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Home based working

Home based working: what does ‘good’ look like?

Employees are home-based when their employment takes place largely or exclusively in, or from, their own homes rather than in a conventional office setting.

It should, in principle, be a voluntary arrangement and, as such, is largely individual, although trade unions are frequently involved in generating framework agreements which facilitate, and set down key principles for, home-based working.

The savings to an employer in terms of the office estate may, on occasion, mean that home-based working is presented to employees as a less than voluntary choice, while new employees in these situations may sometimes find that they have no choice but to work from home. Nevertheless, trade union involvement is key to ensuring that home-based working initiatives have a maximum chance of success.

For the individual, homeworking has a number of pros and cons:

Pros

Cons

Manage workload independently Isolation from colleagues
Greater flexibility to juggle work and domestic responsibilities Lost career development or advancement opportunities
Improved work efficiency Blurred home and work boundaries
No more daily commuting into work Temptation to work longer hours

 

Certainly,  just as not all employment successfully lends itself to home-based working, not all employees make successful home-based workers. Nevertheless, where working from home is possible, it can be a rewarding experience for the individual and the family, while also generating benefits to the employer and, indeed, for the environment.

We have developed some guidelines and best practice which we think will help employees who are interested in working from home do so successfully (see below).

We would always recommend that any homeworking arrangement is backed by a separate and formal agreement between the individual and the company setting out the expectations on both parties, and our guidelines are intended to help inform local discussions in advance of any move to work from home.

All situations are different, and the importance of the agreement lies in setting out, in clear, understandable and meaningful language which works for both employer and employee and what is expected of both parties during the period of homeworking.

The agreement should:

  • Clarify the level at which homeworking operates (ie ad hoc / occasional / regular / permanent) as well as specify the homeworking employee’s office base, and in a contractual variation where the homeworking arrangement is regular or permanent. The agreement also needs to be clear about the nature of the work being done by the homeworker – ie working in, or from, home because of implications such as T&S payments, utility costs, etc some of which may only apply to regular or permanent homeworkers.
  • Include a communications protocol specifying levels of contact with colleagues, and areas of obligation and responsibility. This is important to establish visibility and will also help overcome some aspects of the isolation commonly faced by homeworkers. Agreements might usefully explore what employers will do to help, such as providing a level of T&S support for trips to the office, etc – especially when homeworking is imposed.
  • State the homeworking employee is subject to the usual HR policies and agreements and might also need to be specific about access to learning and career development opportunities and tools.
  • Specify how homeworkers may contact their union rep. (While separate protocols should be established setting out information on those becoming, or ceasing to be, homeworkers which should be provided to the union.)
  • Include the arrangements for health and safety compliance. This remains an employer’s duty but existing employee responsibilities are extended and carry additional weight in the home. Particularly when it comes to IT communications and equipment (and security of access to the central server). But the home office also needs to be properly considered in terms of  health and safety  for all but ad hoc homeworkers (and perhaps even including them). This is likely to include initial risk assessment and then regular compliance monitoring.
  • Ensure that any risks arising to the personal safety and security of homeworkers in the course of their job are adequately dealt with in advance.
  • Cover data confidentiality / protection specifying how private data is handled, stored and destroyed.
  • Identify clearly what equipment and facilities (eg a dedicated telephone line) the employer will provide and be responsible for, and that this should be used purely for work purposes. This is not only an essential protection for employees but identifying work equipment as such will also help to alleviate some of the blurred boundaries between work and home life which homeworking necessarily entails and which does cause problems.
  • Make clear the hours of work, since homeworkers are more susceptible to working longer hours. Keeping a diary, or using an hours calculator, helps – Prospect has developed one which you can find here (add link)
  • Specify what employers are prepared to do as regards meeting the additional utility costs incurred by homeworkers.
  • Address from the outset the regular replacement and updating of employer-provided equipmen.
  • Specify how, and in what circumstances, the homeworking agreement might be ended.

If there are a lot of homeworkers in your workplace, these aspects may well already be covered by a framework agreement between your employer and Prospect.

However, in the absence of this, all these items should be in your own agreement so, once you have a draft in place, why not check it over with your local Prospect rep?

Prospect's Members' Guide 20 on Homeworking may contain further useful information.

Employer experience

A number of employers which recognise and negotiate with Prospect offer the possibility of home-based working.

These include BT, where around 40 per cent of Prospect members regularly work from home at least some of the time; English Heritage; Planning Inspectorate (and planning inspectors working for the Scottish government and the Northern Ireland Planning Service); Ordnance Survey; Office for National Statistics; Natural England; parts of the Ministry of Defence; and the Valuation Office Agency.