Working from home

Coronavirus guidance - 2020

During the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic lockdown most of the University moved to homeworking overnight.  These pages cover the ‘Business as Usual’ processes for employees to request homeworking under non-COVID-19 circumstances as well as guidance specific to the COVID-19 environment.

It is likely that requests to work from home for some or all of the time will be more frequent in the post-lockdown period, in particular where individuals have found that remote working has worked successfully for them.

 
INTRODUCTION

A working from home arrangement may be requested by any member of staff, under the flexible working policy, but is subject to the agreement of the department. Such an arrangement should be voluntary and, generally speaking, reversible at the department's or employee's request. It may be set up on a temporary or ongoing basis.

Having staff working from home has implications for the management of staff, and there are likely to be practical arrangements to be made, considerations of staff wellbeing to take into account and potentially contractual changes as well. There is general guidance on working from home on this page, as well as links to other sources of guidance and support, but departments should take advice from their local HR contact if they have any queries or concerns.

How can Managers decide whether homeworking will suit an individual employee?

COVID-19

Many staff will have been working from home successfully during the COVID-19 lockdown.  However, it does not automatically follow that in a Business As Usual (BAU) environment, where the majority of staff have returned to on-site working, that it will be operationally sustainable for some members of a team to remain working remotely in the longer term. Each case will need to be considered on its merits.

In addition, during the lockdown many staff have had to balance care and work responsibilities and, exceptionally, flexibility to reduce working hours has been granted without any reduction in contracted hours and pay.  However, once the University returns to BAU working, the normal arrangements will apply and reduced availability for hours of working will need to be associated with a reduction in contracted hours and associated pay.

If there is any doubt about a particular employee’s suitability for working from home, departments may wish to consider the following questions:

  • Does the employee have the self-discipline to cope with home working?
  • Can they cope with being isolated during the working day?
  • Are they self-motivated enough to concentrate on the task/project/paper and deliver the objectives?
  • Are they able to separate home and work life successfully both physically (by having a study or home office) and emotionally (by being able to screen out domestic distractions)? Does the employee's home provide an appropriate environment for working? It would not for example be acceptable for an employee to be caring for small children during the hours that they are working at home. [see box below for additional COVID-19 information]
  • Are they good at time and work management?
  • Are they a good communicator who will stay in touch with the workplace?
  • How will the department monitor theirwork or projects and conduct their PDR?

Trial arrangements (if deemed necessary) will ensure that an employee who is working from home can return to the normal office environment if their work suffers as a result of working from home.

COVID-19

During the lockdown whilst childcare facilities were closed many staff had to balance childcare and work with some, exceptionally, being permitted to work less than their normal contracted hours  to accommodate caring responsibilities.  Under BAU arrangements staff should ensure that they are able to work, attend meetings, take phone calls, etc throughout their contracted work hours which will not be compatible with caring for small children at the same time.

STEP-BY-STEP

The guidance below covers how to make an application and set up a homeworking arrangement.

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Where requests to work from home are straightforward and likely to be granted, staff should be encouraged to make an informal flexible working application.

If the request is complex or likely to be contentious, a formal flexible working application should be made so that the request is considered in a transparent way and the outcome is set out in writing.

There are additional issues that need to be considered if individuals are going to be permanently based overseas, or spending a substantial amount of their time overseas, including tax and social security implications. Please read the guidance on overseas working and seek appropriate guidance before agreeing to this.

If working from home has been requested by the staff member under the flexible working policy it is voluntary and, generally speaking, should be reversible at the employer's or employee's request. It may be set up on a temporary or ongoing basis, and in either case it is advisable to set up a trial period.

COVID-19

If the staff member has already been working from home successfully under the COVID-19 lockdown accommodating a request to continue to work remotely may be straightforward. However, bear in mind that during the lockdown most staff were working remotely so there was an expectation of online meetings etc, which may no longer pertain once the majority of staff have returned to on-site working. A trial period would enable all concerned to see what is operationally sustainable.  If the conditions of the flexible working request are significantly different from those pertaining under lockdown, or there were problems under lockdown, a trial period is advisable.

Seek advice from your HR Business Partner if in any doubt. The procedure for terminating or modifying the arrangements should be agreed in advance.

Those working from home have the same statutory rights as office-based employees.

They should have the same workload and performance standards as office-based employees and should receive the same information and news as comparable office-based colleagues

They should have the same access to training and career development opportunities as comparable office-based colleagues. Specific training needs may have to be catered for, for example self-management and IT skills training

Where regular and frequent working from home is a requirement of a job it is reasonable that the employer should provide and maintain equipment. When the member of staff is working from home at their own request they may provide at least some of their own equipment if it is suitable. The DSE Homeworking Self-Assessment Worksheet should be used for all staff working from home who h have concerns about their workplace, and managers should arrange for the purchase of adaptive or other equipment indicated by the assessment, if this is required (see the downloadable guidance).  The employer should ensure that data protection and information security arrangements are in place (see below). The staff member is obliged to take good care of equipment owned by the University and not use it unlawfully, and return it to the University at the end of the period of homeworking.

Departments will need to consider each case individually, and should agree all matters concerning equipment, liability and costs before the arrangement starts.

It is important for employees to note that the University’s insurance policies will not cover computers or any other work-related equipment which break during the course of home-working  whether these are owned by the individual employee or the University.  University owned equipment which breaks should be replaced as it would be if the employee was working within a University office or building.

Items of equipment which are loaned to the employee to work at home must be kept safe and secure at all times.

The employee should check whether their home insurance covers working from home and the use of any personal equipment that will be used for work. Home-working employees are covered by the University's liability policies for accident or injury where it can be established that the University is legally liable for the damages arising from such accident or injury

There are unique problems of data protection for home workers, for example data may be accessed or accidentally destroyed by family members. All University data should be saved on University networks via VPN or approved University services such as Nexus365, within which OneDrive for Business and Teams are particularly suited for data storage and sharing.  Consideration should be given to how hard copy data will be stored, what arrangements are available for its secure disposal and how easily it can be identified and returned to the University when the individual’s employment ends.

Departments must ensure that employees who are working from home are familiar with and comply with the University's data protection and information security policies and the IT Regulations.

The employer's health and safety obligations (and the duties of employees) extend to those who work from home. The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 imposes an overall duty on the University to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, the health and safety of all its employees, and these obligations apply irrespective of the employee’s working base. If working at home is to be both regular and frequent the staff member must complete the DSE Homeworking Self-Assessment Worksheet if they have concerns about their workplace and return it to their manager. If it is clear that equipment needs to be purchased to enable the staff member to work from home safely the manager should arrange for this. Guidance for managers on reviewing the worksheet is available to download from the Occupational Health Service website.

Departments must record the actions they take in response to these requirements, including any equipment which is loaned or bought for individuals, noting that these items will ultimately belong to the University. Employees must therefore take reasonable care of any specialist equipment purchased by the University, and return it upon the conclusion of any period of home-working.

Employees who work from home should understand that they might need to give access to their home so that compliance with health and safety obligations can be ensured.

Specific care may have to be taken in relation to the health and safety of family members, neighbours and visitors to the employee’s home.

Employees who work from home are required to report to the employer all equipment faults which may be a health hazard. Further advice is available from the Safety Office policy UPS S8/09

The University’s Chorus system provides options for allowing staff to make and receive work calls at no cost through a mobile phone (using an app) or by using a software client on an IT device. Guidance can be found at on the Chorus website. Many University staff are now able to make and receive phone calls through MS Teams, or other similar packages.  If it is not possible for staff to use such call functionality, they should discuss this with their line manager and request permission in advance to claim itemised phone costs through expenses.

Other costs associated with homeworking (such as broadband, utility bills, etc) may not be claimed. Employees may be able to claim tax relief for these costs; details can be found on the HMRC website. Claims can be made retrospectively, and should ideally be made only once per tax year. 

If equipment is needed for a staff member working from home, do not ask the staff member to purchase items directly as this may give rise to a tax liability and/or by-pass University financial controls or purchasing policies.  Full guidance is available  from the Occupational Health Service website. There is also guidance on the Finance website.

MANAGING AND SUPPORTING HOMEWORKERS

Once a homeworking arrangement has been agreed, there are practical and management issues to consider.  If you line-manage employees who work from home, this guidance will help you to manage and support your team.

COVID-19

A separate set of these guidance notes has been drafted to reflect the exceptional circumstances of managing teams remotely during the COVID-19 lockdown.  This guidance can be downloaded here.

 

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Managers will have different levels of experience with remote team management.  If you have not managed remote workers before this may require changes to your ways of working. POD have put together a guide to Managing a Dispersed Team, and a worksheet for building your confidence in managing a team remotely.

Arrangements for reporting to line managers should be set up and agreed in advance of the approval of any remote-working arrangement. Employees who work from home should be contactable by phone/Microsoft Teams within (but only within) the agreed working hours or at other agreed times. Office telephones should be set to forward calls to mobile telephones or home landlines, and departments should encourage the use of platforms such as Microsoft Teams for hosting larger meetings involving employees working from home.  You will need to check-in with your direct reports on a regular basis – so you may need a deputy or deputies if you have responsibility for a large team.

Agree core hours of work with staff who are working remotely. These are the hours when you can expect them to be ‘at work’ and at the end of a phone or email.

Individuals may request to work to a flexible working pattern, for example starting early or finishing late or taking a longer break or breaks during the day to be able to collect children from school.  These requests should be considered carefully as set out in the flexible working guidance.

Try to keep an hour each day free of meetings to encourage staff to take a lunch break. This is particularly important where colleagues are sharing their workspace with other household members.

It is important to discuss and agree boundaries so that everyone knows when it’s acceptable to contact colleagues. If your team are working to different timetables, clarify expectations that responses aren’t expected outside their new ‘normal’ working hours.

The University has an obligation, as a minimum, to ensure that staff are working safely, with the equipment they need, and to enable a sufficiently comfortable working environment in order to reduce the risks associated with DSE and avoid workplace stress as far as possible. All staff who are working from home for all or part of the time should complete the DSE Homeworking Self-Assessment Worksheet  if they have concerns about their workplace, and send the completed checklist to you. There is accompanying guidance on addressing the outcomes of the assessment which is downloadable from the Occupational Health Service website

  • Ensure that staff are aware of IT Services guidance on remote working resources, which can be found at -  Adjusting to working from home. Tools include:
  • Establish what your team member’s home working arrangement is: is it a quiet, separate room or a shared space? Be sensitive to their circumstances.
  • Remember you will be contacting your colleagues in their own homes in most cases, so be careful to establish whether it is appropriate before holding sensitive conversations.
  • Ensure that staff are familiar with data protection and information security arrangements. What arrangements do they have in place for disposing of sensitive paperwork?  Help them devise a strategy to keep electronic information secure, especially on a shared device or in a shared workspace.
  • If staff have disclosed a disability, discuss whether any changes are needed to existing reasonable adjustments or whether new reasonable adjustments need to be put in place to support them to work from home. For further advice see the Support for Disabled staff website.
  • Keep a record of any equipment, files and other work-related materials that staff are taking home and encourage them to store it all in a clearly identifiable place so it will be easy to return to the workplace in due course.
  • Agree a shared location for work to be stored such as Onedrive or Via VPN to shared drives so that, in the event of illness, it can be reallocated without bothering individuals who are sick, or their families.

Remember that the same principles apply to homeworkers as to those working in University buildings such as: having regular one-to-ones; having clear objectives and a sense of purpose and communicating these well; giving time for people to talk about challenges and how best to meet these. And building in time to socialise, as you would if you were working together in the same place.

Keep in touch

  • Use Microsoft Teams or a similar tool to keep in touch with your homeworker(s) and help your team to stay in touch with one another. 
  • Discuss and agree with your team how frequently they want to be in touch with each other. You may find a combination of informal check-ins, such as virtual coffee breaks, and longer, formal team meetings helpful.
  • Keep your schedule visible and updated, and let your team know when you are available to respond to any questions or concerns they may have.
  • Use video calls and the phone as well as email to maintain positive lines of communication with colleagues.
  • If you organise social events, make sure that you include your remote workers in the invitation.

Be supportive

  • Some staff will find it easy to work in isolation/from home and others may find it harder without the stimulus of a team environment.  You may need to check in more regularly with staff who are working remotely and discuss with them how you can support them, such as setting weekly milestones to help them keep their work on track. POD have some resources that may be helpful, under ‘Personal Organisation’ and ‘Self-Awareness’.
  • Encourage those working from home to let you know if they are stressed or have complex personal circumstances, for example caring responsibilities. When you are not working alongside staff, or seeing them face-to-face, you may not find it as easy to keep up to date with issues that may be worrying them, or that might be raised ‘over a cup of coffee’.
  • Take particular care of staff who may have few local support networks or live alone.

1:1s

  • Continue holding regular 1:1 meetings with your direct reports to check in with their work and with how they are more generally.  This is an opportunity to discuss what the individual is working on, help them to prioritise, and also give feedback.  Working from home can be very isolating and regular feedback on work is important. 
  • 1:1 conversations are also an opportunity to find out how your staff are dealing with the issues of remote working, isolation, etc.
  • It is a good idea to keep and share a brief note of any issues discussed and actions agreed during these 1:1 meetings, particularly if you feel that the member of staff is stressed, or otherwise performing in a way that is uncharacteristic.

Virtual team meetings

  • IT Services have produced guidance on running remote meetings.
  • Setting up a regular virtual team meeting will also help. Staff will be concerned for colleagues and maintaining lines of communication which are not purely ‘transactional’ but retain an element of social interaction will be valuable to ensuring that positive working relationships continue.

Escalate any concerns or difficulties arising, such as performance, discipline, or concerns about an individual’s welfare etc through your normal departmental channels so that they can help and advise.

Holiday

Holiday and family leave need to be recorded as normal and should be communicated to local HR colleagues so that appropriate record-keeping and payroll actions can be implemented.  

Sickness absence

Request that your team-member contacts you promptly if they are unable to work due to sickness or another issue arising (for example, emergency care for a dependant). 

Should a member of your team let you know that they are sick and unable to work, agree with them how you will keep in touch.  For example, asking them to check in with you through a daily phone call, email or MS Teams chat may be appropriate.  If their symptoms worsen, it may be that they need to agree that a family member/next of kin will keep you up to date and a weekly update in such circumstances may be more appropriate.  In the event that your team member lives alone, check whether they have access to support networks.  Don’t forget that, whilst working remotely, other members of your team will need to be advised that a team member is away from work.  They may be anxious about their colleague so do keep them up to date, but be careful not to disclose sensitive personal information.  

Staff needing to take sickness absence of more than 7 days are normally required to produce a Fit Note from their GP (staff can self-certificate for up to seven days).