The way we work is changing and the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics showed that in 2019 around 1.7 million people worked mainly from home, with 8.7 million saying that they have worked from home at some point. Over time, the proportion of people who say they mainly work from home has steadily increased.
With the impact of the coronavirus and the need for social distancing, working from home has become even more common as every employee that can is meant to work remotely.
This has presented challenges to businesses that previously may not have been used to their team working from home, whether that’s with communication, management, or their employees’ motivation and well-being.
Our guide aims to give both employers and employees some working from home tips, showing how to work from home and still maintain your business identity and success.
How do working from home policies work for businesses?
Giving flexible working options, including the chance to work from home, can help to attract new employees that aren’t just based where your office space is.
All employees have the right to request flexible working if they have been employed for 26 or more continuous weeks.
Employers are not obligated to offer the option of homeworking, but if you receive an official request to work from home from an employee, you must deal with it in a “reasonable manner” and discuss it with your employee.
You should have an appeal process if one party isn’t happy with the outcome.
As homeworking is becoming an increasingly significant form of work, employers may find it useful to establish a work from home policy for their business that reduces the potential for misunderstandings and makes it clear to employees what is acceptable.
What are the responsibilities of employers and employees when working from home?
Acas has created a guide to the responsibilities of employers and employees when working from home. Some of the key points for employers include:
- Make sure home workers have the same rights as in-house staff, with regards to training, progression, and promotion, for example
- Check each employee has the tools, equipment, and facilities they need to work from home safely
- Monitor the well-being and satisfaction of remote employees
- Set clear expectations of when remote employees should work, how they will keep in touch (and how often), and how their performance will be measured
When working from home, employees have the responsibility to:
- Be available for contact during set hours, or make it known when you will be working
- Stay in frequent communication with team members and their employers
- Create a workspace that allows them to focus on work with no distractions- include having internet and connections that enable them to do the job
How to remotely manage a team
Employers and employees need to have trust. Trust that employees will do their work and trust that employers will make sure they have everything they need and have a duty of care to employees.
Be clear about expectations for employees
Employers should make it clear what they expect from their remote-working employees, in terms of goals, working hours and any other business deliverables.
Managers and teams should communicate effectively to make sure employees are on track with their work and to maintain the employer-employee relationship. Communicating will also help to build trust.
Offer encouragement and support
Especially in the context of a new shift to working remotely, managers need to acknowledge stress and empathise with their employees struggles. Even a general question such as “How is working from home going?” can give your employees a voice to discuss their concerns. Praising employees on a job well done is also important to keep up morale.
Don't forget to communicate
To aid communication, establishing daily check-ins with employees in the form of one-to-one calls or a team call can be really useful. It's important that calls are regular, and act as a forum for managers to field any questions or concerns that their team has.
See the section below on tools to help you when working from home for recommendations on the type of software your team could use to improve communication.
Social interaction is key
Whilst it’s important to cover off the business agenda on calls, managers should remember to provide an opportunity for social interaction on calls. Having informal conversations about non-work topics is particularly important for remote employees who may suffer from feelings of isolation. This can be added to regular catch-ups, or as separate check-in calls.
To help keep your team happy and engaged while working remotely, you could get together for a weekly games hour via video conferencing. There are plenty of ideas for games out there to boost team engagement and combat isolation.
Tips for staying motivated when working at home
Create a routine
Create a routine and, if possible, continue with your regular working hours. By following a morning routine, rather than moving straight from your bed to your laptop, you will help get into the right mindset for working.
Whether it’s doing some exercise, having breakfast, or even just getting showered and dressed before sitting down at your laptop, this will help you prepare for the working day ahead.
Make yourself accountable. i.e. have team calls and say that you’ll get a task done by a certain day or time. This will help to focus your mind and be motivated to reach that deadline.
This can also work by setting yourself mini deadlines. Plan what you’re going to go each day and tick off tasks that are completed.
Make sure you take breaks. When at home it can be hard to remember to take breaks, and you may feel some guilt about doing so, but taking breaks away from your screen will keep you more focused and motivated. Maybe set an alarm to get up, make a drink, stretch your legs at regular intervals.
Create a dedicated working space
Have a dedicated home office, or workspace if you can’t have a separate room, that you are comfortable working in. Try to eliminate distractions, both in the room and on your laptop and don’t have social media tabs open.
Talk to your colleagues
Stay in touch with colleagues. Over communicating is better than not communicating enough. You could try scheduling an online coffee break with your colleagues to keep up communication throughout the working day.
With time, you will work out what works best for you. Don’t copy other people's routine, make your routine and workspace personal to you.
Tools to help you when working from home
- Trello is a free online list making software that allows you to organise and collaborate on projects.
- Slack is used for instant messaging, and allows you to quickly chat, both individually and as groups. This is great for quickly sharing information and documents to the wider company.
- Google Hangouts and Zoom can be used for video-conferencing. As well as a replacement for meetings, the face-to-face contact helps to maintain connections between the workforce.
How to look after your mental health and well-being whilst working from home
- Try to leave the house every day - even if it’s just for a daily walk.
- Stick to your defined hours and don’t let the working day run over into your home time. It is important to keep a work-life balance, so be definite when you are finished with work for the day. Simply shutting down your laptop and leaving your workstation, cooking a meal or going for a walk will help you to switch off from work mode.
- Set clear tasks for the day that you can tick off as you complete them. But don’t worry if you don’t complete them all. Focus on what you have managed to achieve.
- Create a routine and try to keep things as normal as possible, i.e. when you start/finish work, when you have lunch etc.
- Take regular breaks, and when you take breaks, don’t just stay at your laptop and open social media or watch videos. Make the break clearly defined by leaving your desk and doing something completely different.
- Socialise with colleagues and not just about work. Human contact, whether that’s via instant message or video call will help you to feel connected and minimise any feelings of isolation or loneliness.
- If you do feel like you’re struggling with your mental wellbeing, ask for help. You could speak to a family member, a friend, a colleague, your employer, or a helpline- it’s always important to speak about any worries with someone and to look after your mental health.
- If you are struggling with work, or if you think your work is suffering as a result of your isolation , your employer should be able to offer some support to help you. Employers should regularly check in on their employees to make sure they are coping.
Is remote working right for my business strategy?
Finally, no matter what your situation, it can’t be overestimated how important self-motivation is for successful home working vs being in your regular office space. Those who can do it over the long-term tend to be able to work hard without supervision and a manager monitoring their every move.
It can often be a challenge for employers and employees to adapt to new models of working. Keeping an open mind and carefully considering the unique circumstances of your company, job role, and situation, can reap significant long term rewards for workers and employers alike.