The workplace is changing and the advent of new technologies enables a much more flexible working environment for employees. Jane Crosby explains the issues so that you can decide whether remote working might work for your organisation.
The flexibility of remote working is now commonplace and accommodates many employees who would otherwise face a long commute. It can help employees with families and even ease older employees into a phased retirement.
What are some of the challenges that employers face when deciding whether or not to allow this change in working practice?
There’s fear from some employers that employees will abuse this new flexibility. However, if remote working is handled correctly it should be beneficial for both employers and employees.
What should employers consider if they allow their employees to carry out remote working?
The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has seen the arrival of stricter operating boundaries for businesses processing personally identifiable information about individuals. It also introduced extended powers for data regulators (in the UK this is the Information Commissioner’s Office).
Remote working can mean organisations have to put in place stricter security measures, perhaps addressing, among other things, the ability to print or download at home.
Employees will usually be expected to read and understand a data protection policy and it’s important for employers to provide training on these key issues. British Airways and Facebook, for example, have recently been subject to large fines for related breaches.
Think about enacting mock data breaches on a regular basis. This can help keep GDPR at the forefront of employees’ minds, as well as identifying where changes may be needed. Whenever policies need to be updated, you should make sure refresher training is given to relevant staff. You should also offer detailed development training to people who work on the data management frontline.
Health and safety issues
There’s an obvious need for employers to understand that they should have the right insurance in place to cover employees who are working from home. Check your policies to make sure you’re adequately covered.
You should also carry out risk assessments on any workstations at home. It’s highly unlikely that a home environment will have the same working facilities as those enjoyed in the office.
Managers need to change their way of thinking when dealing with remote workers, rather than regarding them as ‘out of sight, out of mind’. Remote workers still need to feel part of a team. You can address this by communicating effectively and regularly with them about updates in company policies and invitations to social events for example – and ensuring they have access to the same training and promotion opportunities as their in-house colleagues.
As with other long-distance relationships, managing remote workers demands extra effort to keep everybody engaged and aligned.
Working hours – flexible working
Employers have an obligation to consider flexible working for employees with caring responsibilities. Parents of school-age children, for example. Or people who care for disabled relatives, spouses or elderly parents.
Options can include: a change to the number of hours worked; an amendment to their daily start and finish time; or allowing some work to be carried out at home.
As part of flexible working, you must also take into account the Working Time Regulations which monitor the number of hours an employee should be working and the need for rest breaks.
You can request employees to sign an opt-out of the 48-hour week if this is a necessity for specific work. Bear in mind, however, that you cannot waive your employees’ right to adequate rest periods.
Work out what works for your business.
Changes in working practices will always have their challenges, and remote working isn’t practical for every type of business or worker. But many employees – and employers too – find that a more relaxed approach to working hours results, ultimately, in a more productive and happier work force. Trust, an open mind and effective planning are all key to success.
- Flexible working can be particularly attractive for employees with families and others who are phasing into retirement
- Give special consideration to data security, health and safety insurance, supervision, Working Time Regulations
- Remote working often results in a more productive and happier work force – if handled correctly.
“As with many long-distance relationships, extra effort is needed to keep everybody engaged and aligned”.
This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.