Flexible working, remote working, digital nomads: there are many different terms to describe the phenomenon that’s changing the geography of the modern office. Nowadays, ‘working’ doesn’t necessarily mean sitting at the same desk all day. We can work from our own homes, coffee shops, airport terminals, train journeys – wherever we can get connection.
With relatively new flexible working laws in place, employers need to know how to navigate these regulations to make the best decisions for their business. Work-related stress already costs Britain 10.4 million working days per year¹ , and flexible working is one healthy way to go about lowering that number. This guide will help inform you of your choices and obligations as an employer when creating a working from home policy, and point you towards resources where you can learn more.
A brief overview of working from home laws
Before the Flexible Working Regulations came into effect on 30th June 2014², only carers and those looking after children had the right to request flexible working in the UK. According to these new regulations, any employee who has been continuously employed for a period of at least 26 weeks is eligible to apply to arrange a flexible working scheme.
Just to clarify, the term ‘flexible working’ can mean:
- Job sharing (one job split evenly between two people)
- Working from home (or anywhere that’s outside the office)
- Part time (working less than full-time hours)
- Compressed hours (working full-time hours over fewer days)
- Flexitime (choosing a designated starting and ending time, like 8 am to 4 pm everyday)
- Annualised hours (setting a required number of hours the employee must work over the year but with some flexibility about how those hours are carried out)
- Staggered hours (when an employee has different starting and ending times than other employees)
- Phased retirement (this allows for older workers to choose their retirement by reducing their hours and working part time)
(For more information on these types, read GOV.UK’s page on ‘Types of flexible working’ here.)
Employees that want to set up a flexible working arrangement must submit a written application, and employers must come to a decision within 3 months.
You as the employer are obligated to deal with requests in a ‘reasonable manner’: set up a meeting with them, talk through their application assessing the advantages and disadvantages and offer them an appeal process.
(For more detailed guidance on what constitutes a ‘reasonable manner’, read the Acas guide here).
How to write a working from home policy
When writing your work from home policy, the more detailed you are, the better. You want your employees to know exactly how the process will work and what to expect to minimise future confusion and misunderstanding.
Of course your policy should be tailored to suit the specific circumstances of your business, but here is a brief checklist of some main components to include.
Writing your flexible working policy Checklist:
- Define exactly what you mean by ‘working from home’ – list possible arrangements (see ‘A brief overview of working from home’)
- Stipulate who is eligible according to the law
- Clarify the factors you will use to assess whether an employee’s job can be done just as effectively from home
- Clarify the factors you will use to assess whether an employee’s working methods are suitable for home work
- i.e. someone who needs frequent supervision and guidance would not be an ideal candidate
- Detail the application process clearly
- How to make an application
- What needs to be included in said application
- Who they should submit their application to
- How the application will be handled once it’s been submitted (next steps)
- Go through the process for evaluating health and safety in the employee’s home and who will be in charge of organising this
- List how the flexible work set-up process will work if an application has been approved
- What assets or equipment the company will provide
- What assets or equipment the employee is expected to provide for themselves
- Who will pay for any installations or IT support
- Lay out the implications of working from home on taxation
- Read HMRC’s guidelines here for more detailed information
- Detail company security policies
- Include what will happen should a remote worker leave the company to protect any sensitive data or information
Key questions to ask before and during set-up
Once you have approved an employee’s request, you both will need to work together to set up working from home rules that deliver a beneficial, productive arrangement that’s specific to you and your employee. Here is a brief list of questions to ask yourself and your employee as you iron out the details (with space to add in a few of your own):
Does your employee have a suitable home environment to work? (Check for a reliable internet connection and phone reception, proper health and safety devices like a working smoke detector and carbon monoxide monitor, etc.)
Does your company insurance policy cover business equipment (company laptops, smartphones, etc.) that’s taken out of office?
How will you and your employee keep in touch throughout the work day? Decide on a primary mode of communication – videoconferencing, email, phone calls, etc.
How will your employee keep in touch with your other employees? How will they stay a part of the team?
How often will your employee come into the office? Decide on what meetings or other business-related gatherings the employee is obligated to attend.
How will you make sure that your employee is keeping up with their workload?
What is considered a claimable business expense while working from home?
What happens should your employee require IT support while working from home?
How frequently will you review this working from home policy? Will you enforce a trial period to test the arrangement and if so, for how long?