Since lockdown many businesses have successfully implemented full-time remote working.
Initial fears that productivity levels would suffer have mostly proven to be false (query why it would make sense to employ employees you cannot trust to work remotely in the first place) , and many employees are happier with the work-life balance that working from home provides.
Additionally, remote working is an attractive alternative to expensive office space and is a means to achieve cost cutting which could ultimately save jobs.
It is therefore no surprise that an increasing number of companies, including major employers such as Nationwide, are considering a permanent shift to working from home.
What do employers need to consider?
Mixed reactions to full-time remote working should be expected.
Going from a busy workspace to working from home permanently potentially raises mental health and wellbeing issues, and not all employees have the necessary equipment to work from home comfortably.
Keeping in touch with employees and having strong communication channels which are formal, informal, and social makes sense.
Formal discussions such as appraisals and discussions about career progression should take place as normal whilst team calls (both formal and informal) give an opportunity to ensure the team is working well together. It is important that employees feel supported and that working from home does not turn into living at work.
Employers should ensure that employees have the right tools at hand. HR should check that employees have the necessary resources to work from home effectively and safely. It may be that employers offer a “technology grant” which would permit employees to set up their own home office.
For some employees the standard 9am- 5pm is not the best option when working from home, and flexibility around working hours should be reflected in the employment contract.
Health and Safety matters also need to be factored in with risk assessments taking place and being documented.
What about the paperwork?
Employment contracts will need to be adjusted and changed to document agreement to full-time home working.
New contracts or letters of variation setting out the agreed changes should therefore be signed by each employee in order to be binding and to avoid potential breach of contract claims.
These changes should be proactively discussed with employees. Consultation always facilitates change.
The main contractual issues employers need to consider are:
- Place of work – Employers need to consider whether they will be shutting down all offices permanently or if homeworkers may need to attend the office from time to time; for example, for client meetings, training, team meetings, appraisals and disciplinary issues.
- Hours of work – Will strict 9-5 hours still be required?
- Expenses – Who will pay for communication costs, IT costs etc?
- Confidentiality and Equipment – How will the employer manage data protection risks and what precautions are being taken to ensure that confidential information remains secure?
- Right to enter – What happens when IT equipment needs to be maintained or returned when employment ends?
The above is accurate as at 10 September 2020. The information above may be subject to change during these ever-changing times.
The content of this note should not be considered legal advice and each matter should be considered on a case by case basis.