‘’To work from home or not to work from home?’’ That is the question, now what is the answer?

‘’To work from home or not to work from home?’’ That is the question, now what is the answer?

5th June 2020

Cast your mind back four months, the thought of having to work from home, let alone even achieving that, were not even on the agenda for most businesses, a pipe dream for a lot of employees and a perceived logistical headache for their line managers.

Then along came Covid – 19 and the world as we know it seemed to turn upside down, almost overnight.

Suddenly business who micromanaged your every move were allowing you to start work early, seeing their staff finish later, spend time with the kids on some home schooling and even walk the dog (if you have one of course), all whilst ‘’at work’’. The new norm and a welcome change in perceptions of work life balance? Possibly or possibly not, lets looks at this in a bit more detail;

The Employee

As a hardworking and diligent employee, you now no longer have to get up early, to rush the children to before school club or nursery, to then sit in a queue of traffic with thousands of other hapless workers in the daily grind we call commuting. Instead you can virtually fall downstairs in your pyjamas and into your designated workstation, the only consideration for your appearance is if you have a scheduled Zoom meeting this side of lunch. But is this good for us or not? Both.

Home working requires a high level of motivation to continue for long periods and to remain effective, working from home can lead to isolation, as humans most (not all) of us need some degree of social interaction with other people each day. Most have probably recently experienced ‘’Zoom Fatigue’’ following the fourth meeting of the day and crave for real social contact and not just another ‘’virtual coffee’’.

Distractions at home, the list is endless, children, pets, Netflix, baking a cake and sunbathing (we wish) are all there to drag us away from our makeshift desk (I’ll get to these later) to something more enjoyable than doing our job, but do they make us less efficient?

What is wrong with taking an extended lunch break to walk your dog, or take half an hour in the morning to drop the kids off at school and then the same to pick them up again 6 hours later? Nothing I would say and those of us who have had the delights of paying for full time childcare will know, being able to conduct the school run is a huge benefit, not just financially, but from the social interaction it also provides. These are things which employees will (normally) repay in kind, with earlier starts and later finishes, to ensure the work is completed, with the added benefit of a happier more productive employee as well.

The Employer

Any Employer’s worst nightmare, all their staff sat at home, binge watching Netflix and online shopping on the company laptop, whilst the business’ productivity and profits crumble around them. It seems odd but not that long ago this is how some Employers viewed home working.

Businesses have had to adapt and quickly to enable functionality during this pandemic and the results have been a surprise to a lot of employers. Staff can actually be trusted to work unsupervised and seem a lot happier. Perceptions may well have changed forever (possibly), but if they do, then as an employer you have considerations to look at and decisions to make.

Contracts of employment may need to be rewritten to protect both your business but also your employees, once an employee has been designated as a home worker then you have legal responsibilities to ensure that they can conduct their working activities safely.

The size of your business office space could possibly be reduced significantly, with the use of hot desk or shared desk policies, the savings here could potentially be eye watering.

Display Screen Equipment Regulations is the law surrounding the use of Display Screen Equipment (also known as DSE) which is your computer and the working area, known as a workstation. Assessments need to be conducted and the findings of these assessments need to be implemented. The assessment part is not normally a challenge, the implementation of additional controls to ensure compliance can be, particularly when laptops are in use. These include;

  • There should be a separate keyboard and mouse for use with a laptop, the laptop is supplied by the employer, so they should provide the additional equipment to make long term use of a laptop safer and more comfortable.
  • A height adjustable screen should be provided, to prevent neck and back strain, separate monitors are great but not always practicable, a pile of books generally not ideal, desk risers can be a cheap and practical solution, again ask your employer.
  • Where you sit is important, we all come in different shapes and sizes and a bar stool next to the kitchen island is guaranteed to be, at best uncomfortable after 8 hours, specifically designed office chairs are great, but expensive, and who wants one of these sat in their dining room? Food for thought.
  • And finally, a suitable working area for home working, not everyone is blessed with a home study with desk and adjustable office chair (bought second hand of course), often the dining room table or kitchen island is the place of choice, but is this really suitable?

And then what about cyber security? Businesses have previously spent vast sums protecting their networks and servers and the sensitive files contained within. Suddenly Gene from accounts is logged in from home with a £10.99 router from Argos with Password as ‘’the password’’, is this a good idea? Probably not. Let’s not even think about the implications of employees using their own home computers to conduct working activities, so some controls are going to be needed.

And what about Derek in Marketing? He needs to upload and download large files and imagery, who is paying for his super-fast broadband? Derek, possibly, but a little unfair if you have crunched all his data allowance in the first week of the month, no more Netflix now Derek.

Last but by no means least, the welfare of staff who are now having to adapt to a world where they can’t spend all day interacting with fellow workers, stress, boredom, complacency, feeling unsupported, all these are areas that need to be considered. The benefits of being allowed a degree of flexibility are huge, but only if managed correctly, providing flexibility for staff to conduct school runs have to be aligned with how the business want to run their activities, if Len in Sales wants to have a Zoom meeting at 9 every morning, then that’s the school run out of the window, can the meeting be delayed till later? Of course, but only if there is transparency in what employees can and can’t do. And then back to the dreaded childcare, allowing staff to work from home Monday, Wednesday and Friday is great and allows parents to plan childcare around this, but be aware of the implications of changing a Wednesday for a Thursday for an important meeting on your site at short notice, you may now have to consider the effect on home workers and this change may need to be planned weeks in advance. More food for thought.

And finally, my thoughts on this.

As someone who has home worked and had a flexible routine for a number of years, I have seen the massive benefits of home working, flexible working hours and a good work life balance. The new normal may see us in a world where even the biggest opposers of these benefits finally see the light.

Let’s hope so, a Company’s biggest commodity are their employees, any business who ignores this does so at their peril.

Guest Blogger - Nigel Roberts Chartered Safety and Health Practitioner
Capax Health & Safety Ltd [email protected]
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