Today an estimated 3.5 million UK employees work from home. This typically causes huge challenges, not necessarily for IT departments, but for the HR manager specifically. How do you create trust and good working relationships when part of your workforce never or rarely goes to the office?
Freedom Communications tackled these challenges by introducing a Home Working Policy. Fifteen per cent of its workforce is permanently based at home and many more work from home infrequently. The policy addresses the main differences between office and non-office based employees, avoiding any ambiguity when it comes to expectations.
Doing your homework
Research and communication with the people that manage the home workers was the starting point for Freedom’s HR Department. “Historically, the managers were the ones voicing their concerns about allowing certain employees to work from home,” said Lisa Clark, Head of Human Resources, Freedom Communications.
Managers wanted assurances that they could apply the same level of control over home workers as they do with the ones in the office. They felt unable to question the practices of home workers which made them more difficult to manage.
The policy includes sections on health and safety, security and expenses. However, the most important part is the requirement to complete a communication plan which clarifies the expectations of both parties. The plan encourages advance agreement regarding methods of contact, frequency of face-to-face meetings and performance measurements. An open diary policy is also included so as to improve visibility of whereabouts.
“Historically people became frustrated when they thought, often incorrectly, that home workers were skiving because they missed a call or did not immediately respond to an email,” said Lisa Clark. “This instantly led to questions of integrity, which turned into mistrust.”
In reality a home worker is just as likely to be on another call, at lunch or working on a project offline. The introduction of presence management and collaboration tools has made a significant difference, drastically improving visibility and communication. Managers can see what home workers are up to at any time which helps with performance and activity evaluation.
Typically home workers are employees who spend a significant proportion of their time visiting customers or live a great distance from the company’s offices. Effective home working requires individuals that are self motivated, organised and have the ability to prioritise.
Not all employees are suitable for home working. Therefore the policy offers employees a trial period after which managers can evaluate their suitability on a case-by-case basis.
Apart from those permanently based at home, the company allows for almost all employees to work from home in some capacity to enable business continuity – something that was fully tested with the poor weather last winter, and will be ready for whenever an unexpected situation like extreme weather occurs.
Freedom effectively maintained service and resources throughout the entire bad weather period with all employees accounted for - either working in the office, working from home, on paid leave or unpaid emergency leave.
During the poor weather, employees were encouraged to discuss in advance their options to include considering possible factors outside of their control such as school closures. Many opted to work remotely on a temporary basis to avoid any unnecessary risk.
“We cannot run our business effectively without home based employees,” said Lisa Clark. “It enables us to recruit the best possible skills with less dependence on location. It also allows our employees to strike a better balance between work and home life. And let’s not forget that it helps us to reduce our carbon footprint.”
A recent company survey revealed that 85% of employees are satisfied with their work-life balance. John Weiland, Bid Manager, Freedom Communications, believes that he’s become more efficient and productive since he started working from home.
“I can work uninterrupted from home. I no longer have to worry about the traffic. Sick days are minimal as feeling unwell is less likely to prevent me from going to work. And finally, moving house to be nearer to work is no longer the consideration it once was.”
Part of the team
Work patterns vary significantly between individuals and roles. Working hours are often, but not always, comparable to the office based equivalent. In some cases where the role contains a high degree of autonomy, the individual will manage their own time and be measured on output. At the other end of the spectrum team members working from home may need to agree on breaks and working hours in line with team requirements.
All home workers are required to be contactable at home when not visiting customers or attending team and other business meetings. “It is important that our home workers feel as much a part of the company and their team as any other employee and that their contribution is clearly measurable,” concluded Lisa Clark.