each day, as well as submit overtime and record expenses, sickness and other events. This should include access to all relevant business systems, all of which should be tested for connectivity.
- Domestic distractions
Every homeworker will have a different situation, possibly including caring for children or elderly relatives. One of the attractions for remote workers is that WFH can be done anytime of the day (but see below), although some roles will require core hours if they are customer-facing.
- Working hours
People who work from home often work overlong hours, and this crisis has proved that for many.
Hours of work should be contractually agreed between the employer and the worker, and can make allowances for things like the school run, hospital visits and so on. Access to the business systems would be approved for these hours, and perhaps with a contingency time. Access outside of the agreed hours would be subject to approval.
Regulating the number of hours that it is possible to work are essential measures to protect the employee’s health, and, by extension, the organisation’s duty of care and liability in accordance with working time regulations.
On the other side of the coin, there needs to be agreement on targets or work output, and these needs to be worked out with the functional line manager.
- Employee wellbeing
This is one of the home worker’s new responsibilities. WFH means spending a lot of time possibly alone, and needs a deep appreciation of how they can best maintain their own emotional wellbeing.
Managing a work schedule and maintaining high-quality output may be new activities for some, and they’ll need to have the qualities of self-motivation and initiative to successfully balance WFH and home life.
Does the employee have easy access to an outside space, for example a garden or park? Being able to get outside in the fresh air and, hopefully, sunshine is essential to wellbeing.
Employee wellbeing doesn’t have to be complicated but much information in the public domain is readily available but confusing, and doesn’t actually support an easy step-by-step guide to implement good routines around nutrition, exercise, lifestyle and motivation.
- Working relationships
Many employees will jump at the chance to WFH, but in the medium to longer term they may suffer that “office withdrawal” and depressive symptoms that we have certainly observed over the past few months.
It’s important that as HR frames the new working arrangements the question of ongoing employee relationships with managers and colleagues is carefully considered. The fairest way could be to offer WFH for a trial period of up to three months.
Care with drafting the new contracts and communication across all levels is all-important to make this culture shift a sustainable success, and HR has the starring part to play in this.