Even before the government issued a mandate for people to stay home and work remotely wherever possible, remote working was becoming more popular. There are benefits for employers such as savings on office space and resources, and employees benefit from missing the commute and having a better home-life balance. But as people start returning to work, many are hoping to be able to keep working from home. Employers have been put in the position where they need to decide if it is appropriate for their staff to continue working from home or they need to return to the office or place of work.
In some cases, this decision is easy – customer-facing roles, labour, or physically demanding jobs require your employees to work on location. The question comes up for office workers or employees who can feasibly continue to do their work digitally or online.
One route that some employers have taken is to allow flexible working where a certain number of hours need to be completed in the office. Another option if your concern is accountability is to set up additional checks and software to keep track of staff activities.
There is a lot to be considered when deciding if your staff should be able to work from home. To help you make the decision, we have put together a comprehensive guide to help you understand the pros and cons of home working, how you can make it work for your business, and how to make the best decision for your business, yourself, and your employees.
What are the benefits to letting my staff work from home
If your staff have approached you about working from home, they have probably given you a list of reasons why they think it is better. Convenience and concentration are often high on the list of why home-working is the best option, but there are a lot more benefits for your business.
Many employees struggle with arranging childcare or pet care while in work, especially if someone is sick or during school holidays. This leads to many employees looking for alternative arrangements that are more flexible. By offering your staff the option of working from home, you give them a better home-life balance and this is a strong incentive to remain loyal to your company.
Incentive for new hires and wider talent pool
Remote working means you can hire people from almost anywhere, as long as they meet your requirements for time zone ability and language skills. And with more potential hires looking for remote work to allow for travel or family intentions, offering home-working can be a great incentive.
Inclusion and diversity
There are many skilled workers who are disabled, housebound, or otherwise unable to travel to an office. Offering home-working is a good way of increasing your office diversity and inclusion.
Studies have shown that staff who work from home usually have fewer distractions, feel more comfortable, and are more productive. Without office chat, constant interruptions, and the drawbacks of an environment that has to suit multiple needs, staff working from home are often able to do a lot more work and many will put in extra time because of the time saved on commuting.
Increased staff wellbeing
Stress is one of the main causes of illness and burnout and a large part of work stress comes from commuting, adjusting to environments, and work conflicts. When staff are given the option to work from home, they can usually get more sleep, more time with family, a more comfortable environment and more autonomy in their work. All of these aspects serve to motivate, decrease stress, and increase general wellbeing. Being at home will also give your staff more time and flexibility for getting in exercise, eating healthy meals, or spending more time on recreational activities.
While this is all beneficial for your employees, you benefit as well because of the decreased need for sick leave and sick pay, and the increased motivation and productivity that come with healthy living.
Depending how far your home-working policies extend, you may have significant savings. You may be able to downsize your office space, save on rent, reduce your utility bills, and decrease office equipment and maintenance costs.
Your staff might also benefit from tax reductions for working from home, saving them money as well.
What are the disadvantages to letting my staff work from home
With these advantages in mind, you should also consider the disadvantages. Working from home is not suitable for every person and every business, so make sure you balance the pros and cons.
Many employees prefer to work from home because it allows them more time with family, but for staff who live alone or who find inspiration in office camaraderie, the prospect of working from home can feel isolating. You risk losing staff who crave the office environment.
If your business relies heavily on think-tanks and the hive mind, then isolating all of your workers to their own homes can also be detrimental to the way your business runs. You may find that ideas dry up and there is less inspiration in the work that is being produced.
Not all staff will suit home-working
Working from home requires a certain set of skills from your employees. These include self-motivation, self-control, and the ability to set and stick to one’s own routine without supervision or monitoring. Some of your employees may also need the activity of an office to concentrate or find their motivation. This is something that you will need to assess on an individual basis because every member of your team will need something different to help them work at their best.
The advantage of a single office or workspace is that people must be somewhat accountable. Colleagues, supervisors, and managers can often see what is happening and interact with staff multiple times a day to ensure everything is running smoothly and goals are being met. Once work is decentralised, it becomes harder for you to keep tabs on all your employees. Some employees will find the autonomy freeing and work harder, while others may take advantage of it. You will need to decide how much control you want in the accountability of your staff.
Although home working can be better for some because there are fewer distractions, other employees may battle because there are more distractions at home. Children, chores, unsupervised internet and social media, and social responsibilities can all become distractions to individuals who battle with self-motivation and discipline. This is important to bear in mind when looking at individual cases for working from home.
Having an office provides clear boundaries for work and home. An employee who is spending too much time working and who is heading towards burnout can be identified easily. If your staff are exceptionally dedicated and putting in overtime at home, however, it will be much harder to identify patterns that could lead to burnout. Employers who plan to offer work-from-home provision need to understand the need for fixed hours, breaks, and downtime from work. Without clear boundaries, productivity is likely to start decreasing.
Depending on your business, you might find that there are high costs involved with setting employees up to work from home. This could involve computers, printers, and sufficient internet speeds, or specialised equipment and resources. These capital expenses can often be offset with tax deductions but they could still outweigh the value of having staff work from home.
What important considerations do I have to think about?
In addition to weighing up the pros and cons to letting your employees work from home, you also need to think about other considerations that are specific to your business.
Practicality of remote work
Does it make sense for your employee to work from home If you meet with clients a lot in different locations, then having an office might not be necessary and allowing staff to go home in between meetings could be beneficial.
But if your business specialises in face-to-face meetings involving demonstrations or samples, then working from home isn’t practical.
This isn’t business specific but rather role specific. An administrator might be able to work from home, but a case worker may need to be in the office. Consider your business needs and how each role integrates to come to a decision.
Data Protection and Security
If you work with highly sensitive data you may not want employees to be able to access the information away from a safe server at work.
There are ways to protect information, including different options for connecting to the internet and work servers, or using a VPN. Think about what changes might need to be made to keep data safe. You are still responsible for your clients’ data protection, so this needs to be an important consideration before allowing staff to work from home.
Communication within an office is simple to facilitate. Confusion can be cleared up with a quick walk to an adjoining office and a 30 second conversation. Although technology has simplified communication, it is still not as simple as in-person dialogue.
You will need to think about what forms of communication you plan to use (chats, phone calls, emails, weekly in-person meetings) and think about how available you need employees to be – understanding that some job roles don’t allow for the phone to be answered every time it rings.
You may have spent a long time cultivating your company culture and sense of camaraderie. If people start working from home, company culture will be influenced, and you need to think about that. Also think about how people will be affected if some staff work from home and others are required to stay in the office.
Company culture is important because it will have an impact on the quality of work being produced. Some companies are able to replicate company culture online fairly easily, while this is an impossible feat for others. You will need to assess your own business and staff to know how your company culture might be improved or impaired.
What are my options for letting my staff work from home
If your contracts with your staff don’t currently have any rules regarding home-working, then you are free to decide what works best for you, your staff, and your business. You will need to make any suggested changes to contracts with the consent of your employee to be in line with legal requirements, but this allows you to work together to find the most beneficial work pattern.
The flexibility you have can help you a lot here as you decide the exact boundaries for home-working. Some options if you are just starting out are:
- Offer home-working on a trial basis. Give both parties three months to decide if it is working before making it permanent and make sure your employee understands that you can end the trial if work quality suffers or if you feel things aren’t working.
- Offer flexible hours. If the main concern is home responsibilities or rush hour, consider if your employee can come into work at different hours. They would still be required to put in all the hours, but would have flexibility around when those hours take place.
- Organise a work pattern with days off. This could be three days in the office and two days out every week, or any other combination that you feel is best. If it works out well, or if you notice improvement in work, then you may be inclined to offer more days at home or more flexibility around when your employee comes in and when they stay home.
Can I make staff come back into the office after agreeing to home-working?
If you are still trying to make the decision and you are unsure, remember that you can change your mind as long as it is written into the new contract and signed by both parties.
Working from home is wonderful for some businesses but can be a nightmare for others. Make sure you protect your business with a good contract so that if home-working doesn’t work out, you can safely recall your staff to office working.
Just be aware that some staff might not be happy about losing their home-working option. You will need to be clear and firm about expectations right from the start.