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Keeping tabs on your homeworking staff

Q: If I have employees working from home, what HR implications do I need to be aware of and how do I ensure that productivity levels are maintained?

A: Working from home is fast becoming the new, 21st century, preferred business solution. Offering greater flexibility to the employee and the advantage of location-specific staff and reduced overheads for the employer, the arrangement can be seen to be mutually beneficial.

Employers must be mindful that the homeworker remains included within the business as a whole. There is a risk that employees who work from home may begin to feel isolated within their employment. The fear is that this isolation may negatively affect the employee’s performance. The absence of team pressure and camaraderie may result in poor results when employees feel they are independent from their colleagues. To prevent this from occurring employers should aim to schedule regular face-to-face meetings, establish appropriate targets and objectives required of the employee, and reach an agreement regarding how the homeworker’s performance will be measured.

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In terms of measuring the employee’s performance, there is a concern held by employers that by allowing homeworking they will be left unable to monitor whether the individual is actually working. There is a presumption that knowing an employee is in eyesight of their boss will prevent them from ‘slacking off’. However, if the employer is precise in their expectations of the employee while carrying out work at home, this is unlikely to be a real issue.

Employers should apply targets to home-based staff in the same way as they are applied to office-based staff. If there are no office-based staff, expectations should be set with the employee regarding exactly what they need to achieve. Implementing a reporting system – daily, or weekly, for example – where they will let the employer know what they have completed in that time frame is vital. They should not be neglected just because they are not visible.

If the employer considers that the homeworker is failing to achieve his goals, or appears not to be working his contractual hours because of distractions in his home, the employer is entitled to commence disciplinary proceedings as would be the case with an office-based employee. Should the employer feel it suitable to dismiss the employee provided he has reasonable grounds for the dismissal and has followed the correct procedure, he should not find himself susceptible to a claim.

However, an issue which is exclusive to those employees who have worked at home, is the process by which the equipment provided by the business is collected/returned following a dismissal. This arrangement is best agreed prior to the employee commencing his work at home, so as to avoid ill feelings complicating the process.

The concerns held by an employer regarding the area of homeworking can largely be overcome by good communication channels between employer and employee.