With a sudden and dramatic increase in employees working from home as a result of the Corona-19 lockdown, how can employers find out about how to manage the new situation? Sean McDonough from Mogers Drewett has some answers…

Many companies have introduced flexible working schemes that allow employees to have flexible start and finish times and allow them to work from home for all or parts of the week, Employees might want to change their working days to fit in with school hours, college hours or care arrangements. They might choose to work compressed hours, meaning that they work their hours within fewer days. Flexitime allows employees to fit their working hours around agreed core times and staggered hours allow them to start and finish your days at different times. Some choose to follow annualised hours, where your working time is organised around the number of hours to be worked over a year rather than over a week; others opt for term-time work, so you don’t work during the school holidays.

This is now widely accepted in the workplace, and all employers have a duty to consider any flexible working requests (although they can also refuse them if they have a good business reason for doing so). But at the moment in our Corona-19 stasis, everyone who can work from home is doing so. Does this throw up concerns for employers who don’t have systems in place to manage homeworkers effectively? How do you monitor and ensure productivity in these circumstances, when you’re used to managing people face to face?

Mogers Drewett can help employers with answers to these questions. We spoke to Sean McDonough who specialises in employment and HR.

“We all want and need to do our bit to limit the spread of the coronavirus and keep vulnerable people safe. But as the situation changes daily and we have no idea how long this will continue, businesses are not only dealing with the need to reduce staff numbers on site, in order to restrict the spread, many are also trying to cope with a sudden lost of business as social distancing and self-isolation becomes the new norm.

“Establishing who can work from home is essential. There are some roles that can’t be done anywhere else other than the place of work, for example retail or manufacturing. If working from home is not possible, an employer will need to determine if they can afford to send staff home on full pay – after all, if an employee is ready, willing and able to work, then they expect to work and more importantly to be paid.

“For those employers who can implement home working, there are certain factors to be considered including the following:

• Do employment contracts include a mobility clause allowing home working (ie can the employer require the employee to work at a different location than the normal place of work) or does that need to be achieved by consent?

• Do staff have access to all equipment needed to do their job?

• What additional expenses will staff incur from home – for example broadband usage, heat, lighting and telecoms? Will those extra expenses be offset by the removal of commuting expenses or will the employer need to put plans in place to cover them?

• Putting in place robust processes to monitor productivity of home workers to ensure the business continues to function effectively.

• Considerations around additional support to help staff transition from office to home working. How will business communicate with their staff to ensure their wellbeing?

“With the expectation that sustained efforts will be needed to deal with the pandemic, companies should prepare for a situation that allows for remote working on an ongoing basis for the foreseeable months ahead. It has never been more important to communicate with your teams and all employers will be relying upon the loyalty and commitment of their people like never before.

“There is, however, no denying that the level of uncertainty about the duration of disruption to daily lives creates its own set of problems for businesses, particularly those who cannot easily adapt to a homeworking model. While some businesses may have the luxury of keeping payroll unchanged in the short term, as the situation continues many will have to make difficult decisions to ensure the survival of the business. The government has already announced a range of measures which are available to businesses to assist with the crisis but there is not yet sufficient clarity around how those measures are to be delivered.

“Ultimately, businesses that plan ahead will undoubtedly be in the best position to deal with the uncertainty to come and protect and retain its staff. In these very difficult and uncertain times, we are here to help and are committed to assisting our local communities where possible.”

If you would like to talk about any of the issues highlighted here, either formally or informally, please contact Mogers Drewett on 01225 750000 or Sean McDonough directly on 07809 772301.

Sean McDonough, Partner, Employment and HR, Mogers Drewett; mogersdrewett.com