June 19

Amends to your employment contract for your home workers….and ensuring you have the right systems in place for a remote workforce…

As the coronavirus pandemic persists, employees are getting used to working from home and many are noticing benefits including avoiding stressful, time-consuming commutes; saving money on travel and food; managing work more efficiently; fewer interruptions; and seeing their children more often.

After the pandemic passes, it is expected there will be a cultural shift towards working from home as a norm and many employees will want to do this, at the very least for part of the week. Equally many employers, having seen the benefits of their staff remote working, are deciding to give notice on their offices and get their heads around running teams of remote workers.

As an employer, you need to make sure that you have the right systems in place to properly support employees who work from home.

Contracts for employees who work from home

Where an employee’s ‘place of work’ is changing to their home address some changes are required to their contract. A new contract may not be necessary but may be simpler if the contract is due for a refresh. If the contract is relatively new and fit for purpose then the new clauses may be added in using a variation of contract letter which the employee needs to agree to and countersign to confirm their agreement.

The new clauses, relevant to homeworking, may include the following:

• where the employee will be based.
• hours of work and the requirement to take breaks.
• that both employer and employee have the right to terminate the homeworking arrangement at any time.
• reimbursement of expenses and/or contribution towards utility costs.
• that the company will supply and insure the necessary equipment. The equipment remains the company’s property and is not to be used for private purposes.
• that the company will supply and pay for a telephone and internet connection for business use.
• that the employee must comply with relevant health and safety and security guidelines. The company will pay any costs involved.
• confidential information and data protection.
• that there is no change to other employment terms and conditions such as pay, hours of work, holiday entitlement and pension contributions.

The home office

A good home office should meet minimum requirements:

• a suitable workspace and a reasonable working environment.
• secure premises and a lockable cupboard or desk.
• compliance with health and safety regulations, including suitable desk and chair and display screen equipment assessment.
• a business telephone line and broadband access.
• a computer with internet and email access, office software and access to a printer. Access to a secure virtual private network (VPN) can allow your staff to connect to your company network from home.
• adequate insurance. Home contents insurance normally excludes business equipment but most employers’ insurance policies cover any place of business.

Health and safety in the home

Normal office health and safety requirements apply equally to employees who work from home.

An initial risk assessment must be carried out, although this can be done by the employee. Employers need to give homeworkers simple, specific health and safety advice and record what has been done.

Areas to consider are:

• the seating and layout of the employee’s computer workstation.
• electrical equipment – has it been tested and certified?
• extension leads and cables for telephones, computers and printers – there should be no trailing leads.
• adequate lighting levels, ventilation and room temperature.

Planning permission is not normally required

Permission is unlikely to be required if all the following are true:

• only one room is used for homeworking;
• only those who live in the house work there;
• the work does not lead to a substantial volume of visitors, nuisance to neighbours or extra car parking.

Tax and business rates are not usually a problem

Homeworkers can ensure the room used has a secondary purpose (eg as a guest bedroom) to avoid paying:

• business rates;
• capital gains tax on the sale of the property.

Using technology for employees who work from home

It is safer for employees who work from home to save their work directly onto the employer’s system, rather than their own equipment. This reduces the risk of a data security breach and limits the employer’s exposure to the provisions of the General Data Protection Regulations.

You can create a secure virtual private network (VPN):

• this enables employees who work from home to connect to your existing computer network online, from any computer with internet access.
• it gives them access to relevant files and systems on the company network, and to resources on the company intranet.
• a fast broadband connection makes it easy to exchange information
• the major cost, for an existing network, is the connection fee.

Understand the pitfalls

• there is a danger of people gaining unauthorised access to your systems. Your computers should be protected with passwords, firewalls and anti-virus software. All data and files should be saved to your intranet where it can be backed up and protected.
• faster technology costs more money.
• homeworkers may need training.
• employees may not use the technology productively.
• employees may fail to back-up information stored on home PCs and laptops.

If you need any help at all with revising your employment contract, or drafting a variation of contract letter, please do get in touch nicola.goodridge@goodhr.co.uk or +44(0)7917878384

June 9

Top tips for managing a remote workforce….

The COVID-19 crisis has driven a revolution in home working. Research demonstrates that flexibility in working hours reduces employee work stress and improves mental and physical stability – which in turn creates greater effectiveness and efficiency, determination and coordination. Further, when there are options to work remotely this tends to result in significant improvements in morale, productivity and engagement.

Some businesses may be wary of remote working, perhaps due to the feeling that they can no longer control or measure the number of hours their employees are working. However, a radical change has already taken place and businesses that mobilise now to embrace this new way of working will find themselves ahead of the curve in terms of resilience and productivity as remote working becomes the new norm.

New way of working

The temptation for managers is to apply the same techniques used when leading a team based in the office. However, managers can no longer directly oversee to ensure work is being done or rely on personal interaction to pick up on problems or gauge how much support or advice a worker may need. They have to learn to adapt their natural communication style, understand how to ‘read between the lines’ from afar and learn how to engage and inspire trust in the team.

There are a multitude of skills required to lead a flexible workforce effectively, with trust forming the foundation, as follows:

1. Agree ways of working. Make sure every team member is clear about how you will work together remotely, how you keep each other updated, and how frequently.

2. Show the big picture but prepare to flex. Remind your team about the big picture and how their work fits into it. Review short-term goals regularly and adjust as needed. If some members can’t carry out all their usual work, consider other skills they can lend to others to meet team goals.

3. Set expectations and trust your team. Be clear about mutual expectations and trust your team to get on without micromanaging. Focus on results rather than activity. Inspire trust by assigning individuals with certain tasks and responsibilities as well as through regular contact to lend encouragement, support and guidance.

4. Make sure team members have the support and equipment they need. This includes any coaching they might need to use online systems or work remotely. Keep your calendar visible and maintain a virtual open door.

5. Have a daily virtual huddle. This is essential for keeping connected as a team, to check in on each other’s well-being and keep workflow on track. It needn’t be long, but regularity is key.

6. Keep the rhythm of regular one-to-ones and team meetings. This maintains a sense of structure and continuity for all.

7. Share information and encourage your team to do the same. Without physical ‘water-cooler conversations’, opportunities to pick up information in passing are more limited. Share appropriate updates or learnings from other meetings and projects and invite your team to do the same.

8. Tailor your feedback and communications. People can be more sensitive if they are feeling isolated or anxious, so take this into account when talking or writing. Communicate regularly, not just when things go wrong, whether it is information, praise or criticism.

9. Listen closely and read between the lines. Not being in the same room means you don’t have extra information from body language or tone to get the sense of what people are thinking or feeling, particularly in more difficult conversations. Home in on what’s not being said and ask questions to clarify your interpretation.

10. Help foster relationships and well-being. Make time for social conversations. This increases rapport and eases communication between people who may not meet often. It also reduces feelings of isolation.

11. Supervise appropriately. Whilst some managers make the mistake of supervising too closely, some slip into the “they will ring me if they need me” mentality. Conversations tend to be only when there is a problem rather than opportunities to share the ideas and experiences needed to build a highly engaged team. This lack of interaction will leave workers de-motivated, under-appreciated and under-developed.

12. Keep an eye on working hours. There is the risk of individuals overcompensating by spending more time working to prove their contribution to the business. Many flexible workers with the ability to work remotely admit to struggling to switch off from work, checking messages in the evenings and weekends and neglecting work life balance, which just leads to an exhausted, unproductive team.

Trust is key

Finland, which leads the world in flexible working, will say that the key reason flexible working is so successful is a deep rooted culture of trust. Trust is the most important factor in implementing flexible working successfully because, in the workplace, this trust translates to an expectation that staff working remotely or at different times of the day won’t end up slacking.

Many employers who have had remote working thrust upon them as a result of the COVID 19 crisis, and who have feared that their staff will not work efficiently and effectively away from the office, have been pleasantly surprised!

If you can foster a culture of trust, your remote team will thrive.

Building trust, communicating effectively and being able to read a situation remotely are not skills that can be developed overnight. Managers should:

• conduct a regular skills audit on themselves and their team to identify areas of improvement;
• request regular feedback from the team on any areas they recommend changing or doing differently.

For any help at all please contact nicola.goodridge@goodhr.co.uk or on +44(0)7917878384