Essential guide to managing home and flexible workers

Man using laptop and mobile phone working away from office

In a post-COVID world, more of us than ever are working from home. Whether it's full-time at home, or a hybrid model, flexible working is here to stay. New tools and technologies, as well as changing workplace cultures, make working from home an attractive choice for employers and employees.

Managers must have the right systems and protections in place to support employees that work from home.

Does working from home suit your business?

The home office

Benefits and risks of working from home

Introducing working from home

Contracts for employees who work from home

Staying in touch with employees who work from home

Technology for employees who work from home

1. Does working from home suit your business?

Some jobs are better suited to working from home than others

When deciding on a homeworking strategy, there are two questions you must ask: can your staff perform their work at home and do you want them to?

Some roles suited to working at home include:

  • sales, marketing and customer service
  • support and maintenance
  • computer programming
  • consultancy and professional services
  • training and education
  • writing, editing, research and translation
  • some administrative and secretarial work
  • jobs where home acts as a base for mobile workers such as sales representatives

However, new software and solutions mean that many jobs we'd typically assume had to be completed in the office can now be completed at home.

When working at home, you'll have to trust that employees will be able to work as effectively as they do in the office.

Setting out your expectations and establishing communication systems and collaborative processes can help protect you.

Flexible workers will need strong skills in:

  • time management and self-discipline
  • motivation, self-sufficiency, initiative and the ability to work alone
  • communication - for example, they have a good telephone manner and the ability to get on with new people
  • lifestyle management - they have the ability to maintain a healthy work/life balance
  • technology - they have a strong internet connection and the ability to set-up and maintain technology, including anti-virus protection

Flexible working options

Flexible working is a catch-all phrase that covers any working pattern other than the traditional 9-5 working week.

Employees can work in different locations

  • At home - employees without suitable home premises may use a local facilities, including virtual offices, social spaces and cafes.
  • Work while commuting - new technology and strong mobiel Wi-Fi means we can work wherever there is a signal.
  • At customers' premises - employees can work across the world, including in a customer's premises.

There are several different types of flexible working

  • Staff have the freedom to work flexible hours, such as flexitime, compressed hours, annual hours or staggered hours.
  • Employees might have a job-sharing arrangement.
  • Shift workers, part-time workers and term-time workers are all considered flexible employees.

Employees with at least 26 weeks' service have the right to request flexible working

  • Qualifying employees can request a change in hours, the times or the location of their work. Each employee can only make one request, in writing, in each 12-month period.
  • Employers are required to consider requests in a reasonable manner and within a reasonable time (three months unless an extension is agreed). Employers can only refuse requests where there is a good business reason for doing so.

2. The home office

Every employees should have a dedicated work area that meets minimum requirements

  • A work space and a quiet working environment. Homeworkers should have a dedicated space where they can work that's safe, comfortable and connected.
  • Homeworkers should avoid leaving valuable equipment or sensitive information where there is a risk of theft or confidentiality breaches. Company technology and documents should be secured somewhere safe, and according to your policies and procedures.
  • Compliance with health and safety regulations, including suitable furniture. Employers have a duty to ensure staff are safe, including providing specialist equipment if required.
  • Broadband access is essential. Staff may also need a company mobile phone.
  • A desktop computer or laptop with internet and email access. Cloud software enables companies to work together vitually (see using technology for homeworkers).
  • Some businesses that deal with sensitive data, classified information or secure documentation may use a VPN, a secure server or additional security measures to protect themselves.
  • Adequate insurance. Home contents insurance normally excludes business equipment, but most employers' insurance policies cover any place of business. Additional insurance may be required if homeworkers have visitors or business meetings at home.

Normal office health and safety requirements apply equally to employees who work from home

Employees can provide information and perform an initial risk assessment to ensure the work environment is safe. Employers must give all homeworkers simple, specific health and safety advice and record any actions you take.

Areas to consider are:

  • Does your employee have a proper seat and a desk?
  • Has all electrical equipment and technology been tested and certified?
  • Extension leads and cables for telephones, computers and printers should be secured.
  • Any home office set-up should have adequate lighting, ventilation and be at a comfortable temperature.

Planning permission is not normally required for homeworkers

Permission is unlikely to be required if all the following are true:

  • only one room is used for homeworking
  • only those who live in the house work there
  • the work does not lead to a substantial volume of visitors, nuisance to neighbours or extra car parking

Tax and business rates are not usually a problem

Homeworkers can ensure the room used has a secondary purpose (such as being used as a guest bedroom) to avoid paying:

  • business rates
  • capital gains tax on the sale of the property

3. Benefits and risks of working from home

Many employers and employees find that home workers are more committed and productive

  • Employees who work from home often face fewer interruptions and cut any time commuting
  • Improved employee retention. Homeworking often suits parents who have responsibilities, such as caring for children, a partner of other family member
  • Reduced levels of sick leave and stress
  • Increased opportunities for recruitment. Potential recruits may prefer the option to work either full-time, part-time, at home or some other flexible arrangement
  • Control over the office environment, including noise, heat, ventilation and lighting

There are some challenges for businesses that embrace flexible and hybrid working

Specific risks can include:

  • losing touch with employees and difficulty in arranging ad-hoc meetings
  • costs of tecnology
  • increased initial training requirements and expenditure to set up home offices
  • reduced loyalty due to increased isolation
  • deterioration in employees' skills and work quality
  • difficulty in controlling the security of information
  • confused goals, standards, expectations and systems
  • cyber-security concerns and data protection risks can be increased

Effective management of employees who work from home can overcome most problems

  • Strong processes, secure technology and support from managers can overcome many of the challenges associated with homeworking.

4. Introducing working from home

You'll need to develop strong processes and documents to protect your organisation

  • Create a homeworking policy that sets our your expectations for all homeworkers.
  • Place policies somewhere they can be accessed by everyone, such as a company intranet, or shared cloud storage platform.
  • Ensure all staff have read and understood the policy.
  • Remind everyone that, even though they are outside the office, they must follow the guidelines, policies and procedures.
  • Remind staff of their responsibility to protect your organisation and its data.
  • Review and update your internet useage policy to reflect flexible working.

5. Contracts for employees who work from home

Employers may require new contracts if your changing how or where employees work.

It is easier to negotiate if terms and conditions are not changed adversely

Employers should agree a letter of modification to the standard employment contract and ask employees to sign to indicate acceptance. A simple letter might state:

  • Where the employee will be based.
  • That both employer and employee have the right to terminate the homeworking arrangement at any time.
  • That the company will supply and insure the necessary equipment. The equipment remains the company's property and is not to be used for private purposes.
  • That the company will supply and pay for a telephone and internet connection for business use.
  • That the employee must comply with relevant health and safety and security guidelines. The company will pay any costs involved.
  • That there is no change to other employment terms and conditions such as pay, hours of work, holiday entitlement and pension contributions.

Employees shouldn't be forced to work at home if they don't want to

  • An employee who feels unduly pressured into accepting a new arrangement and quits may have a case for constructive dismissal.

Explain to employees that homeworking is not self-employment

  • HM Revenue & Customs is unlikely to accept that an individual with only one customer (the employer's company) is self-employed. This is especially unlikely if the individual was previously employed by the same company. This is captured by IR35 legislation.
  • Introducing self-employment for whole departments which move to homeworking can cause legal problems. This is a complex area that involves the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations or TUPE.

6. Staying in touch with employees who work from home

It's critical you communicate with employees. Technology can help you stay in touch and keep you in control

  • Team members should work regular hours and tell you when they are working and when they are not.Regular telephone or video calls can replace most face-to-face meetings.
  • Shared calendars are critical , so ensure everyone updates theirs (including you!).
  • Regular video calls through Microsoft Teams, Google Meet or Zoom have replaced most face-to-face meetings.
  • Treat video calls as formal meetings, with an agenda and structure.
  • Emails are still essential to business communication.
  • Some businesses use instant messaging software, such as Slack, to stay in touch.
  • Face-to-face meetings are still recommended, particularly if you are sharing difficult or complicated information.

Employees will need access to company data and documents, so make it safe for them to do so

  • Cloud storage systems make it easy to share documents and collaborate.
  • Everyone has access to the most up-to-date versions of documents, and can make comments and changes in real time.
  • Businesses that manage and share confidential information may require additional security measures, such as a VPN or access to a password-protected server.
  • Staff must understand their responsibilities to protect data, including safeguarding passwords.
  • Companies have responsibilities under GDPR to protect all data and must have robust systems and processes in place.

7. Technology for employees who work from home

It is safer for employees who work from home to save their work directly onto the employer's system, rather than their own equipment. This reduces the risk of a data security breach and limits potential problems with data protection and GDPR.

You will need to provide technology for staff

  • Employees will need to be provided with a suitable computer (desktop or laptop).
  • You may need to provide additional peripherals, such as a mouse, printer or scanner, depending on the role being performed.
  • Staff should be discouraged from using their own devices for professional work.
  • A fast broadband connection is essential for efficient homeworking, including sharing documents and joining video calls.

Understand the pitfalls

  • Your IT should be strengthened.
  • All devices should be password protected and have strong firewalls and anti-virus software. All data and files should be saved to secure spaces (cloud storage, intranet or virtual server) your intranet where they can be backed up and protected. Staff should never save documents locally on desktops or removeable storage devices.
  • Flexible workers may need advice, guidance and training to support them.
  • Companies must develop strong policies to protect staff, data and the organisation.


Expert quote

"Making use of all the available technology is all very well, but don't let yourself forget what an employee looks like. Maintaining the relationship will always be an essential factor." - Nigel McCartney, Design Communications

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