Remote Working - helping work-life balance and enhancing productivity

September 2019

Flexible working is not a new idea in the workplace and has been gaining widespread acceptance in businesses across our region, comments Caroline Cotterell, Human Resources Director at Scrutton Bland. Firms have realised that in order to attract and retain high quality staff they need to be more mindful of their work-life needs, which can include offering working hours running outside the traditional 9-5 office model.
 
Research bears out popularity of this view: a 2018 study by Investors in People found that 31% of workers said they would prefer to be offered remote working. There are acknowledged positive effects on employees who can work from home when they need or want to, including reduced levels of stress and anxiety, increased levels of autonomy which in turn creates enhanced productivity.
 
There is clearly a powerful argument for employers to introduce remote working schemes – where practical – for their workforce. But are things that simple?  For example, if a person is working from home, we need to ask how and when are they going to communicate with the rest of their team? Are you going to expect them to use their existing broadband and mobile phone network? Do they have the working environment that will enable them to be productive? How will this affect their insurance/utility bills – do you contribute? This last point is especially relevant for people on lower wage scales who work in rural areas, where arranging and paying for that infrastructure may outweigh their travelling costs. 
 
There is also evidence of a creeping tendency for overcompensation, where workers feel obliged to prove they are working at all times when they are at home. So, for example, they think they need to be immediately responsive to emails and phone calls and work more hours – even though their motivation for working at home may be to balance caring and family responsibilities. 
 
So if you have a working from home option, or are thinking about introducing it here are a few things to think about: 

1. Is your existing workforce aware of your business’s approach to remote working, and is the message being consistently communicated across all departments? Will it be possible for people working remotely to feel a valued part of your company? 

2. How are you educating new employees on the way that remote working is set up in your business? Have you built in the guidelines to the induction process?  

3. How are you managing risk assessments to evaluate the way that your workforce works from home? Are they working in a safe and secure environment? Consider introducing guidelines to ensure their work environment is appropriate. 

4. Does your employee have the correct equipment to work from home? Will they be working at a table or desk, or are they going to be sitting on the sofa with a laptop balanced on their lap – and what are the health implications for working in that kind of environment? Do they have caring responsibilities for relatives and children and how will this be effective and ensure a productive work and a home life balance. 

4. Is it a cost-effective process for both parties? Lower paid employees may struggle with the added cost of several more hours of heating, lighting and electronic communications. Will members of your team need to spend more time and resource working flexibly than they would if they were working in the office?  

5. Do you allow your employees to work in public areas? Or on unsecured networks? If they are working on confidential documents, what kind of security protocols do you have in place?  

6. Does the role require frequent interaction and meetings with co-workers? Will setting up meetings on Skype or similar video meetings produce the best productivity outcomes, or will it hinder the decision-making process? 

7. What happens if you realise the person is working from home but not meeting their targets? Ensure you are able to have honest conversations about what you are both getting (or not getting) from the arrangement. Regularly review how it is working for both sides. 

8. Ensure that there are guidelines in place for the hours they will be working. A variation in a person’s start and finish time is easy to set up, but if this becomes a blurred line, then neither party can be sure when they are expected to be available, and resentments can soon creep in on both sides.  

9. Following on from the point above, will the arrangement specify an employee’s right not to be contacted? Are they permitted to specify times when they aren’t expected to answer the phone or emails? Workers in France have a legal right to ignore emails and phone calls which arrive out-of-hours and whilst we are not advocating that this should be the case here, there is a balance and it just needs to be talked about.  

10. Don’t be afraid to set up face-to-face contact on a regular basis, not just to catch up on current workloads, but to discuss how they are managing. It may be harder to spot issues such as mental ill health and setting up person-to-person contact will enable both parties to talk about issues with confidence. 

11. If a team member is working remotely, but not at home, for example working on an overseas project in a different time zone, then make sure you are both aware of their working hours and when they can and can’t be contacted and ensure that their down time is respected by those back in their base country. 

12. Remember social contact is important for wellbeing. Sometimes social interaction, a fun environment and the ability to belong is important to ‘coming’ to work. Ensure regular team meetings and if needed vary the location to help the logistics of coming together.

Remote working can be a powerful tool for setting your business up as a flexible and considerate employer, and it is clearly something that many workers value. Although it may not be for everyone, with some simple and easy guidelines, and regular communication it can be an amazing and effective way to manage the work life balance we are all craving for.
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