Homeworking in numbers has leapt during the COVID 19 lockdown, and has provided a way for lots of businesses to continue operating. No surprise that it has been generally liked by workers, but perhaps some surprise for the more cynical employers to find that generally, homeworkers work conscientiously and productivity may even improve. Then of course there are potential savings on work premises and costs, and for the workers, on childcare and commuting.
Don’t forget, though, that the employer’s responsibility to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of workers at work is unchanged. I am talking about homeworking as a large proportion of the worker’s time, not about the odd afternoon. The majority of homeworkers are using a computer, and this type of work lends itself to homeworking.
The Display Screen Equipment (DSE) Regulations still apply, so the worker will need to carry out a self assessment of their workstation and submit this for review. The employer must organise and manage this process. Workers using a laptop must be provided with a separate screen and keyboard, as a laptop cannot be safely and comfortably used for eight hours a day. Most workers will have a desk or table suitable for work, but the employer may have to provide a suitable chair. Certainly the worker cannot be expected to manage on a kitchen chair for long.
For all homeworkers, not just computer users, the employer would be well advised to ensure that the worker has an effective smoke alarm in the home, and that any electrical equipment lent for homeworking is checked and found safe. The provision of a first aid kit is also desirable. It may be worth reinforcing the need to report accidents and health problems which occur while working.
For many homeworkers, the home offers peace and focus to achieve high standards and improved output. In other cases, where accommodation is crowded, where young children are about or where the home has other limiting factors, homeworking may be undesirable. For this reason it is best to be able to offer workers options rather than to enforce one approach or another. Other homeworkers can feel isolated and miss the buzz of a busy office, or feel estranged from their employer and team. These may be reasons to return to the office, but if not, strategies to manage these problems remotely can be found. The employer will have to put much more conscious effort into team building and keeping work relationships alive, especially with newer staff. Zoom and other tools can help with this process. It is essential to replace not just team meetings and formal gatherings, but at least some component of the “watercooler chat” which characterizes offices.