Employer Tips: How to manage home working during the COVID-19 outbreak

Posted on March 19, 2020
Posted by Frankie Mundy

How to manage home workingThe Government has advised businesses that staff should work from home wherever possible. While some businesses may be well versed in how to manage staff who work from home, for others this is likely to be new territory. You’ll want to ensure that despite having less regular contact with your staff, business is still able to carry on as normally as possible. 

To get you started, we’ve put together 10 top tips for employers to consider when managing staff who are working from home during the outbreak. These include suggestions for ways of accommodating staff who have children at home, due to the school closures.


1. Put in place a proper home working policy

If you already have a working from home policy in place, review it now to check that it is fit for purpose. If you need to make any changes to it in light of the current circumstances, make sure you notify your staff and draw their attention to the changes. 

Although you’re not legally required to have a working from home policy, if you don’t already have one, it’s best practice to put one in place so that both you and your staff members know what is expected of them during this time. This includes who will provide any equipment, responsibilities for insurance and health and safety, how any personal data and confidential information will be protected and how your staff members will be managed. It will also help to ensure that you deal with your staff members consistently and so avoid claims of unfair treatment or discrimination. 

Use our template Working from home policy to create a bespoke policy for your business. 


2. Consider whether flexibility may be required around working hours due to childcare issues

The Government has announced that schools, colleges and nurseries across the country will be closing on Friday 20 March 2020 until further notice. This means that many of your staff may be faced with a lack of childcare over the coming weeks or months. 

Consider whether you can temporarily agree to a flexible working arrangement with affected staff members. For example, staff may request to spread their workload across more days in the week, reduce their core working hours or alter them (eg to work in the evenings) to help them manage their responsibilities. Given the circumstances, it is likely to be appropriate for you to deal with such requests on an informal and temporary basis, rather than requiring staff to make formal flexible working requests. See our Q&A on flexible working requests for further guidance. 

Bear in mind that staff who are employees may be entitled to parental leave and/or leave to care for their dependants and you should deal with such requests in accordance with any relevant policies you have in place. See our Q&A on parental leave and time off for medical appointments and emergencies for further guidance about these rights. Your staff may also, of course, use their annual leave to cover childcare.

If any of your staff are impacted by the school closures, consider also whether it would be appropriate for you to send a company-wide message out to warn others in your business that there may be unusual disruptions (eg children in the background during conference calls). 


3. Carry out a health and safety risk assessment

Your health and safety duties towards your staff don’t stop just because they’re working from home. While generally home working is likely to be low risk, you must still carry out a health and safety risk assessment. Use our template risk assessment for remote workers to get you started. 

It’s likely to be impractical to go to your staff members’ homes to carry out a risk assessment, so consider asking them to send you a photo of their workstation so you can carry it out. See our Q&A on risk assessments for staff who work remotely for more guidance. 


4. Check your insurance coverage

Your employer’s liability insurance should already extend to homeworkers as this is standard practice, but check the wording of your policy to confirm this. You’ll also need to make sure that any business equipment you have provided to your staff members is covered by your insurance when it’s off your premises. 

Bear in mind that your staff members will also need to check that their own insurance covers working from home. Our template Working from home policy contains wording requiring staff to do this. You may agree with staff that you will cover any increased premium that results.


5. Make sure your staff have all of the equipment they need

Have you thought about what equipment your staff members might need while they are working from home? You’re not legally obliged to provide any equipment and you can just agree that they will use their own (eg their own desks and computers), but make sure you’ve carried out a risk assessment either way (see above). 

If you are going to provide your staff with equipment, it’s best practice to make it clear what you will provide and on what terms (eg who is responsible for maintenance and repair and whether you need access to your staff member’s home to set up or test the equipment). You will also need to make sure that any equipment is appropriately insured (see above). All of this information can be set out in your working from home policy.

For further guidance, see our Q&A on Managing flexible working arrangements.

6. Remember your data protection obligations

Your data protection obligations apply whenever your staff are processing personal data on your behalf, whether on or off your premises. Make sure your data protection policy is up to date and consider whether you need to carry out a Data Protection Impact Assessment before allowing homeworkers to process any personal data. This will help you to identify whether you need to take any additional steps to ensure the security of any personal data your staff members will be processing. 

You should also consider whether your staff need additional training on your data protection policies and procedures.

See our Q&A on data protection impact assessments for guidance about how to carry them out, and our Data protection impact assessment policy for a template you can use. 


7. Consider how you will ensure that any confidential information is protected

There are additional risks around confidentiality that you will need to consider when your staff are working from home, including cybersecurity issues. If required, you should provide appropriate training to your staff to ensure that they know how to store and transmit information securely. 

Steps that can be taken to mitigate the risks include:

  1. requiring staff to work directly on your system rather than saving documents locally and to lock away hard copy work when they are not using it;
  2. ensuring that confidential information is password protected – the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) recommends implementing two-factor authentication wherever possible; 
  3. considering using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to allow your staff to access your business’s systems securely; 
  4. making sure staff know how to report the loss or theft of devices; and
  5. ensuring all confidential waste is disposed of appropriately. 

The NCSC has also advised that cyber criminals are ‘preying on fears of the coronavirus’ by sending phishing emails. Make sure your staff know how to spot the signs of scam emails and what to do if they inadvertently click on one.

See our Q&A on secure data storage for further guidance.


8. Consider how you will communicate with, supervise and manage the performance of your staff remotely

When your staff members are working from home, it’s very important to build a relationship of trust as you will not be able to have the same day-to-day supervision of their work. Communication will be key. 

Make sure you have established clear lines of communication so that your staff members know how and when they are expected to be in contact with you. You should agree this with your staff members and keep it under review. Bear in mind that although face-to-face meetings may not be practical in the current circumstances, the use of video calls (eg Skype or Zoom) can help to prevent feelings of isolation (see below). 

Wherever possible, you should manage staff performance consistently and in accordance with your usual policies and procedures, but let staff know if you foresee any departures from this. Some of your usual practices may not be suitable when your staff are working from home; for instance, if you usually assess the performance of your staff by what you can see them doing, you may need to consider setting specific objectives or targets so that you can easily assess output. Equally, the current situation may mean that you need to adjust previous targets or performance indicators. 

If the home working situation carries on for an extended period of time, you should consider how you will provide any training and development opportunities to your staff to ensure that they are able to progress and be considered for promotions. 

Your working from home policy can help you to set out what is expected of your staff, supplemented by individual agreements made with staff members where appropriate. 


9. Remind your staff about the importance of taking breaks

When staff work from home, the boundaries between work and home life can become blurred. Remind them that they are not expected to work beyond their contractual hours and to take regular breaks through the day. Not only are they legally entitled to breaks, but they will also help to provide structure to their day and will support their wellbeing (see below). 

See our Q&A on the rules about working hours for further guidance about your staff members’ legal entitlements.

10. Consider your staff members’ wellbeing and be conscious of social isolation issues

Employers should be alive to the impact that the current situation may be having on their staff members’ wellbeing and mental health. This could be heightened by a new (and potentially prolonged) routine of working from home, with less daily contact and support. Encouraging regular communication (see above) can help employers to monitor this and can also help to ease any feelings of isolation. Consider consulting with your staff about steps or measures they think your business could take to support them during this time (eg different technologies or ways to keep in touch that might help).

The content in this article is up to date at the date of publishing. The information provided is intended only for information purposes, and is not for the purpose of providing legal advice. Sparqa Legal’s Terms of Use apply.