Home working – a potential minefield

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A study, published this month, (June 22) by the Policy Institute of King’s College, London, revealed that six in ten London staff are still working from home at least once a week. Avoiding the daily commute was cited as a key reason for home working, but it also showed that people feel much more connected to others when they go into a workplace.

Over the past fifteen or more years there has been an increase in both the Corporate and Government world for “hot desking” in offices where desks are allocated when required rather than giving each worker their own desk. The theory suggests a better use of office resources, but the practice can often lead to over-crowding in limited space, and time lost in searching for a vacant desk space.

The world-wide Covid pandemic saw both Governments and commerce encouraging working from home – in order to lessen social contact and the spread of the disease. Many people with office based jobs saw home working as a new opportunity, saving both the cost and time of commuting, as well as bringing a personal financial benefit.

The level of home working has caused many organisations both large and small to question the need for the same extent of expensive office space, and whether the cost and investment might be reduced by encouraging home working? In principle, the ability for office based workers to work from home using the latest IT, has its attractions. For the employee, they do not have the expense of commuting, and can work in their own comfort, while for the employer there is a saving on the costs of office space, heat and light. During the pandemic, publicity was given to a number of home workers who decided to move overseas, and conduct their work over the internet. While attractive, this idea might prove counter-productive. Already, many businesses “off-shore” some activities to call centres overseas. Home workers need to consider whether working from a home overseas, might not make their job vulnerable to being exported permanently to a cheaper overseas employee.

Working from home is not a “win-win” situation, as it has some serious inherent concerns, for employers generally, and especially for the commercial manager. Commercial mangers have the responsibility for getting and retaining the customer’s business, in order to produce a sustainable flow of profitable income for the long term future of the organization. Customer relations are therefore a major responsibility, particularly the interaction with the customer, and especially in relation to customer records and data.

Working from home for many office based businesses may seem practicable, if not necessarily desirable, as it raises a number of questions regarding the responsibilities and liabilities of both the employer and employee. Under the UK’s Health and Safety act 1974, employers, organisations and the Government are required to ensure that the risks to the health, safety and welfare of people affected by their activities and operations are reduced to as low as reasonably practicable. Employers have to provide suitable desks and chairs commensurate with using laptop or desk top computers. Using a kitchen table, kitchen chair or a bed to sit on, is not acceptable. However, a recent Leeds University business School report based on 1000 people showed 5.8 per cent of home working staff spent time working from their bed and a further 7.8 per cent worked in a location without a table or desk such as a sofa. If a home worker suffers injury or harm as a result of not having suitable furniture on which to work, who is responsible, the home worker or the employer?

Commercial managers and employees need to consider:
* How are employees to be compensated for the use of space, heat and light used on behalf of the employer?
* Is the employee’s broadband connection sufficient, who owns the connection and who pays for it?
* How will database security be maintained, especially to comply with the Data Protection Act, when access is being made away from a secure office?
* How is the security of company and customer information to be maintained beyond the office?
* How is moonlighting with company equipment, and information to be prevented?
* Is the employee fully insured when working at home on the employer’s business? Where does the cover begin and end?
* How might working from home affect the employee’s home insurance?
* How is the employee to maintain a healthy work/life balance, when working from home?
* How does working from home affect the employee’s rental and leasing terms?
* How is the home worker’s time and productivity to be effectively managed?

These are just some of the points that need to be considered before embracing home working as the “new norm.”

While home working may seem economically beneficial in the short term for both home worker and employer, the long term benefits of office working should not be overlooked. For the employee, inter personal contact in the office promotes problem solving, communication, idea generation and reduces individual isolation, which also benefits the employer.

© N.C.Watkis, Contract Marketing Service 10 Jun 22

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