Flexible working is fast becoming the norm in many business sectors, including micro and small businesses. As hours of work become less defined and work/life balance improves, Sage People Advice experts explore how businesses can improve their productivity, while employees are generally happier.
Progressive and forward-thinking businesses are increasingly offering their workforce the opportunity to work from home for some or part of their working hours.
- Cost savings on commuting to work
- More flexible hours to accommodate family responsibilities
- More comfortable and peaceful environment
For you and your business, the benefits include:
- Higher productivity, as employees can work longer, with fewer interruptions
- More loyal, motivated employees
- Wider pool of potential employees to recruit
- Improves reputation as a family-friendly and socially responsible organisation
- Reduced office space and resource needs
- Less stressed employees
Don’t rush in
Before you let your employees pack their things and start working from home, there are some important considerations that you need to take into account.
Firstly, home working clearly suits some roles more than others. Traditional desk-based office jobs are among the most suitable roles to be performed from home, along with:
- Customer service
If some of your employees are allowed to work from home while others aren’t, then you need to consider what kind of a message that sends out. Where possible, it’s best to keep your whole workforce happy, rather than just some.
Next, it’s important to ask each employee how they feel about working from home. It may be perfect for some employees, but others may thrive in a busy office environment and feel disillusioned and lonely at home.
Think about how working from home could affect team spirit and the culture of the workplace: do you want to risk changing it?
Finding the right balance
If you do opt for a home working approach, then the next thing to consider is the amount of time that your employees spend at home and in the office.
If you allow your employees to work from home entirely, it’s important not to lose touch with them. You should still manage and support them as you did before. They should still attend any important meetings, 1-2-1 sessions and development plan meetings. Sickness, holiday, discipline and grievance procures should also be followed in exactly the same way.
Make sure that you include any adjustments to policies, procedures and methods of management in your home-workers’ contract of employment. You may need specialist help with this to ensure that you have covered all legal requirements
Some businesses opt for a mixture of working locations, spread between the home and office environment throughout the week.
It may be a bit more difficult to monitor your employees’ performance and productivity levels. Make sure that you have a robust tracking system in place, so that you can accurately determine how much work your employees are getting through, and whether this is better, worse, or the same as before.
Setting up for success
For most businesses, sending employees to work from home means providing, installing and setting up equipment, including things like:
- A workstation: usually a desk and a chair
- A laptop or PC, with the necessary software licences and internet connection
- A dedicated phone line
- A printer
- Some stationery
Additionally, you may need to upgrade your business insurance to cover this equipment and employer’s liability.
It’s also worth remembering that even though they work in their own houses, home workers are still your responsibility in terms of health and safety.
This means carrying out a relevant risk assessment, taking into account:
- The testing of any electrical equipment
- A workstation assessment
- Lighting levels
- Trailing cables and other trip hazards
- Employee training to ensure they work safely
- Recording accidents or near misses.
Safe and secure
Another consideration for you is how to keep your data secure. Any sensitive client, employee or business information must be treated in exactly the same way, wherever it’s stored.
You need to make sure that secure passwords and encryption software should be used for all PCs, as well as internet security and firewall protection.
In many cases, it’s best to consider a trial home working period, with a small group. Monitor how it affects productivity, motivation and your business in general before making a decision on extending the programme.