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Remote working can be a mixed blessing for both employers and employees

More people are working flexibly than ever before, with advances in technology fuelling the rise of home working in particular. But while research has in the past suggested that people who work from home are more productive than office-based workers, a recent study shows that the benefits of full-time home working disappear over time.  

Researchers found that as home working becomes the norm, rather than a privilege, some home-working employees come to resent their employers for not paying their utility bills or covering stationery costs, for example. Some managers, on the other hand, feel that these employees are taking advantage of being allowed to work from home. So while flexible working arrangements, including working part-time and job sharing, as well as home working, have potential benefits for both employers and employees, they also present challenges that are often overlooked.

There are steps that employers can take to increase the likelihood of flexible working arrangements succeeding, while also reducing the risk that disgruntled employees will bring grievances or claims against them. Employers would be well advised to:

  • Make sure that employees working from home have suitable and reliable equipment, and decide who pays for what
  • Give home workers suitable access to the organisation’s information systems, with appropriate security settings to ensure access is restricted
  • Consider security and data protection issues, and implement clear rules to deal with how confidential documents should be transported and destroyed. This may involve an initial investment in resources and facilities but is likely to save time and reduce risks in the long term
  • Pay attention to health and safety issues. Many employers carry out routine assessments in relation to office equipment, for example, but do not do the same for staff who use their own equipment and furniture at home
  • Remember about insurance. It is important to decide whether the equipment used for home working will be covered by the employer's insurance policy or one taken out by the employee
  • Ensure that staff working remotely or flexibly are adequately supported, supervised and monitored, and that they remain part of the team in all respects. Communication is crucial, so the arrangements and timings of meetings and even of social events should be considered on an on-going basis
  • Remember that part-time workers are protected from being treated less favourably than full-time workers, and that there is no qualifying period for bringing a claim for less favourable treatment. All managers should receive training to help them avoid inadvertently treating part-time workers less favourably than their full-time colleagues
  • Finally, if there are concerns about how home working, job sharing or other forms of flexible working will operate in practice, try it for a trial period before making the arrangement permanent

The fact that it is easier than ever to work away from the office means that work has become more fast-paced, with employees often expected to be available well beyond normal working hours, whether they are in the office or not. The line between working and non-working time is especially likely to become blurred for people who work from home for all or most of the time. However, employers need to remember that all workers are generally entitled to 11 hours' uninterrupted rest per day, and while there is no obligation to force them to take such rest periods, their right to do so should be borne in mind. Expecting workers to be available at all times could be regarded as putting pressure on them to forego their rightful rest periods. In addition, always being ‘online’ can contribute to increased sickness absence and work-related stress – and that goes for employees who work flexibly or remotely, as much as for those working from 9 to 5 in a conventional workplace.

Added: 03-10-2016
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