Do you let your employees work from home? Increasing numbers of employers are treating it as the norm. A 2014 study showed that around 13.9% of the UK workforce works from home. Given how technology and attitudes have changed in the past few years, the figure is undoubtedly much higher now.
It makes sense – there are many benefits to letting your employees work from home. But of course, there are some downsides to be aware of too.
That’s why you need a company working from home policy. Set your rules and expectations and you and your employees can enjoy all the benefits that working from home can bring, while carefully managing any potential issues.
The Benefits of Working from Home
Certain decision makers in your business may not be sold on the whole working from home thing. They’re not alone in thinking like this: Yahoo!’s executive vice president of people is that rarest of things – a leading thinker in a global tech giant who doesn’t seem to believe in flexible working.
If you can sell your decision makers on the benefits of working from home, you’re more likely to get buy in for your plans. And if you can clearly define what you’re trying to achieve with your working from home policy, you’ll find it easier to write a policy that works for you.
So here are some of the benefits that working from home can bring:
- A Boost to Efficiency – The eight hour workday is a relic of another time. Hardly anyone can remain focused and driven for such a long stretch of time. Working from home lets employees work whenever and wherever they want. Rather than clocking in for an eight hour stretch, during which they might be productive for about two hours, they can bring their best to their job at a time that suits them.
- A Boost to Wellbeing – A poor work/life balance is one of the biggest causes of stress in the workplace. And too much stress in your workplace will cost your business dearly. But if employees can work from home, they don’t have to spend hours each day commuting to and from work, and they tailor their working environment to suit their exact needs. This brings a boost to wellbeing, which makes employees more productive, more engaged, and less likely to take time off for mental ill health reasons.
- It’s Great for Your Reputation – Let your employees work from home and you’ll present yourself as a forward-thinking, thoroughly modern company. You can even point out how great working from home is for the environment, as it means fewer journeys by car and public transport. This may encourage many would-be customers to finally take the plunge and decide to work with you. After all, if buyers are quick to boycott companies that treat their staff poorly, surely the opposite is also true? A working from home policy could also help you to attract, and retain, the top talent your business needs to succeed.
- Improved Relationships – Let your employees work from home and you’ll make a lot of friends. It shows that you trust your team. Your employees may view you as a benevolent boss with their best interests at heart, rather than an obsessive micromanager. Improved relationships between staff and management can result in further boosts to productivity, and it can even help to lower staff turnover.
The Downsides of Working from Home
Before you write your working from home policy it’s important to understand the potential pitfalls. That way, you’ll know what to include to craft a policy that works for you.
- Some Employees Can’t Switch Off – If you let employees work whenever and wherever they want, some employees will choose to go all-out. They won’t stop working, and all the potential benefits working from home can bring to their wellbeing and their work/life balance will backfire. They may become more stressed, and more likely to work to the point of exhaustion. This is bad for productivity, and as exhausted employees need to take time off, it’ll cost your business in more ways than one. It should come as no surprise that the CIPD reports technology as having a negative impact on employee wellbeing.
- Not all Employees Can Work from Home – Some members of your team – such as your warehouse staff, your drivers, and perhaps your sales team – will never be able to work from home. They have to be on premises – or out in the field – or else they simply cannot do their jobs. Also, some employees simply cannot work from home. They struggle to focus, and they find it hard to deal with a lack of structure in their day. Your working from home policy cannot extend to every member of your team. This may lead to resentment and hostility.
- Can You Really Trust All of Your Employees? – As we said above, letting your employees work from home demonstrates a great level of trust, which can bring a huge boost to engagement and productivity. But it cannot be denied that some workers need supervision. An employee who shows up late, takes extended breaks and leaves early will probably be even less reliable if allowed to work from home.
- Less Communication and Collaboration – Apps like Slack and WhatsApp make it possible for your team to communicate and collaborate on projects remotely. But that said, these apps are simply no substitute for actual, face-to-face human contact. The best ideas are generally the result of conversations that take place off-the-cuff, when creative people are simply allowed to be creative around each other. If your team doesn’t spend much time together, your business might miss out on sparks of inspiration that could have taken things to the next level.
How to Create a Working from Home Policy for Your Business
So you’ve weighed up the pros and cons and decided that letting your employees work from home is more than worth the risk. Your company working from home policy will help you to manage the potential downsides and ensure that everyone gets a fair deal.
The actual content of your policy will have to be tailored to meet your specific business requirements. But here are some key things to consider including in your policy:
How Generous is Your Policy?
It’s unlikely that you’ll let your entire workforce work from home full-time. As we outlined above, some workers will always need to physically show up, and there are some very good reasons why you might want your whole team together from time to time. So decide how generous you’re going to be. How many days a week can employees work from home if they want to? On what days will you require them to actually be in the office?
Who’s Allowed to Work from Home?
If you make your policies clear, you may be able to avoid some of the resentment that could be caused by letting some, but not all, of your staff work from home.
Maybe you could define a probationary period for all employees during which they can prove their trustworthiness. Only employees who can demonstrate their abilities to work unsupervised may be allowed to work from home.
Also think of the sort of alternative benefits that could placate every member of your team who, for whatever reason, is unable to work from home. Think of the sort of things that would help them to achieve a good work/life balance, such as generous paternity and maternity leave.
Equipment, Safety and Security
Your working from home policy needs to make it clear – do you expect employees who work from home to use their own personal equipment, or will you be providing them with the tools they need to get the job done? Also think about security: If employees will be accessing and sharing sensitive information when out of the office, what measures will you put in place to prevent security breaches?
Health and safety’s another big consideration. You may to consult with an HSE specialist about your responsibilities to your employees’ safety when they’re not on company property. You may have to invest in specialist insurance to cover any equipment you give to your team that will be used off-premises. Then you’ll have to communicate both your responsibilities and your employees’ responsibilities in your working from home policy.
Obviously, you expect your employees to be just as driven working from home as they would have been in the office – if not more so. But are you going to enforce this?
Some companies use productivity tracking software to monitor their employees’ output when working from home. These can make employees more transparent and accountable. But they could also cause resentment, as they sort of suggest that you don’t trust your employees.
However you decide to approach this issue, there are still some expectations you should make clear in your working from home policy.
Are employees allowed to work from home whenever they want, or will they first need to give notice? How will their working from home affect the rest of the team, and are there any circumstances in which it would be too inconvenient for them to work from home?
This is where some absence tracking can help. Employees could log a working from home request just like an annual leave request, and everyone would be able to see at a glance what sort of impact their remote working would have on the rest of the team.
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