As we enter the new COVID-19 tiers, one thing is for sure; even if you are in the lowest tier, you should continue to work from home where you can. So, if this is how it’s going to be for another 6 months or so, do you need to look again at the arrangements you have put in place for your homeworkers?
Planning for the longer term
So far, your arrangements for home working might be a bit of a mish-mash of existing practices and procedures, some ad hoc updates, and a certain amount of fudging. But should you now be thinking again about whether those arrangements are actually working properly?
If you are thinking of conducting a review, here are a few things to bear in mind:
1. Workstations – Many of us have spent the last nine months working from our dining tables, breakfast bars or (heaven forbid) our sofas. Not everyone has the luxury of a dedicated home office. So, are you sure that your employees have established safe, sensible and well thought out workstations for themselves? If not, you ought to be talking to your employees about this. At the very least, they should be conducting their own basic risk assessment of their workstation, in accordance with the HSE guidance (https://www.hse.gov.uk/toolbox/workers/home.htm). Better still, can you proactively offer additional guidance and advice on working safely from home?
2. IT and other facilities - Many employees who previously worked from the office will have been ‘making do’, using their own existing IT equipment to undertake their daily work. Understandably, employers may have been reluctant to invest in significant additional hardware, when the hope was that we would all be back in the office by now. However, given that this hasn't happened, is now the time to review whether people really have all of the ‘kit’ they need to work both safely and productively from home?
3. What about data security? - Many businesses will already have created secure methods by which their employees can log on to the company IT systems whilst work remotely. However, others may have left their staff to their own devices to work out how to muddle through. Do you know how your staff are processing and storing your confidential business information (including information to which data protection laws apply)? Have you clearly set out what is expected of your employees in relation to the processing and storage of both electronic and hard copy information? If not, this is a high priority. The security of confidential and personal data remains essential to the safe and lawful conduct of your business. The Information Commissioner's Office will continue to hold us all to very high standards, despite the COVID pandemic.
4. Costs and expenses - Over the summer months, the costs associated with employees working from home may have been fairly modest. However, now that we are going into winter, if people are heating and lighting their homes to a much greater extent, is there the prospect that they might start to demand a contribution towards their increased utility bills? With this in mind, what about helping your employees to claim tax relief on up to £6 per week towards the cost of the additional household expenses associated with working from home? If you want to know more, click on the following link: https://www.gov.uk/tax-relief-for-employees/working-at-home
5. Health and well-being - Finally, but no less importantly, how are you looking after the well-being (both physical and mental) of your staff? Whilst some team members may be enjoying the opportunity to work from home, others may find it isolating, frustrating and potentially damaging to their mental health. Are you providing your staff with regular opportunities to discuss their feelings? What help and support can you offer? Do you need to make sure line managers are reaching out to their staff, staying in touch, and maintaining effective levels of communication?
Need a hand?
We hope the comments above give you an idea of some of the issues you ought to be considering when devising new practices and procedures. It is not for us to tell you how to run your business; different companies will want and need to approach these issues in a variety of different ways. But if you need a hand in turning your new working practices into robust written policies and procedures (or even amendments to your contracts of employment), please get in touch; we are here to help!