Coronavirus & HR: How to Write A Work From Home Policy
The coronavirus pandemic has altered almost everything about our lives – from our interactions with other people, through to how we buy groceries. Work is no exception to this change.
In an attempt to control the spread of the virus, the government is strongly advising all businesses to encourage their employees to work from home if they are able to, minimising contact between people.
Obviously, for some jobs like cleaners or lorry drivers, working from home will be impossible, but for most businesses there will at least be some employees who can complete their work without needing to be in a physical workplace. This probably holds true for at least some employees in your workplace.
Creating a dedicated work from home policy will help your company better adapt to the strange circumstances we’re currently in. It will help you to provide clear guidance about working from home for your employees, clearly describing your expectations of them, the expectations they should have in you as an employer, and key information about the processes that will be in operation throughout the policy’s life.
Here are a few tips to help you write a work from home policy.
1. Choose who can work from home
One of the most important aspects of your policy is going to be who it actually affects. In other words, who are the specific employees in your workplace that will be allowed to work from home?
For an employee to be able to work from home, you’re going to need to trust them. You’re also going to need to be willing to relinquish some of the control that you currently have over your workforce and trust in your employees to be able to supervise themselves.
So, how do you actually go about choosing which employees should work from home?
In the light of the current coronavirus pandemic, it’s unlikely that you’ll have much of a choice about the specific people who can work remotely – it’s likely that, if you’re in the position to still trade, your company will want as many employees as possible to work from home.
If you can only select a certain number of employees, look for those who you know work well without supervision, who are generally trustworthy and who you know can be relied upon to create work to a high standard with minimal supervision.
2. Decide communication channels
Communication is the thing that makes or break working at home for many employees.
Before you start writing your work from home policy, decide on the communication channels that your company will be using to contact staff, and that you expect your employees to use to communicate with you.
In your work from home policy, you should make clear that communication is a two-way interaction. Your employee needs to communicate regularly with the company, and you need to communicate regularly with the employee.
Lay down clear ground rules about the type of communication you want from employees and how much: whether it’s an email every day to update you on their progress, a daily message in a group chat or a phone call once a week. This will help to keep your team much more connected and in contact.
How exactly you communicate with your employees will obviously vary from company to company. Email will probably be the easiest option when it comes to keeping hundreds of staff updated with key information, but if you have a small team, using the phone could be a great way to make working from home seem less distant.
3. Pay attention to equipment needs
It’s also worth bearing the practical aspects of working from home in mind when you’re crafting your work from home policy – what physical equipment will your employees need to do their jobs to a high standard?
The easiest way to do this is to probably draw up a list of all the possible equipment that a particular type of employee might use in a typical day.
If you have lots of different types of employees in your work place, it might help to broaden this out to departments instead. Once you’ve got this list, you can then get your purchasing department to order the relevant items and get them posted out to employees.
4. Get to grips with health and safety
Think health and safety only applies in the office? Think again.
As an employer, you are legally responsible for the health and safety of your employees whilst they’re working from home.
Carrying out a risk assessment ahead of time is an essential step you’ll need to take before writing your policy. This will alert you to possible hazards and help you to reduce their risk, fulfilling your duty of care as an employer. As an employer, you are usually only liable for equipment which you supply to an employee, and the employee is responsible for correcting any flaws that the risk assessment you carry out finds.
“The best way to manage risk is to attempt to spot it and plan accordingly before it happens”, according to David Rowland, head of marketing at Engage EHS. This is why risk management is now so important to a business. With proper risk assessment, you can make plans, spot potential risks, and then do everything you can to minimize their impact.
Your risk assessment should look at:
- The home-working environment: Does it have a comfortable temperature, adequate lighting and good ventilation?
- Is there enough space for work to be completed safely?
- Display Screen Equipment (DSE): Does the chair provide suitable lumbar, neck and wrist support?
- Is the screen at a comfortable height?
- Is the desk at a comfortable height for the screen?
- Is a footrest or headrest needed?
- Insurance: Does the employee’s home insurance allow them to work from home?
- Fire safety: Are there adequate fire safety measures in place?
The easiest way to do this is to create a basic questionnaire which you send out to employees via email, get them to return to you and then take action to bring things up to scratch where appropriate.
Here’s an example of what we mean.
Home-working Risk Assessment
Before permission is given for any employee to work at home, the following checklist must be completed.
This is for us to assess the suitability of any proposed home working arrangement against current health and safety regulations.
We rely on your honesty in completing this checklist and retain the right to revoke any home working arrangements agreed, should any information prove to be inaccurate.
Options: Yes No N/A
- Do you have a separate room that you can work in?
- Is there room for a desktop computer/laptop to fit comfortably on a desk?
- Is there adequate room for a printer to be situated safely nearby (if required)?
- Is there enough room for a computer user’s chair to fit comfortably?
- Is there a problem with trailing cables?
- If so, would the provision of cable protectors reduce the risk of trailing cables to an acceptable level?
- Is existing lighting adequate for computer work and reading?
- If not, would replacing the light bulbs solve the problem?
- Is the lighting likely to cause a glare problem?
- Does your insurance cover currently allow you to work from home? (We retain the right to ask for copies of any insurance documentation.)
- If not, can it be amended at your expense to allow you to do so?
- Do you have a smoke detector installed?
- Would you be willing to obtain one at your own expense and install it?
- Does any emergency escape route from the working area allow an easy and safe route to safety?
- Is your electrical supply adequate for the extra demands of a computer and printer? (You may be asked to get your electrical supply tested at your own expense.)
- Do you have sufficient sockets for the computer and other equipment?
- Do you have an effective circuit breaker (e.g. residual current device)?
Note: This checklist is to be retained on file for at least three years.
This checklist has been completed to the best of my knowledge.
Name (Employee): ………………………………………………………………………....
Signed: ................................................................................................ Date: ...........
5. Define your expectations
Employee ambiguity about your expectations can sink even the most conscientious and well-thought out work from home policies, so it’s worth taking some time to think about it clearly.
Put simply, if your employees aren’t clear about what you expect from them whilst they’re home-working, you’re likely to experience a dip in productivity. If you manage to clearly communicate what the company expects from employees, you can usually achieve the same level of productivity with home-working that you would with office-working – if not an increase.
Some important questions to ask when you’re trying to decide on your company’s expectations could include:
- What do you expect your employees to do whilst they’re working from home?
- How do you expect your employees to communicate with you?
- How often should employees communicate with you?
- What quantity of work do you expect from employees in a day/week/month?
- What are the hours of work that you expect employees to follow?
Writing a definitive work from home policy takes time, but it’s an evergreen piece of work that will help prepare your company to weather all sorts of situations. That’s why it’s worth the effort.
We hope this guide has helped you feel more confident when it comes to writing a work from home policy for your company.
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