Working from home has become the norm across many sectors over the course of the last 15 months, with the Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimating that 35.9% of the employed population undertook some work at home in 2020. This was a rise of 9.4 percentage points since 2019. For many businesses, this heralded a huge shift in their working practices and the reception has been mixed. Whilst the CEO of Goldman Sachs reportedly referred to remote working as an ‘aberration’, in 2020, Twitter announced that staff would be able to work from home indefinitely, whereas other businesses like KPMG have opted for a hybrid model, where staff will only have to be in the office for an average of two days per week.
With the official working from home instruction from the Government likely to be lifted on 21st June, have you planned what your business’s long-term approach to remote working will be? If not, this National Working From Home Day might be a good time for you to reflect on how the past year has shaped your working practices, including considering what the benefits and challenges of remote working have been for both your business and your staff.
Whether you decide to carry on with a fully remote working set up, ask staff to head back into the workplace full-time, or decide to launch a hybrid model, we’ve rounded up some considerations to bear in mind when making your plans.
1. Make sure your HR policies are up to date
Whatever you decide, it’s important to be transparent about your business’s approach to remote working, and to deal with your staff consistently and fairly. If you don’t, you risk disgruntling members of staff, losing talent from within your business, and even facing claims of discrimination.
Establishing robust policies and procedures can help to streamline your HR and provide everyone in your business with clear information about what your business’s stance is and how different requests will be dealt with. Putting in place these policies will be a good place to start:
- A working from home policy
This sets out your business’s approach to dealing with staff who work from home, including how any requests will be dealt with and how the working from home relationship will be managed. This includes important information about insurance, data protection and health and safety. If you don’t have a policy in place yet, consider using our template to customise one for your business.
- A flexible working policy
Regardless of your business’s stance on remote working, it’s important to remember that some of your staff have the legal right to request a flexible working arrangement (which could include a request to work from home). Whilst you’re not legally required to agree to such requests, you do have a duty to consider them in a reasonable manner and you can only reject them on one of eight specific grounds. You can find further guidance on what these grounds are in our Q&A on Flexible working requests.
You’re also required to tell your employees how they can make formal flexible working requests, including what information they’re legally required to include. It’s best practice to do this by providing your staff with a flexible working policy; this will help you to comply with the law when handling flexible working requests.
2. Think about performance management
According to the ONS, home workers are less likely to receive a promotion than those who are in the workplace, which may be due to their reduced in person contact time with line managers and other senior members of staff. This is an issue that you must be alive to when you are managing staff who work remotely, to avoid claims of discrimination from staff who believe they have been treated unfairly.
If you have not done so already, consider whether your usual performance management practices are suitable for your staff whether they work remotely, in the workplace, or a mixture of both. For example, if you typically assess performance by what you can see your staff doing, it may be more appropriate to assess them according to other agreed objectives, such as sales targets, instead. Whatever approach you decide to take, you should ensure that it is applied consistently and fairly across your workforce, and that staff who work remotely are not overlooked for promotion. It may be appropriate for you to provide training to line managers to ensure that everyone understands how your arrangements will work in practice.
See our Q&A for detailed guidance about managing staff performance.
3. Make sure your data is secure
Remote working poses different data security risks and you should ensure that any vulnerabilities are properly addressed. Not only could cyber attacks compromise your systems, but they could also cause you to lose sensitive information or even personal data, causing you to breach the UK GDPR. As you put in place longer term working arrangements with your staff, it’s therefore a good idea to check that your policies and procedures are fit for purpose and will comprehensively protect your business and its information.
Whilst your working from home policy will typically set out what you expect from your staff in relation to data security and confidentiality when they are working from home, these additional policies should also be considered:
- An IT security policy
This will set out clear guidelines for your staff about how to operate your IT equipment and what the requirements are as to passwords.
- A Bring Your Own Device policy
If your staff will be using their own personal devices, whether at home or in the office, a BYOD policy can make sure appropriate security measures are taken.
- A data protection policy
It’s likely to be appropriate for your business to have a data protection policy in place regardless of where your staff work. This sets out what obligations your staff are under when they’re handling personal data on behalf of your business.
- A personal data breach policy
Whenever a personal data breach occurs in your business, it’s important that everyone in your organisation knows how to respond because in some cases you will need to notify the ICO within 72 hours. Having a specific policy as a reference point for your staff, which clearly sets out your procedures, is likely to be particularly helpful if your staff are working remotely.
For a comprehensive pack containing template policies for all of the above, take a look at our Remote working and cybersecurity toolkit.
4. Don’t forget health and safety!
If your staff will continue to work remotely in the longer term, you need to think about health and safety, because your health and safety responsibilities still apply as they would if staff were in the workplace. For the full low down of what steps to take, check out our guide on the Health and safety implications for staff working from home.
Before joining Sparqa Legal as a Senior Legal Editor in 2017, Frankie spent five years training and practising as a corporate disputes and investigations lawyer at leading international law firm Hogan Lovells. As legal insights lead, Frankie regularly contributes to Sparqa Legal’s blog, writing content across employment law, data protection, disputes and more.