Last reviewed 19 November 2020

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused many changes to our working lives, not least of which being staff working from home more than they likely have ever done before. With many companies across the UK potentially considering whether homeworking should become a more long-term arrangement, it is important to evaluate if this could work for a company going forward. Ben McCarthy, lead researcher and employment law writer at Croner-i, examines this more closely below.

Many companies across the UK are now potentially considering whether homeworking should become a more long-term arrangement since, with the implementation of lockdown back in March 2020, many of them were faced with a situation they had likely never seen before; getting their workforce working remotely. Homeworking as a concept was certainly nothing new; people have worked from home for some time prior to 2020, and indeed employees do reserve the right to ask to do this if they have worked for a company for at least 26 weeks through a flexible working request. But company-wide implementation of remote working was a challenge, one which many companies had to rise to, and quickly, at the start of the year.

As lockdown measures were relaxed over the summer, employers in England were provided more leniency by the Government to ask employees to return to the workplace, provided it was Covid-secure. However, many companies chose not to go back to normal straightaway, permitting staff to continue working from home at least for some of their working hours if not all of them. Some companies even expressed interest at making this a more permanent option, citing that it had worked well for them through lockdown and that it had been popular among their workforce. And this is where things get tricky.

The benefits of long-term homeworking

In the modern workplace, it is becoming increasingly apparent that employees are favoring roles that offer increased levels of flexibility, with a focus on work-life balance. After all, we spend a considerable amount of time at work, and for many the conditions they are working in, such as the ability to work flexibly, can be just as important as the salary they get for it. Traditional approaches to the working day, such as a 9 to 5 office-based job, can make it more difficult for employees with outside commitments. A significant example of this is childcare. Working mothers in particular can struggle in roles that do not offer flexible working arrangements, which can serve to deny them opportunity to progress in their career. Flexible working, such as the ability to work from home, can therefore be extremely helpful for them. This has likely been brought to the fore even more during the pandemic, when it may have been all the more difficult to find childcare due to lockdown restrictions.

Homeworking can be a strong way of maintaining staff morale, with staff appreciating the increased flexibility, avoiding long commutes and operating from the comfort of their own homes. Issues such as staff potentially being late due to traffic or transport issues can be avoided, and employees may be more willing to continue working despite feeling under the weather if they are not expected to travel into the office. The ability to work from home can also prove to be attractive externally as well, potentially attracting staff to a company that may otherwise have not shown interest. It is important to remember that the company does not necessarily need to let staff work from home full-time; allowing for some days at home, some days in the office, can be just as effective.

The cons of homeworking

The important thing to bear in mind is that there is a key difference between working at home and working from home. Working at home suggests it is a temporary solution; that it will come to an end when circumstances permit. This means it is easier to organise and monitor; an employer gives staff what they need to work at home for a short period of time, such as a temporary laptop or details on remotely logging on to company systems, and they do so. This period of time comes to an end, and they return to a more permanent method of working in the office. Working from home is where it is more permanent. And more things need to be considered by both the employer and their employee.

Employees need to be provided all the materials they will need to work from home on a full-time basis. This can extend beyond simply giving them a computer and a phone; it needs to be considered what their working environment will be like and if there will be any health and safety issues raised. For example, typing on a laptop while lying in bed may be an acceptable short-term solution, but poor posturing of this nature may result in long-term issues if it goes on for a period of time. There are also the working arrangements themselves to consider; to give another example, management may be more willing to accept that employees may also need to look after children during the working day on a temporary basis, but may be less so if this is going to be happening more regularly. For some employees, working from home may simply not be a viable option due to the conditions there.

Managing homeworkers

Managers may also be concerned that they will find it more difficult to manage staff remotely, and that employees themselves may struggle with less opportunity to interact with colleagues due to being isolated at home. Indeed, some may struggle without the office environment around them, and may use homeworking as an excuse to not work as hard. This can, however, be countered by the methods used to manage them. For example, managers should set clear targets for homeworkers to work towards and ask them to justify why they have not been able to meet these. Regular meetings could also be held with staff, in order to encourage their interactions with both management and each other. If they do have any problems, or are struggling with the arrangement, they should feel they can come forward.

Conclusion

Working from home has been an effective short-term solution to the issues thrown up by the pandemic but going down this route on a more long-term basis may present further issues for companies that they do not want to face. With this in mind, companies should carefully consider the implications of long-term homeworking before putting into place.

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