The pandemic has bought considerable uncertainty to businesses and employers over the last year, but one thing we can be sure of is a continued increase in homeworking arrangements, even after restrictions have been lifted. Employers must ensure that they are prepared for these more permanent shifts in working practices, especially the impact of these changes on employment rights and business efficiency.
Employers must ensure that any agreements regarding permanent or semi-permanent remote working arrangements are clearly set out. This includes the duration of a homeworking arrangement (if applicable) and any conditions attached to this agreement, such as the provision of any homeworking equipment. Employees’ contracts of employment must accurately reflect their place of work and employers will need to ensure that these are updated following the shift to homeworking arrangements. This will be particularly important for those employees that worked in a designated office or other specific place of work prior to the pandemic, and who now work remotely. Employment contracts for staff currently working remotely due to the pandemic will also need to “catch-up” to reflect existing homeworking arrangements.
Employers must make sure that they are able to effectively monitor staff in a homeworking arrangement. Key areas to focus on are:
- supervision – employers must ensure that they have systems in place to supervise staff remotely. Effective supervision is essential to ensuring that staff feel supported in their roles, and to minimising the risks of negligence, misconduct, and regulatory breaches. It is also crucial to providing learning and engagement opportunities so that staff can continue to progress in their careers. Effective supervision of staff will be even more important in a remote working environment due to a lack of face-to-face contact, and employers must ensure that they continue to regularly “check-in” with staff working remotely to ascertain staff wellbeing, progress, and training needs;
- compliance - regulatory requirements remain the same for staff working remotely. Employers will need to ensure that staff continue to uphold these requirements, despite not being able to monitor adherence as closely due to homeworking arrangements. Regular training should be provided to staff and compliance policies and procedures should be updated and available to all staff to remind them of any regulatory obligations;
- security – employers must continue to ensure the security of data and systems, despite homeworking arrangements. Employers should have robust policies on data protection, internet usage and system security in place, and these should be updated to reflect any changes arising from homeworking arrangements, such as the increased risk of phishing emails and the use of work devices for personal use. Again, regular training should be provided to all staff to ensure staff are aware of the risks and any action they need to take;
- performance – employers may need to update performance frameworks to reflect how the performance of staff working remotely will be monitored. Remote working arrangements must not prejudice staff who have little face to face contact with supervisors or managers from accessing opportunities or promotions, and employers may need to develop systems for monitoring the number of hours worked to ensure that Working Time Regulations limits are not exceeded;
- flexible working – employers will need to update (or create if remote working was not offered before the pandemic) remote working and flexible working policies to reflect the shift towards more homeworking. Employers should think carefully about the processes they wish to adopt for implementing flexible and remote working arrangements, and any constraints on these arrangements; and
- wellbeing – employers should maintain open channels of communication and regularly “check-in” with staff to prevent staff feeling isolated due to prolonged periods of remote working, and a lack of face-to-face contact with colleagues. Key policies on issues such as whistleblowing and complaints should be updated to reflect the procedures that need to be followed for those working remotely who wish to raise concerns. These, along with any wellbeing policy, should be made available to remind staff of the options available to them (if needed) and how any concerns can be dealt with.
For further assistance on homeworking arrangements, or any other employment matters please contact our Employment Team who will be more than happy to assist you.