With the business challenges of the pandemic now receding, our popular guest blogger Steve Herbert believes it’s time for HR professionals to consider the real implications of mass homeworking

I’ve been a homeworker for most of the current century.

And throughout this period I have always been rather aware that homeworking – somewhat unusual as it still was in the UK until March 2020 – perhaps required me to take more personal reasonability than it might if I was based in a physical office location.

Of course my employer(s) over this period have supported me with the provision of equipment and some of the practicalities of homeworking, and even provided a framework of rules and health and safety to work within.

Yet in “all employee” communications it sometimes felt to me – and no doubt to many others in similar situations across so many business sectors too – that plans, policies, and procedures were not tailored to my personal work situation.

In short, my home working status was often (and understandably) dealt with as an “exception” to the usual Human Resources (HR) procedures applicable to the far greater numbers of office-based employees.

 

Not complaining

I set out the above not as a complaint (for I really value the option of homeworking), but instead to highlight the challenges that a significantly increased amount of home working may pose to employers – and their Human Resources departments in particular – in the months and years ahead.

It is already clear that many more employers and employees now appreciate the value of flexible and remote working (please see this post for some of the benefits), and it follows that an increased number of previously office-based workers will – once the pandemic has finally subsided – continue working at home on a full or part-time basis.

Indeed, Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing’s (Howden) own research of more than 200 senior HR professionals (undertaken during the Howden Employment Webinar in March 2021)  suggests that as many as 88% of employers expect to facilitate at least some homeworking when business normality finally returns.

New challenges for Human Resources professionals

The above findings suggest that many HR departments will now have to build two distinct sets of policies and procedures to support both office based and remote workers, and possibly deliver those messages via dual communication channels too.

Some may consider this an easy task, particularly as the nation has just undertaken the “lived-experiment” of home working for the vast majority of office based employees.  It follows that some HR professionals may feel that they have already managed most of the challenges of this new way of working.

Yet there is a significant difference between a policy enforced on employers and employees overnight by government edict, and a workable long-term policy for a company that is permanently embracing flexible and homeworking for a significant number of employees.

In this new scenario HR departments may have to more deeply consider issues that might have been somewhat overlooked during the national lockdowns and emergencies of the last 18 months.

So issues such as health and safety (and in particular lone-worker policies and working environments), data security, training, compliance, and line management oversight may have to be reviewed.

As too might the provision of “perks”, such as free tea and coffee, broadband connectivity, and heating/cooling costs that are routinely made available to many employees in the workplace, but are often self-funded when an employee is working at home.

And of course Human Resources experts will also need to ensure that their support for employees in the form of Employee Benefit provision equally serves location and remote workers too.  As the survey response below evidences, more than half of all employers may either need to improve (8%) or review (44%) their current Employee Benefits offering to ensure that it is equally attractive and useful to a newly expanded remote workforce.

What about the Duty of Care?

Finally (and very importantly), HR professionals may also now need to reconsider just how far the employer’s “duty of care” extends in this new, remote-working, world.

With the usual parameters of office location and business hours removed, it becomes more difficult to separate home and work life, and it follows that there may be some very difficult judgements for employers to make.

To take an extreme – but sadly probably not particularly uncommon – example, how should an employer support a remote worker that might be at risk of domestic abuse or controlling behaviour, particularly when their status as a “homeworker” leaves them even more exposed to that risk?

There are likely to be many such new and difficult challenges in the years immediately ahead, which will provide practical, moral, and legal problems, possibly unlike anything that most HR professionals may have faced in the past.

 

HR workload increasing

So the reality is that Human Resources professionals are probably going to face both new challenges and increased workloads.

Whether this increased workload will abate as the “new normal” takes hold is an interesting question, but Howden’s survey of HR professionals suggested that nearly two thirds do indeed expect their work duties to increase as a direct result of the change in workplace practices:

The reality is that homeworking is no longer going to be seen as an employment exception, and will soon become a default option for so many employers and employees across British industry.

And with this seismic change comes both the predictable and unforeseen challenges of this new – dual working – environment for Human Resources departments and professionals to navigate.

Steve Herbert is Head of Benefits Strategy at Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing

 

 

By Lisa Baker, Senior Editor

Senior Editor Lisa Baker is the owner of Need to See it Publishing Group, providing contract news for business and news sites across the UK. Lisa is an experienced HR writer and commentator, editing HR publications for more than 5 years.