16 September 2019
A survey published last May by the TUC revealed that the number of people working from home had increased by 28% in the last decade. Many more would like to work from home, but would this work for your business?
6% of the workforce
The rise in the number of those working from home was predicted by some even before the internet made it much more practical. Now just over 6% of the UK workforce, or 1,722,000, regularly work from home. In Yorkshire and the Humber, the figure is 7.5%. The TUC estimates that another 4 million people would like to work wholly or partially from home but aren’t permitted or encouraged to do so. For those of us who spend much of their time working on computers in offices, working from home is just a natural extension to the day. In fact, I am writing this blog at home. But what about those who wish to carry out most or all of their work at home? Should you as an employer consider this?
Most employees have the right to request permission to work from home, but employers are not obliged to grant this. Naturally, there may be circumstances in which it would be commercially unwise to decline. An example of this is disabled workers who may find travelling difficult, or for whom suitable adaptations are difficult to provide in the workplace. About 230,000 disabled people work from home.
The curse of the commute
There are some obvious advantages to homeworking:
- It saves commuting time and cost. Worldwide the average commute takes 40 minutes each way. In London, the average is 74 minutes. Londoners on average spend £3,000 to £5,000 p.a. on travel to and from work. If you travel to work by car and live, say, 5 miles from your place of work, using HMRC’s standard mileage rate your annual motoring costs are about £1,000, which incidentally is paid out of taxed income, so represents gross earnings of £1,450.
- From the employer’s point of view, flexibility can make recruitment and retention easier.
- It reduces office costs. There is often no need to provide a workspace for a homeworker.
- It is claimed that homeworking reduces workers’ stress levels. It also allows for more leisure and family time.
There are, however, many downsides. Not everyone is psychologically suited to working alone at home. Dare I say that some need the discipline imposed on them by entering a working environment at the beginning of the day? For some home contains too many distractions.
Also, the atmosphere of a well-managed workplace is conducive to effective working and productivity. It is a place where problems are spontaneously solved, new ideas arise from shared conversations, face-to-face interaction occurs with customers (depending on the type of business), and there should be a sense of belonging to a team with a clear purpose. Homeworkers can feel isolated from the energising ‘buzz’ of the office.
If you allow some of your employees to work from home there are some practical considerations. First, you remain responsible for their health and safety, including, for example, the suitability of their desk and chair. Second, you need to make sure that your employer’s liability (and, if appropriate, your professional indemnity) insurance covers homeworkers. Third, if your employee is using his or her own computer, you need to check the cybersecurity. Incidentally, all of these matters apply even if your team member works most of the time at your premises but occasionally takes work home to catch up.
There is also the obvious question of managing their work. Intriguingly the TUC statistics indicate that 11% of homeworkers are managers, which begs the question of how you can manage others effectively when you are physically isolated from them. Perhaps an old-fashioned view, but even in this technological era is there really any substitute for face-to-face communication?
Homeworking is on the rise but is it appropriate for your business? If you would like to explore the matter further please do not hesitate to get in touch. We can assist with this and with many other business and employment issues.