Flexible Working Requests. Are You Prepared?

These days the ever increasing advances in technology and considerations around work-life balance mean that it is not always necessary for employees to be at their desks in the office during the working day. There are many opportunities for different, more flexible patters of working including working from home, flexible working hours and job sharing.

Did you know that your employees have certain rights to ask for a more flexible working pattern? And if you receive such a request, do you know how to handle it? Since June 2014, any employee with more than 26 weeks of employment service with you has a right to make a request for flexible working if they wish to. The employee can make a single request once per twelve month period.

To make a request for flexible working the employee must submit it in writing and include:

• The date of the request
• The change they are requesting (for example home working)
• The date they want the change to apply from
• How they see the change requested impacting on the business
• If the request is being made under the Equality Act 2010

As an employer, you must fully consider any such request you receive. This must be done, including any potential appeals, within three months of the date of the request from the employee. It is suggested that you meet with the employee to fully discuss and explore their request to establish the facts and circumstances behind it. Then armed with the facts you will be able to give the request full and complete consideration. Should you grant the flexible working request it will most likely mean a change to the employee’s contract of employment given the new circumstances so bear that in mind.
If you decide to reject the request then you must have a bona-fide business reason for doing so and communicate your decision to the requesting employee.

They may wish to discuss your rejection and the reasons for it so do be prepared for dialogue. Depending on the nature of this it may involve your HR department, a union representative or possibly even formal arbitration. The process has to be completed within three months of the date the flexible working request is received. This period includes, if you reject a request, any time for challenges or appeals from the employee.

A desire for homeworking is becoming a more and more popular reason for employees making flexible working requests. If so you will need a policy on homeworking. Below, we will look at the practicalities of having employees based at their home and associated policy considerations.

Essential Elements for a Working from Home Policy

Working from home is becoming an increasingly popular practice which can have attractions for both employer and employee. This is particularly pertinent as technology makes working from home easier.
This may have business benefits for all such as cost savings on office space, no commuting costs for the employee and perhaps a more motivated and productive employee given a more beneficial work-life balance.

If you do have employees working from home it is suggested that you develop a formal policy to govern this. It is suggested that you involve your HR and legal departments in the policy development. Let’s take a quick look at some of the suggested key points to consider.

Is the post suitable for home working?

Not all jobs and not all people will be suitable for working from home. An obvious example being production line staff if you run a factory. You need them on the production line. On the other hand sales or admin support staff may have duties which do not necessarily require them to be in the office to do their jobs well.

Working from home requires a different mind-set and discipline from the employee. They themselves may not be able to adapt to the different routine. Consider that and discuss it with them before approving working from home. Perhaps initially you could offer it on a trial basis of say one or two days a week gradually building up to full time subject to mutual review and agreement.

Who provides IT and other equipment?

To make a proper home office or working area the employee will need suitable space in their home. Do they have such space – a spare room perhaps and are they prepared to dedicate it as a work space?
Consider any equipment needs. Will you provide their IT, laptop, a separate internet connection and telephone line for business use, IT support, desk, chair and other peripherals or do you expect the employee to provide everything themselves? Will you give them an allowance to purchase anything they may need such as a desk and chair for their home office?

Health and safety considerations

Questions to ask yourself and consider around this will include is the employee’s home suitable for home working, is a risk assessment required, do you need to provide safety items such as a fire extinguisher, will you make a contribution towards extra heating and lighting the employee will use when working from home, are any insurances required for the business equipment and who pays for that, do you need the option to occasionally visit the employee at home to ensure all is well?

Information security

This will be an important consideration for your working from home policy.
If you have employees working at home remotely how will you ensure that confidential company information is secure? This is not limited to internet connections and emails. It also includes paper documents the employee may print out or otherwise be working on, have on USB sticks or simply leave on their desk in their home work space. If the home based employee has their family in the house too how will you ensure that security is maintained and, for example, paperwork isn’t accidentally mixed up with household items and destroyed or seen by visitors? You may require a locked space, all IT to be turned off, secure passwords, a “clear desk” policy at the end of the working day with all paperwork locked away securely.

Performance monitoring

Working from home requires a different discipline for the employee. One of becoming used to working in their home alone and being able to make that adaptation successfully without succumbing to the obvious temptations that may bring. How can you make sure that the home based employee is discharging their duties effectively whilst “out of sight” and without them feeling isolated? Another important consideration for your policy. How will you support them, how often will they be contacted and by what method without making the feel that they are under too much scrutiny? This might include a daily check-in call with their line manager, a video chat, hangout or similar. Perhaps they could be required to still attend the office in person for important team meetings, appraisals and similar so they still feel involved and part of the team.

The items we have looked at here should be food for thought if you are considering working from home as an option for some of your work force. A properly planned and executed working from home policy can have excellent benefits for both you as the employer and your employees.

Homeworking and Health and Safety Considerations for Employers

As an employer you have duty of care to all your employees. This extends to any employees you may have working from home. The health and safety of home based employees will be one of the biggest considerations for you when developing your working from home policy. Roles perhaps more suitable for working from home are the more “traditional” office based activities such as administration, sales or perhaps customer telephone support.

If you have any home based employees then health and safety legislation still applies and it is your responsibility as the employer to conduct a risk assessment with regard to the suitability of the homeworker’s accommodation for them to work in. This will include such considerations as lighting, heating, ventilation, space, layout, desk space, desk suitability, chair suitability, IT equipment, peripherals and anything else just as if the employee was office based.

Other considerations may include:

• Does the employee have, or will you be providing, desk, chair, IT, internet, telephone line, other equipment
• Will you be providing safety equipment such as a fire extinguisher, fire blanket etc.
• Does the employee have a home insurance policy which includes cover for homeworking and third party claims
• Does your employers’ insurance include cover for your equipment being used in an employee’s home

It is suggested that you build health and safety aspects in to your working from home policy and that you must visit the employee’s home to conduct the assessment with them present. Make a record of the assessment and discuss it with the employee. Do not approve home working until any issues arising from the assessment have been fully rectified, checked again and approved. Remember that you as the employer remain responsible for any equipment you supply to them. Thus you may need to build in PAT testing for any electrical equipment. Similarly, the same considerations apply around computer use such for example:

• Is the screen clear and readable, without flicker, free from glare and reflections
• Are brightness and contrast controls adjusted to prevent eyestrain
• Is the keyboard placed in the right position

In other words, is the employee’ home office work space set up optimally with the equipment you have provided are they happy with it and does it meet all requirements. The employee is responsible for making good any issues with their home arising from the health and safety assessment.

You may wish to conduct further periodic health and safety assessments to ensure compliance and remind the employee that they need to notify you immediately should they have any health and safety concerns around their homeworking.

Any accidents or incidents arising from working at home should still be reported and recorded in the usual way. It is suggested that this is included in your working from home policy so the employee is aware of it.

Tips for Converting from an Office Based to a Home Based Employee

Making a successful transition from office based to home based worker requires some getting used to. However it can be done and the benefits of working from home can be considerable. It does require a different mind-set and some discipline on your part.

Here are some hints and tips which may help you, based on my own experience of making that transition. I hope you find them useful should you be either thinking of working from home or are new to it.

Get up at the same time

After years of commuting to the office you will be used to getting up early every day for that grinding trip to work. Now you do not have to go through that. Perhaps your “commute” has now become a short hop along the landing to your new office in the spare bedroom. It will be tempting to stay in bed for an extra hour or so and have a lie-in. My advice is not to do that. Get yourself out of bed at the usual time. Go through your usual pre-commute routine. Have a shower, have breakfast, get dressed and “pretend” you are going to work. Kid yourself in to doing it. Keeping the same routine helped me get in to home working easier.

This meant not only was a trying to fool myself nothing had changed, when I wandered in to my new home office and logged-in I was doing so a good hour earlier than normal. I found that anything which had arrived overnight I could deal with and respond to immediately without the inconvenience of the grinding commute and I still felt fresh.

Sometimes to simulate a commute I would go for a short walk around the block before starting work. A little extra kidology to trick myself and get a spot of exercise at the same time. A few lung-fulls of morning air set me up well for the day in a much more positive frame of mind than a drive to the railway station and then that train ride squashed in with everyone else.

Keep the routine through the day

As a further piece of kidology until I got in to the homeworking routine was to pretend to myself that as far as possible to stick to the usual work day routine. That included giving myself a coffee break, taking a lunch break and still doing what I’d normally do when I’d normally do it. As I adapted to working at home I did find I could make changes and still get my work done. Indeed, I found I could do more in a working day as I no longer had the usual office-based distractions and interruptions. A little tip I offer to give some representation of office background noise rather than work in silence is to have the radio on tuned in to a news or talk channel. I found that helped a lot. Another tip I offer to help keep the routine is to resist the temptation (unless you really want to) of doing more and working longer simply because you are at home and have all-day access to your computer, work ‘phone etc. I made a promise to myself that at the end of the working day my laptop and mobile ‘phone were turned off and I would not go back on at say 8pm for an hour. I wouldn’t do that if in the office so I wouldn’t do it at home just because I could.

At the end of the day

Something I found a help was at the end of my working day I went out for a walk – even just for ten or fifteen minutes. This, I told myself, was to simulate leaving work and coming home so I had a bit of a separation between finishing work for the day and coming “home”.

Working at home is not so different from working in an office. You also need to be aware that you do not have to behave differently towards work, even if you are working on a project independently.
These suggestions and tips above are things I got in to when I first started working from home and then adapted for myself, in consultation with my employer, to make sure I still did my job properly (better even…) with the extra flexibility and freedom I enjoyed through working at home.
You will find what works best for you depending on your own personal circumstances, home life, job responsibilities and employer.

Key Words: Barnsley accountants, accountants in Barnsley, working from home, home working tips for employees

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