The practical, managerial, and psychological considerations.
When home working/hybrid working became common during the Covid pandemic, some commentators assumed it would only be a temporary change. However, the latest data from the ONS (UK Office of National Statistics), released on 13th February 2023, shows hybrid working to now be embedded in UK working practices. In their report ‘Characteristics of homeworkers, Great Britain: September 2022 to January 2023’ -
they found that:
- Over the period of September 2022 to January 2023, among working adults who had worked in the last seven days, 16% reported working from home only and 28% reported both working from home and travelling to work.
- Workers in the highest income band, those who were educated to degree level or above, and those in professional occupations were most likely to report working from home or hybrid working.
- Self-employed workers were twice as likely to work from home only (32%) compared with employees (14%).
- London residents reported the highest levels of hybrid working across GB, with 4 in 10 workers hybrid working.
- 40% of those surveyed had worked from home at some point in the past seven days, compared with just 12% in 2019.
This change in an employee's place of work offers potential benefits and also problems for both employers and employees. The pro’s and con’s of home/hybrid working for employers and employees are well documented, for example:
In brief, employers can:
- Save money by reducing office space and equipment.
- Save money on wage bills as staff may trade off the ability to work at home against requesting a pay rise.
- Find their employees are more productive and committed when working at home, and take less sick leave and may be less likely to quit their job.
In brief, employees can:
- Save money on commuting and other costs - we have even shared a guide on setting up your own budget friendly home office to help you get started!
- Have a higher level of job satisfaction while working at home, which makes them less likely to quit their job.
- Have a better work-life balance and better emotional well-being.
- Consider becoming a digital nomad and combine business with exploration
However, it’s clear from the ONS report and other data that working from home/hybrid working only benefits the employees whose jobs make this possible, and whose home is suitable to make this a practical reality.
If you’re an employer in a situation where many of your staff can work from home, how do you implement a hybrid/home working policy successfully?
- Start by considering how to introduce a hybrid working policy. The best way to do this is by consulting widely with your staff to see what they want, and consider this against your business needs.
- A ‘flexible’ hybrid working policy will work better than a ‘blanket’ policy, i.e. you consider each worker's unique set of skills and what motivates them to work well, where they perform the best, and what their wishes/needs are.
- Use the same criteria for deciding with each member of staff the best solution, to avoid any accusations of bias or discrimination. You’ll need to consider a mix of things, including:
- Is the role suitable for home working?
- Do you want the whole team in the office on the same day?
- What meetings do they need to attend in person?
- What space do you have in the office and how many can you accommodate?
- You may want to set a review date for the new policy to make sure it’s working for the business and the staff.
- Change the employees contract to accurately reflect their base of work/new working arrangements.
- Consider the health and safety issues of those working at home; you still have a H&S duty to your staff even if they are not working at your premises – the HSE have further advice on this.
To implement a successful policy employers should not:
- Reduce the pay of those working full-time or part-time at home (e.g. stop any London Weighting allowance). Remember that staff should be paid for what they do and not where they live.
- Reducing pay could lead to sex, disability, or equal pay discrimination claims. For example, if you pay a woman who works at home and has caring responsibilities, or a disabled worker who works at home, less than a person working solely in the office, that’s very likely to be discrimination.
- Remember also that reducing pay is changing an employees’ terms and conditions – which ultimately could end in an unfair/constructive dismissal claim against you.
When home-working was initially introduced during the pandemic, many employers were concerned how they could manage their remote staff effectively and concerned over their perceived lack of control over staff productivity. Employee monitoring tools have existed for a while in various guises, and over time most managers adapted, but this may have included the over-use of intrusive or covert monitoring tools.
While monitoring can help enable out-of-office collaboration, staff tend to dislike being surveilled intrusively, and this can erode trust and morale. Find out more information on monitoring of employees.
There are plenty of resources from the CIPD to help employers implement hybrid working– tips, case studies, guides, assessment tools.
Advice from ACAS about monitoring, which includes the following advice:
- It's important to trust your employees to do their job. If monitoring is too much or does not respect the employee's privacy, it can damage trust, cause stress, and reduce productivity. In some circumstances, it could also breach their legal and human rights.
- You should consult with employees and any representatives before introducing any form of monitoring. Together you should agree and create a clear policy.
- You must tell employees about any monitoring arrangement and the reason for it, except in extremely limited circumstances.
- You should do an 'impact assessment' to decide if and how to monitor staff.
Discover the ICO’s (Information Commissioner's office) current employment practices code, with a section on what appropriate employee monitoring looks like.
This hasn’t been updated since 2018 and the ICO have been consulting on new guidance on employee monitoring. The consultation closed in January 2023 and there should be finalised guidance from the ICO published later in 2023.
Psychological - How to consider individual workers requirements for successful working at home?
Some workers can feel lonely and isolated when working at home. That might be because of their living circumstances, their age, or their personality type. But this may be overcome by appropriate team and management support.
Some people can ‘over-work’ when working at home, they don’t switch off and can feel overwhelmed. Managers need to be aware of staff who do this and ask about and listen to their concerns.
Some people will always hate working at home, because of what motivates them to work well. They may need noise, physical face-to-face team interaction, and enjoy working in an open-plan space to be productive and creative. Such staff may be extroverts who, for example, like giving presentations, or taking a lead in meetings and team/work events.
Other people will love the peace and quiet of working at home (hopefully!) which allows them to be more productive. They may find a physical office distracting and need quiet time to think, reflect, ponder solutions, and make decisions. They may not need support from colleagues to overcome challenges and be productive. Such staff may be introverts, who may be more insightful thinkers and good listeners, more focussed and conscientious about their work.
And then of course, some people can work well anywhere, and in any environment.
When considering where people work best, managers should remember that team collaboration in the office is not the only way of maximising creativity and productivity (through brainstorming for example). Several studies have found that a large part of work is best done in solitude (skills are expanded, insights emerge, and progress is made), as interruptions can be a barrier to productivity.
Managers can gain further insight into how and where workers do their best work:
You can use a ‘strengths reflection tool’ – examples are here:
Employers should ensure managers can have conversations with their staff about their strengths and where they work best. Many forms of training can provide this, for example ‘Conversation Integrity’ (CI) training gives managers curiosity, empathy and self-awareness skills.
ACAS provides training about having difficult conversations.
Good luck with implementing a successful hybrid working policy. One last thing to consider!
Practical Tax considerations:
If a worker has to work from home they may be able to claim tax relief on the costs of travelling to the office if it is a ‘temporary’ workplace, as long as the trip is not regular. Workers may also be able to claim a deduction against taxable income for some of their household expenses - £6 per week or exact costs. Our simple online tax calculators will be able to give you a clearer idea on how these figures might look.
Employers can also make tax-free payments to reimburse home-workers for certain household expenses/home office equipment, as long as they work at home regularly. HMRC will approve a tax and NI Free payment of up to £6 per week (or £26 per month) – whether working full-time or part-time - to an employee working at home, without needing supporting evidence of the costs.