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Working from home: a guide for employers and employees

Deciding to take the leap and work from home – or allowing an employee to regularly work from home – can be a tricky decision. Remote working could be completely unsustainable for your business, or it could be the making of its success.

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It’s impossible to ignore how work structures are changing. Increasing numbers of workers and employers now question the long-held conventions of commutes, 9-to-5 office hours and paying large sums of money for offices that aren’t always needed.

Alongside this cultural change, technological innovation has created the tools we need to be able to work from home arguably just as effectively as in an office. It’s a chicken and an egg question to ask which one came first but the fact is that working from home is now a reality for hundreds of thousands of people across the UK.

In fact, the latest Office for National Statistics figures on remote working in the UK show that 1.8 million more people worked from home in 2015 than in 1998. In fact, some 4.2 million of us no longer leave our homes to work. That’s a notable 13.9 per cent of the labour market.

Whether you’re an employee considering working from home more often, an employer considering your remote working policy, or a self-employed individual working from your home office, chances are you have a few questions about how to make the best of the labour market’s new opportunities.

Here’s an overview of what’s what and a quick look at the pros and cons of working from home.

Obligations and responsibilities

For employers

As an employer, if you want to continue to attract the best people in an ever changing, dynamic workforce, maintaining an open mind on your work from home policy can help. Increasingly, offering flexible working options can go a long way to attracting the best talent.

It’s considered best practice to establish a clear work from home policy at the outset of employment.

Furthermore, while you are not obliged to offer home working by default, the government does have something to say on flexible working. The big thing to note here is that if you receive an official request to work from home from an employee, you must deal with it in a “reasonable manner” and talk the issue out with your employee. More on this later.

Increasingly, it’s considered best practice to establish a clear work from home policy at the outset of employment. This reduces any potential for misunderstandings and HR disputes in the future. But be warned, drawing up such a policy is no simple task and will likely pose more questions than it answers.

Establishing a fair work from home policy

Acas offers a good guide on establishing a fair work from home policy. A few stand-out elements for employers to consider include:

  • Ensure you offer home workers the same rights as in-house staff. This includes training, progression and promotion opportunities.
  • You may need to check a worker has the relevant tools and facilities to work effectively from home.
  • Remember to monitor your home workers’ well-being and job satisfaction.

For employees

From the employee’s side of the fence the big news is that a lot of employees now have the right to request a flexible working arrangement. In fact, anyone who has been employed for 26 continuous weeks has a statutory right to make a flexible working request. This could include a request to work from home some or all of the time.

Understand that your employer will often want to discuss the request but remind them to consider it objectively. Remember, the government requires employers to deal with requests in “a reasonable manner”. The official government site reminds employers to consider the following actions to ensure they handle any requests in a reasonable manner:

  • Assess both the advantages and disadvantages of granting your request.
  • Hold a meeting with you, the employee, to discuss your request.
  • Offer an appeal process if one or other party is not happy with the outcome.

Of course, if your request is granted and you begin to work from home, it’s your responsibility to live up to expectations and continue to deliver on your workload, while taking the necessary steps to engage with your team members in the office, perhaps through Skype meetings, phone calls or chat facilities.

Your responsibilities as an employee may include:

  • Being available for contact during established hours.
  • Frequent and thorough communication via the company’s preferred medium: e-mail, phone, etc.
  • Attending regular meetings and ‘check-ins’ to ensure everyone is working from the same page.
  • Ensuring your work space is free from distractions and fit for purpose.
  • Having the correct equipment and internet/phone connections to do your job effectively and reliably.

For the self-employed

Self-employed workers often enjoy working from home – it’s just one of the many perks of working for yourself (depending on your viewpoint!). However, even as your own boss, there are a few things you’ll need to be aware of:

  • You may need to take out special business insurance if you use expensive equipment as part of your business activities that won’t be included under your regular home insurance. If your home is a workplace for others, employer’s liability insurance may be needed and if members of the public are coming into your home office for business reasons, you will need professional indemnity insurance.
  • Don’t forget to consider your tax obligations before opting to work from home. Our guide to going self-employed has some more information on practicalities like this.

The importance of staying productive

"You’ve got to get up every morning with determination if you’re going to go to bed with satisfaction.”

George Lorimer, US journalist and author

Finally, no matter what your situation, it can’t be overestimated just how important self-motivation is for successful home working. Those who can do it over the long-term tend to be able to work hard without supervision and without a manager monitoring their every move.

If you don’t think you’ll be able to motivate yourself from home, then don’t! If you finish the working day without a sense of achievement, you’ll quickly become disillusioned, whether you’re working for yourself or a remote manager.

It can often be a challenge for employers and employees to adapt to new models of working. For those used to the tried and tested structures of 9-5 office work, the easy response is ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’

But there is significant evidence that for some people, at least, the structure is broken and flexible working can fix it. Keeping an open mind and carefully considering the unique circumstances of your company, job role and situation, can reap significant long term rewards for worker and employer alike.

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