Since the recent global pandemic, many organisations have discovered the benefits of working remotely.
Businesses are combining flexible, remote, and hybrid working into their everyday practices. But despite staff working outside of the 'office', you still hold a legal duty of care.
If you neglect anyone during this time, you could end up losing staff, ruining team-structures, and causing business losses.
In this guide, we'll look at what working from home is, legal rights for remote staff, and how to care for anyone working away from the office.
What is working from home?
Working from home (WFH) is when an employee completes their job requirements from their place of residence. The practice is also known as flexible or hybrid working.
Many companies have incorporated these practices to meet new socio-economic norms for new jobs. These range from adhering to government lockdowns rules to utilising new communicative technology.
Some managers allow staff to work from home for two to three days a week. Some might allow them to work away for a few weeks on end.
Do you have to accept working from home requests?
Under UK law, accepting a 'working at home' request is not a legal requirement for any business. However, employees do have a legal right to request it.
Any person who has completed 26 weeks of continuous services is allowed to forward this request. After this, it falls on you to decide whether to accept it or not.
Think about whether your company will benefit from off-location work; and be reasonable with requests for these new jobs.
However, if you decide against it, you need to provide one of the eight fair reasons for refusal. You don't want to end up losing employees, disrupting the team, or causing business losses.
What legal rights are remote staff entitled to?
A remote worker counts as a legal member of your workforce. That means, UK workers are entitled to the same rights as 'office-based' workers.
Some employment legislations which outline legal entitlements for anyone in 'work from home jobs' include:
- The Health and Safety at Work Act (1974).
- The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (1999).
Alongside health & safety, you are also legally responsible for:
- Employments contracts terms.
- Data protection and GDPR.
- Employee conduct and behaviour.
- Public liability insurance.
- Wages and tax.
In simple terms, you need to ensure all their legal rights remain intact–just like their office colleagues. This also includes taking care of home working expenses when needed.
Do remote workers class as lone or vulnerable workers?
Remote workers are legally classed as vulnerable or lone workers. This is because these jobs tend to include long hours, with very little in-person contact for long periods of time. For example, working hours and conditions for lorry-drivers class them as lone workers, especially those who work on a full-time basis.
Through legal compliance and moral consideration, employers can guarantee protection, safety, and wellbeing.
What are the benefits of home working?
Whether remote roles have been purposely chosen or not, so many companies utilise the benefits of home working. The benefits that come with it include:
Better work-life balance
The most common benefit remote staff receive during this time is a better work-life balance. It allows staff to improve the quality of their office and home life for good.
For example, they can plan their week around their families or take time to nurture physical and mental health. With a better-established work week, you are on the path to improving output for all jobs.
Those who work remotely saw a vastly higher level of productivity, compared to work completed in the office. These levels were clearly seen during the height of the global pandemic.
Better quality of work-life means a better day's work–and it's this that instantly boosts productivity.
There are so many remote factors which help improve one's timeliness. Remote jobs can improve things like daily commute, lateness, and lengthy meetings.
Being able to start a workday that's free from stress or commutes can instantly better one's health and wellbeing.
Reduced absenteeism and turnover
Remote roles provide comfort and ease for staff, especially during times of unpredictable change. Because of this, businesses saw a huge reduction in absenteeism and turnover. When workers are happy, they'll be less likely to leave their position or change their career.
Costs of financial savings
It was soon discovered that working from home can lead to saving extra costs. This is in comparison to those working full-time at the office.
Companies saved money on office maintenance, utilities, and rent. They also saved on things like employee supplies, which is often a small spend that adds up unexpectedly.
Staff on the other hand saved money on paying for things like travel, food, and other payments spent during work.
Improved workplace technology
Many employers adopted the use of new virtual technologies ever since the pandemic. They utilised technological apps and tools which allowed them to improve normal office practices–speeding up production and revenue.
In the end, most people became accustomed to these new job practices. Like taking video phone calls, using online management apps, and understanding computer-security.
What are the downfalls of home working?
Home working can have a negative contributing factor to some people. Whether someone partially works remotely or full-time, it can have impacts to one's overall health. Some of the biggest impacts of remote work include:
Loneliness and isolation
When staff are away from their normal jobs or workplace environment, it can breed feelings of loneliness and isolation.
If staff are separated from their normal working conditions (like interaction with colleagues or commuting to the office), it can affect one's mental health.
Neglecting the means to stay connected then leads to higher stress and disengagement levels–affecting emotional wellbeing.
Stress and burnout
It's very common for home-based staff to easily let working standards and rules slip. And the line between working and personal life is frequently blurred.
Missing breaks, working overtime, and staying 'logged-in' are all common triggers for stress and burnout. It is argued that remote workers feel they need to outperform or work harder to make themselves seen.
This caused a negative effect on establishing a healthy work-life balance. By letting these habits manifest, it can create long-lasting impacts on their mental wellbeing and career progression.
When it comes to remote roles, security is deemed as a top priority for all companies.
This means all devices, logins, and technologies must be updated and protected. You should consider things like, antivirus software, firewalls, and VPN configurations for home internet connections.
You can even offer training on using external WIFI connections when they become home-based. And make sure personal computers or devices aren't used during jobs.
Distractions at home
When working in familiar or comfortable spaces, people do tend to get easily distracted. Even with a dedicated workstation or office-space, it can be hard for some to have the same work ethic and mannerisms as we would do in the office.
A break can include doing a quick shop, tending to the kids, or even watching a little too much television.
These distractions might seem isolated or small, but in the end the time lost might prove to be detrimental to work loads.
In recent times, UK governments have asked all businesses to ask their staff to work at home if suitable. 'Suitable' was loosely used, as many couldn't function properly.
When this happens, both the business and staff lose out. Workers feel undervalued, alone, and unable to complete their jobs sufficiently. And as a result, numerous companies were unable to make decent profit and were forced to close.
Closer to home, some people themselves struggle to work away from their colleagues or team. In the end, isolated work conditions aren't the most practical nor suitable means for such people.
How to manage employees working from home
Sometimes, you might need to apply remote or flexible working conditions for the sake of your company. It isn't only used during national lockdowns or global pandemics.
As a company, you need to ensure the best practices are followed during this time. By doing so, you can manage remote staff from their personal location in the best way possible.
Here are ways to manage employees working from home:
Create a work from home policy
A 'working from home' policy is an agreement which states targets and responsibilities for anyone that's home-based.
The policy can include which types of workers are eligible, what their rights are, and how to provide assistance efficiently.
A WFH policy needs to include information like:
- How to be eligible for remote work.
- What selection and approval process will be followed.
- What constitutes as a regular work schedule.
- How to keep up with attendance and timekeeping standards.
- How to keep in contact with teams, clients, and managers via video-calls.
If your policy is followed thoroughly in your company, your staff will be able to work safely and with content. Remember, your policy needs to include part-time and full-time workers.
Apply ergonomic requirements
Ergonomic requirements ensure remote staff work in the safest conditions. By following good practices, you can eliminate risks of long-term health effects.
When an employee works from home part- or full-time per week, they should have a well-constructed work area and routine. Here are things to consider when providing ergonomic requirements:
- Desk support: Whether employees use a work-desk or the dining table, make sure the space protects their posture. That means creating a suitable setup with the right seating distance and eye-level.
- Laptop rests: If anyone uses a laptop to work from home, make sure they use a desk or laptop rest. Avoid using them directly on laps, as this can lead to burns if the device overheats.
- Display screen equipment (DSE): A lot of users rely heavily on technological devices to work. Display screen equipment provide means to protect staff from medical risks. This can include things like burns from overheating devices and eye strain from overusing equipment.
- Environmental factors: Most of the time, a business will ensure things like lighting, heating, and ventilation are kept at reasonable standards. So, spend time making sure all home workstations meet the safety requirements expected.
Comply with health & safety procedures
Whether staff work on-location or off, you have a legal obligation for their health & safety (H&S).
You need to hire a professional safety officer or appoint a responsible employee. They will be in charge of your 'working from home' risk assessment and procedures. They will also:
- Outline evacuation and exit points in employee's homes.
- Ensure workstations are free from hazards and risks.
- Implement fire prevention strategies (like maintaining smoke alarms, carbon monoxide detectors, and fire escape routes).
Prevent cyber-security risks
As most remote work relies on virtual communication, you need to implement ways to prevent cyber-security risks. You can do this by:
- Avoid using personal devices to work.
- Ensure internet connections are secure.
- Keep software and passwords private and updated.
- Use supported operating systems.
Offer cyber-security training to remote staff. This will help them recognise anomalies and adhere to data protection rules whilst at home.
Focus on employee wellbeing
It’s important that you and your staff look after personal health and wellbeing. By doing so, you can help build engagement and productivity; and reduce stress and burnout. Some of the best ways to focus on employee wellbeing include:
- Work in a clean, clutter-free, and quiet space.
- Maintain a regular work schedule, hours, and breaks.
- Ensure their work areas are free from distractions (like children or TVs).
- Keep open lines of communication (like phone or video calls).
- Avoid long periods of work isolation.
- Offer mental health wellbeing advice and services.
Get expert guidance on working from home with Peninsula
Whether part or full-time, everyone in a remote role has a legal entitlement to safe working standards. By ensuring this, both remote staff can connect with their teams easily–growing team morale, engagement, and productivity.
But if you neglect these legal duties, you may risk causing unlawful and uncomfortable work conditions. And this can lead to detrimental impacts to your business name and revenue.
Peninsula offers expert guidance on working from home. Our team offers 24/7 health & safety advice which is available 365 days a year. We also provide advice through multi-lingual support and fully trained counsellors who are ready to help connect with your staff.
Want to find out more? Book a free phone call with one of our HR consultants. For more support, call 0800 028 2420.