Recent global events have seen many people make the shift from onsite working to remote work in the safety of their own homes.

For some people, working from home is an ideal situation, as it removes the need for a lengthy commute, an early start or added expenses of renting an office or shop space. Meetings can be conducted via Skype or Zoom, and many businesses have taken advantage of organisational software in order to keep things running smoothly. Therefore, both employees and employers may find that working remotely has its benefits – even if the present situation requires parents to homeschool while doing this.

Whether you are an employee or an employer, there are specific responsibilities that need to be upheld in order to ensure that the shift to working-from-home does not negatively affect your working life.

For Employers

It may be useful for employees to read these requirements too, even if you are the employee, so you can understand a bit more about your employer’s responsibilities – and what they may try to throw at you!

Firstly, if you are an employer, it is essential to make sure that your staff can adjust quickly and effortlessly to their new working environment.

Some of you may be able to return to work at your usual location but make sure to be understanding and compassionate to those who may have individual needs which require them to remain working from home. This may include parents or those with childcare responsibilities, staff with disabilities or those with long-term health conditions. It is your responsibility as an employer to ensure that their working life remains as unaffected as possible and to make the necessary arrangements to allow them to continue working effectively.

Advice from ACAS encourages employers to discuss any new arrangements with all team members. Acas guidelines recommend that employers should keep things running as smoothly as possible, make sure that all staff are using the same software or online organisational programs. This will create a sense of unity within your business or company, ease confusion and allow productivity to continue.

Optimising Online Systems to Work From Home

Nowadays, each element of the working world has an electronic or online counterpart. Find the program or software that works for you, and ensure that each team member understands how to use it.

Moreover, it is crucial to make sure that each team member has the necessary equipment and technology to support any changes. Discuss this with them, and support team members through training to make sure they have it set up correctly.

If extra equipment is needed, it will be necessary to post or order items to employees’ homes. Be sure to check in with staff on a regular basis to make sure that they have everything they need.
It will also be essential to keep these systems maintained. IT staff should be realistic about how many staff they can support on a WFH basis, as well as evaluating whether or not a substantial move to online systems will be manageable.

Here are some recommendations for systems that will aid your shift to work from home:

  1. Project Management
    There are plenty of sites which allow you to organise different tasks and keep updated with the progress of your various projects. The top ones include Todoist, Trello, ProofHub, monday.com and Workfront.

Each of these sites is optimised to allow the precise and straightforward organisation of projects. Tasks can be shared with different members, and progress can be tracked.

  1. Collaboration
    Collaboration is a crucial element of running a business, and it does not have to stop just because work has been transferred online. There are a variety of systems available which permit different team members to contribute to the same work easily. Having a collaborative system in place will also allow you to see which team members are viewing the necessary work and who is staying on top of their tasks. Some of the most popular collaborative tools are Google Drive, Google Docs, Microsoft Teams and Confluence.
  1. Communication
    Being able to communicate in real-time is another crucial element of stream-lining a remote working environment. Since Covid-19, many businesses have turned to systems like Zoom, Slack or Skype to conduct meetings and check in regularly with team members. Equipped with screen sharing, screen annotation, group call options and chat features, these are excellent tools for ensuring that team communication remains consistent and adequate.
  2. Team Monitoring
    Some businesses may continue to run with some staff members working from home and others remaining on-site. Either way, if you have individual team members who are opting to or need to work from home due to Covid-19, there are ways in which you can monitor their engagement even if they are not physically present at work.

    Tools such as Hubstaff, Officevibe and JotForm allow employers or team leaders to track certain aspects of their team’s online engagement and application, by tracking keyboard or mouse usage and their time spent on apps or programs. While some may find these tools intrusive, they can be a positive motivational tool for staff members while also allowing those in charge to keep an eye on those who may not be fulfilling the necessary requirements.
  3. Remote Access
    It will be necessary to access essential documents online. Various operating systems provide their own versions of the ‘Cloud’ which allow you to access documents from any linked devices. Set up a remote access system to enable easy access to all documents when necessary.

As a basic, you can use Google Drive or Dropbox, as they are relatively cheap to store large numbers of files and can enable effective document sharing and collaboration.

Health and Safety

Alongside optimising your business for working from home and clarifying any new arrangements with all team members, it is also your responsibility to ensure that all staff members are able to undertake their work safely.

While you will not be able to complete risk assessments at their homes, there are specific ways you can check that employees are working safely.

Confirm with each staff member that they feel they can undertake their work safely from their home.

Confirm that each staff member has working and reliable equipment.
Maintain regular communication with employees to avoid any unintentional isolation, and to keep the team motivated.
Ensure that employees with disabilities are able to complete their work safely and make any adjustments that you feel are necessary. This may include different keyboards, coloured screens or more supportive furniture.

Supporting the mental health of your employees will be of vital importance, as many people are experiencing stress and anxiety due to the unusual and unpredictable circumstances. As a result, encourage employees to take regular and sufficient breaks, alongside doing other activities to keep their routine varied and enjoyable. ACAS advice includes ‘things like cooking, exercise, watching favourite TV programmes or other hobbies.’

Keeping in Touch

Remaining in constant contact with your employees, will be a fundamental part of maintaining the productivity of the business, as well as making employees feel valued. Use the methods mentioned above to ensure consistent communication between all members of staff.

The Money Stuff

Finally, there are a few things that need to be kept in mind in terms of the financial aspects of a business, when transferring to working from home.

Firstly, employees must receive the same pay if they are working their usual hours. Their hours are still subject to the laws on working hours, so be sure to take this into account if their work may take more or less time in its new format.

Secondly, it may be necessary to make arrangements with employees who have childcare responsibilities. This may involve changing their hours to make them more manageable, making some days shorter, releasing some pressure on specific targets and having greater flexibility in regards to meeting deadlines.

Keep reading for more information about Flexible Working

Thirdly, inform your employees that they should discuss any new expenses with you. This may include extra utilities or equipment.

Finally, it is vital to make sure that you are insured for those employees who need to work from home. As suggested by ACAS, insurance should cover employees working from home who are using business equipment, and also ‘needs to cover them against a claim by a third party.’ Also, remind your staff to check with both their home insurer and their mortgage provider/landlord that there are no issues with them working from home.

Employees

Firstly, as an employee, know that your employer has to abide by the law when it comes to working from home. They still have an obligation to uphold the ethics of the workplace, to maintain communication, to pay a regular salary and to ensure your safety.

General Advice

There are some useful things that you can do to make sure that working from home does not have a negative impact on your life or your career.

  • Inform your employer of any necessary adjustments that you think would be useful.
  • Confirm with your employer that your home environment is safe to work in.
  • Make sure that you have all the necessary software or equipment installed and working correctly.

Keep up the Communication

Take care of your own mental and physical health, and inform your employers of any difficulties.

Flexible Working

The current situation does mean that many of us will have different circumstances that may affect our working lives. This may be to do with childcare or health issues.

If this is the case, you can make a ‘flexible working request’ in order to make your life a bit easier.

These are the criteria to apply, as set out by ACAS:

  • you’ve worked for your employer for at least 26 weeks
  • you’re legally classed as an employee
  • you’ve not made any other flexible working request in the last 12 months

Once you have applied, your employer is obliged to take a fair look at your request (as per the ACAS Code of Practice) and then make their decision within three months.

Working from home comes with its own challenges, but under the current circumstances, it seems to an efficient way to combine work with social distancing. By paying attention to all the usual systems of employment and support, there’s no reason why working from home can’t make your life easier, and even save you some time and money.

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