With businesses now adopting working from home as a long-term approach, what are the practical considerations businesses and individuals need to take and is homeworking as simple as just allowing people to work from home? unLTD’s Rachel Measures finds out.

Working from home is no longer the necessary lifestyle change it once was in March 2020. Things have moved on and working from home or hybrid working is now a long-term plan for many businesses.

Using your home as your workplace – or allowing your employees to work from theirs – may seem more convenient and flexible, but it’s essential to understand there are several factors to consider when making or offering these choices.

What are the Health and Safety considerations?

Tracy Cartwright, health and safety consultant at Danum Business Solutions, says both employers and employees forget that when you work from home, you still come under the Health and Safety at Work Act. Your employer has just as much of a duty of care to those working from home as those working in the office.

She said: “Businesses need to make sure they have things in place at home to help employees work safely – have individuals got space to work? Have they got the right equipment? Have their items been PAC tested? Are there enough electricity points? Have they got the right chair? Do they know how to get out of their house in an emergency? Is there a fire extinguisher? Are people aware that if they have an accident at home related to their work, they must report it to their employer?

“There’s a lot to consider and we’ve had some instances where people have requested to work from home and because they’ve not got the space to work safely – they’re sat on the sofa all day, and while this was okay during lockdown for a short period, it shouldn’t be permanent.”

What should employers do?

“Employers need to carry out a homeworking risk assessment and it’s not about filling in a form and ticking a box. It’s about having that guided conversation with a person and checking that things are in place or making sure people are looked after.

“Finally, we must also be aware when we ask people to work from home that their home life might not be conducive. For instance, if you have someone living in an HMO that is an awful place to be, are you putting them at additional risk? If someone suffers domestic violence or abuse at home, are we exposing them to harm?”

What are the legal considerations?

Homeworking agreements

Toby Pochron, director at Freeths Solicitors, regularly advises clients on homeworking agreements. He said: “If you’re amending someone’s place of work to their home, you must send them a new contract of employment – otherwise, you’re in breach of the employment rights act. All it needs to be is a simple letter saying that your place of work is now your home but if you don’t do that, you go against Section 4 of the Employment Rights Act and a claim can be brought against you later down the line.

“Additionally, reduced commuting costs and increased utility costs must be factored into those homeworking agreements, but when it comes to salary agreements, it’s also about how your services are valued. Normally when a salary is put onto a job role, it’s based on performing a certain service, so some employers are trying to reduce pay for individuals who work from home because they’re no longer paying for the commute and then when you’re in the office they’re paying for both your usual output but also your ability to be collaborative.”

What should individuals do?

“Have an open conversation with your employer, work out what service they want from you, where the value is, and what you need from them to work comfortably from home. This conversation will form the basis of your homeworking agreement and then both the employer and employee can review this regularly to check that everything is still working.”

Confidentiality

Charlotte Higgins, associate solicitor at Bell & Buxton, advises on how to keep yourself compliant with confidentiality.

She said: “Employers need to put in place policies where employees don’t use their personal devices for work and employees should lock their computers when they’re not near them to ensure that other people in their house – visitors, children, housemates – can’t see confidential information.

“When working on public transport or in public areas, be mindful of what’s on your screen. I’ve sat behind people on the train, and I’ve seen all their work. If you’re a defence lawyer, for example, and you’re working with people’s personal information, you could be responsible for a massive information breach in that situation. To protect yourself you can use privacy screen protectors that prevent people from seeing your screen unless they look at it square on.”

What are the technological considerations?

Connectivity

Paul Ridgway, director at The Curve Consulting, said: “Connectivity is a huge consideration – there’s so much fragmentation with regards to the internet depending on where people live. It’s gotten better and there is more access now, but some of our staff still can’t get internet other than via their phone line which is quite old-school now and this means they don’t have the benefits of being able to interact through a webcam.”

Communication and collaboration

Ed Hardie, technical director at Impelling Solutions, said: “One of the biggest challenges involved with working from home is collaborating with colleagues on a joint project or working towards a collective goal.

“It’s easy to feel isolated, and without clear channels for communication, the physical distance between everyone can start to become all too apparent. Luckily the pandemic catalysed an already growing video call and remote communications industry. Today, we’re lucky to have several tools like Zoom, Teams and Hangouts to help us communicate.”

Protecting your business

Steve Brown, managing director, and Rich Davies, business development manager at Highlander, provide information about cyber-attacks and how to protect your business.

“With more cyber-attacks being delivered on an industrial scale, every organisation is feeling the squeeze from an increased volume of threats from cybercriminals. There are two types of companies: those that have been hacked and those that are about to be hacked. At least 81.4 per cent of UK businesses experienced at least one successful cyberattack in the last 12 months.

“A successful exploit can lead to data breaches, interrupted services and ransomware extortion, all of which come with financial, operational and reputational impacts. Even with the proper protections in place, malicious emails and potential threats can still penetrate your defences and slip through the net to land at the door of your users.

“You then must rely on your people to identify and manage these risks. Your users are a crucial line of defence, so you must ensure they are armed with the knowledge and tools to do so – more so if they are working from home.

“Undertaking regular security awareness training will help to prepare your colleagues for these attacks and reduce the risk of a potential breach.”

What are the insurance considerations?

Sam Leeder, owner of Actus Insurance, reflects on issues that must be managed when working from home.

He said: “Businesses are obligated to provide a safe working environment and working practices and must undertake a risk assessment of both. In addition to the impact of homeworking on health and safety, it also has insurance implications. Your insurance company cannot easily defend a claim for a workplace injury or stress-related illness if the relevant assessments have not been made and policies and procedures adjusted accordingly.

“Where work equipment is concerned, a normal insurance policy will apply to business equipment in the office unless insurers are specifically advised. You should contact your insurers to confirm the value of the equipment taken home.  Generally, insurers will include this but may charge a higher premium.”

What are the utility considerations?

In light of the cost-of-living crisis, Katie Gill, Business Development Manager at CU Solution, speaks about the considerations employers and employees need to take when working from home.

For employers

“Offering a flexible, homeworking policy can provide more benefits than reducing the running costs of your office but allow employees to have greater control over their working and personal lives.

“Employers need to be mindful that not everyone will thrive in a working-from-home environment, but this option can retain employees with other needs including childcare responsibilities.

“Whilst an employee may be concerned about an increase in utility bills, this can often be greatly offset by savings on fuel and other expenses, as well as extra time to spend doing what’s important to them.”

For employees

“The recent price cap increases and the general cost of living should play a huge part when individuals decide whether to work from home. There are three key areas to consider – cost, time, and environment.

“Cost – along with increased energy costs, fuel costs are also rising, with households paying on average more than £500 per year extra to run a medium-sized petrol car. You should consider if the change in utility bills from working from home outweighs the cost of commuting to the office.

“Time – is your time best spent commuting to and from the office? Flexible working can be just that, so when considering that drive in rush hour traffic, would it work better for you to log on a little earlier and subsequently finish earlier?

“Environment – are you the type of person that thrives on social interaction and could become unmotivated and unproductive in a homeworking environment? Not only should individuals consider whether this change in working will suit their personality, but also do they have the available space within their home to ensure they have a comfortable, distraction-free area to be productive?”