Education Matters - Home working – the new norm even in education?


22 June 2020

The commencement of the lockdown and Government guidance to work from home, is likely to change employers and employees’ views on homeworking forever. Whilst education is a sector that relies on face-to-face contact, nonetheless the forced requirement to work from home has led to different working practices.

There is no doubt we will see a rise in the number of employees looking to spend more time working from home going forward, and a growing consensus and acceptance that homeworking can bring considerable advantages.

This article explores the benefits of homeworking, and the considerations that need to be taken before granting such requests.

Benefits

One key benefit is likely to be the significant reduction in the cost of office space and associated costs that could be achieved through more employees working from home. Also, with most education institutions looking to expand, the need for teaching space and enhancing the student experience could be facilitated now by a reduction in office space. It should also assist with the recruitment of staff, reducing the need for employees to relocate thereby increasing your potential talent pool – which should also aid diversity as it will make it easier to look for applicants from different geographical areas where there may be greater diversity to draw from.

Homeworking should also increase productivity. Homeworkers spared travel time and associated stresses should have more ‘headspace’ to focus on work. This is likely to lead to increased motivation, less churn and greater skills retention.

Homeworking is also likely to make organisations more resilient to withstand disturbances such as transport problems, adverse weather conditions, and unpredictable external threats and disasters. Indeed, homeworking could form an important part of your organisation’s continuity planning.

Downsides

There are difficulties to homeworking, which need to be considered and addressed. These include the obstacle it can create to influence and build team working and organisational culture. Management styles and processes will need to be adapted to address this.

Homeworking will require a continuous investment in technology and equipment – which may lead to significant duplication in costs of office and technical equipment.

Some employees may embrace homeworking for the advantages it offers, but may nonetheless find it detrimental to their mental health. They may struggle to keep work and home life separate, not knowing when to switch off. They may find the working environment more intense and feel more isolated. Additional consideration will need to be given as to how to safeguard the mental health of homeworkers, and to keep them motivated and engaged with both the organisation and their colleagues.

Practical issues

There are a number of issues that need to be considered when implementing homeworking arrangements. These include:

Contractual issues

The arrangements should be reflected in the contract of employment. Will homeworkers be required to attend the organisation’s premises as and when required? Are they expected to observe core hours or are they free to determine when they work? Employers may want to consider having a contractual trial period in place to assess the effectiveness of the arrangement, plus the right to require them to work from the organisation’s premises should the organisation’s needs and circumstances change in the future.

Reporting and appraisals

More consideration will need to be given to how home workers are managed, in terms of overseeing and assessing performance and keeping them engaged and motivated. Organisations will need to review the training given to line managers and ensure it is adapted to address homeworking and the challenges it brings.

Confidentiality and data security

Homeworkers may need specific training on confidentiality and data security. Employers should carry out a data privacy impact assessment of the implications of employees working from home. It will need to consider who will have access to the employee’s computer and personal data stored on it. Will the employee’s home be left unattended for regular periods? If so, is it properly secured? Does the remote working system permit the employee to encrypt and/or password-protect information? Is sharing of passwords clearly forbidden? Where paper files are kept, are there suitable systems for storage such as secure filing cabinets? Are there rules on retention of documents, proper disposal (for example, shredding) of paper-based records, and storage and deletion of computerised personal data?

Health and safety

Employers continue to be responsible for a homeworker’s welfare, health and safety “so far as is reasonably practicable”. Employers must conduct a suitable and sufficient risk assessment of all the work activities carried out by their employees, including homeworkers, to identify hazards and assess the degree of risk.

Equipment

Whilst there is no legal obligation (yet) on an employer to provide the equipment necessary for homeworking, most employers will want homeworkers to use only the employer’s computer equipment, to ensure compatibility with the employer’s systems, and to ensure that proper virus protection and security measures are in place. Regular homeworkers may also need broadband/high speed internet access, a high-speed printer, ideally, a shredder, and good work equipment and furniture to ensure they can work safely for sustained periods without musculoskeletal issues arising.

Members of Birketts’ Education Team would be happy to provide more detailed advice on homeworking, and if you would like to discuss it further, please contact Abigail Trencher.

This article is from the June 2020 issue of Education Matters, our newsletter for our clients and contacts in the education sector. To download the latest issue, please visit the newsletter section of our website. Law covered as at June 2020.

The content of this article is for general information only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. If you require any further information in relation to this article please contact the author in the first instance. Law covered as at June 2020.