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How do I manage employees working from home?

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In light of the increasing number of employees now working from home full-time it is important that employers manage their employees effectively during this time.  Our Employment Law team here review new guidance from ACAS regarding working from home practices, and how the coronavirus pandemic could mean a new flexibility is required from employers. 

Working from home and childcare

In normal circumstances, it is not unreasonable for employers to state that working from home is not a substitute for childcare however, with school closures many employees will be juggling working from home with childcare and home-schooling. One way you could be flexible in this unprecedented situation is to allow employees to shift their working hours or to allow them to break up their hours into smaller segments. For example, one parent works in the morning, the other in the afternoon and they can make up the remaining hours in the evening. You could also be flexible with deadlines or reduce targets temporarily.

This approach may also be needed if an employee is caring for someone else, for example an older relative or someone who is ill.

You could ask employees to log their hours so you can keep a record of the hours worked to ensure that employees are working their contracted hours.

Communicating with employees working from home

Working from home may mean that some managers have to find new ways to communicate with their employees. It is important that managers do not send an overwhelming number of communications and through different channels such as email, text and phone calls.

Managers should discuss with their team how they should communicate going forward to find an option that works for everyone.

Email may not always be the most appropriate channel; inboxes may be particularly busy and the email may be lost in the volume of unread emails. Managers should note that a phone call may be the best way to communicate in real time or to discuss a sensitive topic.

Employees should also be able to set their status to ‘do not disturb’ or ‘busy’ so they can be contacted when they’re available, rather than be expected to stay switched on all the time.

How to manage the transition when working from home

Due to our advanced technologies available, many meetings are being carried out by telephone or video-conference. It is important that you ensure your employees are managing their workload, however, rather than do back to back video meetings you should encourage your employees to book some time in between meetings to space out video meetings. 

You may have been in the process of hiring but because of social distancing measures cannot train your new starters, or you may have to put a halt to recruitment altogether. Here it is beneficial to communicate with the new starter explaining that there is a need to delay the start date but would like to continue once the pandemic is over. This ensures that a strong talent pool is ready for when business begins again.

Creating a structure for your employees working from home

You could consider setting a loose daily structure for your employees to follow at home, however you should tailor this for each employee as some may not feel the need to be micro-managed in this way. Practically this can help tasks be completed and also create some structure for employees who may be feeling anxious.

A daily meeting is useful for teams to see where they are so tasks aren’t missed or repeated.

You could also consider allowing time in the meeting for ‘water-cooler’ time where employees can chat together openly without a particular purpose or goal. This helps ensure the team and working relationships remain strong through the disruption, and creating a feeling of being together could help to beat a sense of isolation many workers may feel from being stuck at home.

You should ask your employees directly how they are coping and ensure that employees are not slipping into an unhealthy pattern of working long hours or over weekends.

For many people this is the first real week of working from home, many with children so you should allow your employees time to settle into this new way of working.

New ACAS Guidance on working from home

ACAS has published new guidance in light of the increase in home working caused by the coronavirus pandemic. It states that ‘employers and employees should be practical, flexible and sensitive to each other's situations when working from home because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic’.

ACAS offers guidance on steps employers can take, which includes

  • Talking to their employees and workers about working from home;
  • Considering which roles and tasks can be done at home – this might involve doing things differently and employers should not assume that a role cannot be based at home;
  • Supporting employees to adjust to remote working;
  • Considering individual needs, for example anyone with childcare responsibilities, a long-term health condition or a disability;
  • Writing down the arrangements that have been agreed so everyone's clear.

The guidance also reminds employers that you are still responsible for the health and safety of your employees working at home. Whilst it is unlikely, with social distancing and isolation in place, that you can carry out your usual risk assessments you should still check that:

  • Each employee feels the work they're being asked to do at home can be done safely;
  • Employees have the right equipment to work safely;
  • Managers keep in regular contact with their employees, including making sure they do not feel isolated;
  • Reasonable adjustments are made for an employee who has a disability.

Employees should also note that they have a responsibility to take reasonable care of their own health and safety. They should inform their manager of:

  • Any health and safety risks;
  • Any homeworking arrangements that need to change

Employees who are working from home must get the same pay, if they are working their usual hours. Their usual terms and conditions still apply, apart from having to work from home on a temporary basis. You also need to ensure your employees working from home follow the law on working hours and break entitlements.

We are aware that these are times of change for all employers, and you will be coming to terms with the new arrangements as much as your employees will be.  Over the coming weeks and months we will be working with our clients on how to manage their employees during the coronavirus pandemic and will be offering advice on topics such as Key Worker status, Furloughed Leave and possible redundancies.  If you would like advice on any of these topics directly, you can contact our Employment team on 023 8071 7717 or email employment@warnergoodman.co.uk.

ENDS

This is for information purposes only and is no substitute for, and should not be interpreted as, legal advice.  All content was correct at the time of publishing and we cannot be held responsible for any changes that may invalidate this article.