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Why working from home shouldn’t be a problem… (for many, but not for all)

A woman from home on her laptop.

With recent headlines surrounding Coronavirus (Covid-19) sparking conversations on preventative measures for workplaces, there are undoubtedly a number of employers worried about the negative impact these measures may have on their organisation.

As much as we do not agree with any fear-mongering surrounding the coronavirus, preventative measures should be carefully considered by organisations, as it is in the best interest of all parties that employees are protected from any illnesses/viruses.

One of the preventative measures that is making headlines is allowing employees to work from home.

For the sake of clarification, we’ve opted to answer some frequently asked questions surrounding working from home or ‘remote working.

Do I have to let my employees work from home?

Contrary to popular belief, in the UK, all employees have the legal right to request flexible working - not just parents and carers. Employees can do this through a process called “making a statutory complaint”.

Flexible working is a way of working that suits an employee’s individual needs, which can be anything from having flexible start and finish times, or working from home.

Legally, to be eligible for flexible working, employees must have been working for a single employer for at least 26 weeks.

Employers must deal with requests in, what the government considers, a ‘reasonable manner’, which includes:

  • assessing the advantages and disadvantages of the application
  • holding a meeting to discuss the request with the employee
  • offering an appeal process

You can find further guidance on what is considered a “reasonable manner” from Acas.

Employers should usually make a decision within 3 months of when the request was initially submitted.

What if certain jobs can’t be done from home?

For some roles and organisations, remote work might be impossible. With that said, an employer can refuse an application if they have a good reason for doing so.

If you do choose to refuse a flexible working application, as an employer, you must inform the employee that you’ve rejected their application.

Employers can reject an application for any of the following reasons:

  • extra costs that will damage the business
  • the work cannot be reorganised among other staff
  • people cannot be recruited to do the work
  • flexible working will affect quality and performance
  • the business will not be able to meet customer demand
  • there’s a lack of work to do during the proposed working times
  • the business is planning changes to the workforce
  • work physically cannot be done from home

Does working from home increase or decrease productivity?

So, now you know what rights employees have when it comes to flexible working, you may now be wondering how it would impact your employee’s productivity?

Well, new research by YouGov Omnibus reveals that 20% of HR managers believe that staff work to a slightly higher standard at home than they do in the office, and a further 7% believe they work to a “much higher” standard.

Even if the evidence for increased productivity from working from home isn’t enough to convince you to allow it, 49% of HR decision makers think that it has no effect at all on output.

It may also fill you with confidence to know that 70% of organisations actively encourage employees to work from home.

Even some hugely successful organisations including Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Google and Facebook are encouraging staff to work from home and not to go into their offices, in light of recent events.

Whilst it would appear that the negative stigma attached to working from home is gradually starting to fade, 27% of employers still actively discourage working from home.

Questions you might want to ask yourself before allowing homeworking

  • Is home working for my staff feasible or even possible?
  • Where will the individual be working? Is it suitable for them?
  • Do they have the right equipment and workstation set up?
  • Will they have the proper safeguards in place to ensure information is not at risk?
  • Does the individual have a medical condition or injury that requires accommodation?

What we can learn from 37Signals and Basecamp

Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, founders of 37Signals and Basecamp, published a book back in 2013 called “Remote: Office Not Required”, which is all about their experience of running an organisation with an entirely remote workforce.

As an employer, restricting your hiring to a small geographic region means you’re not getting the best people you can. As an employee, restricting your job search to companies within a reasonable commute means you’re not working for the best company you can. REMOTE shows both employers and employees how they can work together, remotely, from any desk, in any place, anytime, anywhere.

Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, founders of 37Signals and Basecamp

Basecamp offers a project management and team communication platform that is now used by over 3 million people and is now valued at over $100 billion. What's so impressive about Basecamp? They only have around 50 staff, all of which have the complete freedom to live and work wherever they want. Their team is built up of staff that are spread out across 32 different cities around the world! 

Here is an extract from the book that lists one of the many reasons that allowing for home working can be beneficial for an organisation...

The Two Biggest Drags On Productivity: Meetings And Managers

Meetings. Ah, meetings. Know anyone out there who wishes they had more meetings? We don't either. Why is that? Meetings should be great--they're opportunities for a group of people sitting together around a table to directly communicate. That should be a good thing. And it is, but only if treated as a rare delicacy.

When meetings are the norm--the first resort, the go-to tool to discuss, debate, and solve every problem-- they no longer work. Meetings should be like salt--a spice sprinkled carefully to enhance a dish, not poured recklessly over every forkful. Too much salt destroys a dish. Too many meetings destroy morale and motivation.

Now, what about managers? Managers are essential. But management, like meetings, should be used sparingly. Constantly asking people what they're working on prevents them from actually doing the work they're describing. And since managers are often the people who call meetings, their very presence leads to less productive workdays.

Part of the problem is the perceived need to fill a whole day with management stuff, whether it's called for or not. All those dreaded status meetings, interruptions for estimates, and planning sessions have a curious way of adding up to a manager's work week. While monitoring output is sometimes quite important, it's rarely a 40-hour-per-week position. Ten hours maybe, but few full-time managers have the courage to limit their presence to that.

To conclude, like all things, allowing employees to work from home has its pros and cons, and you may have now developed a stronger opinion either for or against home working. However, we hope that we have been able to provide you with clarity surrounding the topic, and, most importantly, have made you realise that there is no need to panic about employees temporarily working from home.

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