Managing working from home

During COVID-19, employers should be flexible, sensitive and pragmatic when arranging for staff to work from home.

Coronavirus has forced many businesses into making significant changes to their usual working practices. One such change is to close workplaces and have employees doing their jobs from home instead (known as remote working).

Adapting to such significant change has implications for employers and their staff. There are issues to deal with relating to communication, health and safety, productivity, work-life balance and effective management, to name a few.

This guide looks at some of the main concerns around working from home and what businesses can do to help their employees work to the best of their ability when away from the workplace.

What your workforce might need +

A remote workforce will need support in a whole manner of areas. These include the following:
  • The right tools for the job. A broadband connection, a decent laptop and a quiet workspace are the essentials.
  • Regular check-ins. You might arrange daily meetings with the whole team and weekly one-on-ones with individuals. Working from home can be very lonely and frequent check-ins will help build camaraderie and maintain focus.
  • A variety of communication channels. Email is essential but a video call or even a Skype phone call can be good ways to keep in touch. Use instant messaging (IM) for urgent queries.
  • Emotional support. Make time to talk with your staff, in a relaxed manner, to find out how they’re coping. Be open: we all have insecurities, family pressures and so on.
  • An awareness of stress and how it can damage mental health. It’s important to try and reduce employees' stress, while coping with your own. Anxiety is apparently contagiousLink opens in a new window, so mindfulness training could be something to promote internally.
  • Training. Whenever you identify gaps in skills, try to put training in place.
  • IT support. Good support from an IT team can both reduce stress and boost productivity.
  • Fun. Strive to maintain an element of fun throughout the business, through self-deprecating humour or a themed Zoom call once a month, for example? It’s a cliche, but laughter can be the best medicine.

Providing working equipment +

Supplying equipment and technology

Employees who are having to work from home during COVID-19 may need equipment (or additional equipment) to do their jobs.

It’s your responsibility, as their employer, to provide whatever equipment and technology they need to work remotely. This might include:

  • laptops
  • monitors
  • peripherals such as keyboards, mice, laptop stands and headsets
  • phones
  • office chairs and/or desks

Discuss with each employee what they require, and tell them how you’ll go about providing it. Also make sure you have a way to help them set up the equipment, if they’re unable to do it themselves.

Read the ICAEW’s guidance on considerations around technology and home workingLink opens in a new window

Advice for employees on making a workspace at home

Remote working will be new to many businesses and their employees, and not everyone will have the perfect home environment in which to work productively.

In these situations, consider advising your employees on how to create a suitable workspace at home. There are tips you can share around:

  • designating a specific area as a ‘home office’
  • setting up chairs, desks and display screens so they’re positioned for comfort
  • avoiding distraction
  • establishing a proper balance between work and home

Read NHS guidance on how to sit at a desk correctlyLink opens in a new window

Communication and staying in touch with employees +

Home working makes communication between employees that bit more challenging.

There are now numerous platforms for colleagues and their managers to keep in touch. Without the opportunity to speak in person, regular communication via these channels is crucial, and employees, their teams and managers should make calls or meetings a frequent feature of their calendars.

It’s also worth acknowledging that if this virtual communication is new to the people involved, things might not go smoothly to begin with.

Looking after employees’ mental and physical health +

Employers’ responsibilities

As an employer, you’re legally responsible for your employees’ health, safety and welfare. This duty applies whether your staff are working at your premises or, as during COVID-19, from home.

Normally, you’d carry out a risk assessment to identify and control the risks throughout your workplace that could put your employees in harm’s way. Having a workforce of people all based in their own homes makes this very difficult.

Despite this challenge, there are still things you can do to look after your employees’ health. You can:

  • check that they’re comfortable with the work you’re asking them to do at home
  • make sure there’s nothing at home that could jeopardise their health or safety when working
  • stay in regular contact with them, particularly making sure that they don’t feel isolated
  • make reasonable adjustmentsLink opens in a new window, if they have a disability that makes working from home difficult

Employees’ responsibilities

While employers should do everything they can to protect their staff, it’s important that they remind their employees of their responsibility to:

  • look after themselves – for example, by taking regular breaks and maintaining a good work-life balance
  • report any concerns around their health, safety and welfare
  • tell their manager if they need to make adjustments to their home-working arrangements

Read the Mental Health Foundation’s advice on looking after your mental health while working during coronavirusLink opens in a new window

Guidance for managers +

Overseeing a team made up of individual employees all working from home makes it harder for managers to perform their role the way they would normally.

It’s also important to remember that the switch to remote working might be unfamiliar to the managers themselves. If that’s the case, they should be able to rely on support and guidance from their own supervisors.

There are a number of things managers can do to ease the transition from workplace working to home working, such as:

  • considering individual employees’ needs, and striking the right balance between them and the needs of the business
  • scheduling daily catch-up calls with individual colleagues and the team as a whole
  • letting colleagues know that they are there for support and guidance when needed
  • encouraging staff to keep diaries/calendars up to date, so it’s easier to tell when people are busy and what they’re engaged with

Read CIPD’s 10 top tips for managing remote teamsLink opens in a new window

5 tips for managing remote workers effectively +

Here are five tips that may help you to manage remote workers effectively:

  1. Set expectations early and repeat them. This helps staff know and understand what’s expected of them.
  2. Resist the urge to micromanage. It erodes trust, makes staff dependent and is inefficient. Allow employees to take ownership of their work, give them space to enhance their skills and let them use their initiative and work by themselves.
  3. Be available to your team. They need to know you’re there to help, whether they need clarification, training or any other form of support that will increase their productivity, for example.
  4. Listen to what they have to say. No-one has all the answers and you may learn something. Besides, you have to build a relationship of mutual interdependence.
  5. Celebrate success. This is a very powerful motivator for individuals and teams because it reinforces the meaning behind all that hard work, while showing that their achievements are appreciated.

Additional support +

Lighthouse – 11 essential tips for managing remote employees Link opens in a new window

Remote management can feel like a totally different challenge than managing people you work side by side with. Things that work in an office don’t always translate exactly to remote employees. Use these tips to be more conscious of the unique approaches you should take to managing remote employees.

Harvard Business Review – Managing your remote workforce Link opens in a new window

With the COVID-19 epidemic, many employees – and their managers – are working out of the office and separated from each other for the first time. Fortunately, there are specific steps that managers can take to improve remote employees' engagement and productivity.

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Reference to any organisation, business and event on this page does not constitute an endorsement or recommendation from the British Business Bank or the UK Government. Whilst we make reasonable efforts to keep the information on this page up to date, we do not guarantee or warrant (implied or otherwise) that it is current, accurate or complete. The information is intended for general information purposes only and does not take into account your personal situation, nor does it constitute legal, financial, tax or other professional advice. You should always consider whether the information is applicable to your particular circumstances and, where appropriate, seek professional or specialist advice or support.