One of the most obvious knock-on effects of COVID-19 has seen many people now working from home (as opposed to the workplace) as government guidance has generally remained that employees should work from home where possible to do so.
The proportion of workers in the UK who work entirely from home is still relatively low. However, perhaps unsurprisingly at the moment, numbers are growing. There is no legal definition of “homeworker” but essentially homeworkers may work exclusively at home, divide their working time between home and their employers' premises, or work at home on an occasional basis.
Similarly, there is no legal determination as to who can work from home. This really depends on the nature of the job in question, but also the circumstances of the employer and the employee. Some jobs, by their nature, require employees to physically be in the workplace. Other jobs can be just as easily done from someone’s home as they can from a place of work. Working from home usually suits those jobs with in-built performance measurements, such as those where time recording and financial targets are prevalent – this way it is easier for employers to monitor the performance of those working remotely.
Challenges when managing the performance of remote employees
Perhaps the most obvious concern you may have as an employer is reduced productivity. However, some employees may actually be more productive working remotely as they may feel more comfortable at home and encounter less distractions. On the other hand, for others, it can be harder.
Related to productivity and one of the things we have increasingly seen recently, especially when schools were closed due to COVID-19, is a recognition that parents and carers may have competing responsibilities to manage during the working day. This in turn can have an effect on productivity; for example where such an employee is having to spend their time looking after a child who would otherwise be in school.
Lack of routine or structure
Some employees need the structure and routine of working from a dedicated workplace and may find it harder to achieve that same organisation, time management and motivation at home. Where employees miss the structure and routine that comes from being in an office environment, this may result in them being more easily distracted and less productive. Again, you should consider what management tools you have in place to address such concerns swiftly and to ensure your employees continue to work productively, even when not in that office routine and environment.
How much contact should you have with your homeworkers? As an employer you may want to monitor and regularly check on the progress of work carried out by your homeworkers. If this is the case (and this applies to monitoring employees in the physical workplace too) you should have a clear policy dealing with such matters, setting out what is expected and why the system is in place.
You should also bear in mind that while regular contact is usually a positive thing, as it can make your employees feel integrated and part of a team, it can lead to problems with the working relationship if your employees don’t feel trusted.
How to monitor and measure the performance of remote employees
Implement a clear appraisal process
One of the most common ways you can measure performance is through appraisals - homeworkers should be appraised like any other workers.
As well as your own concerns around productivity, homeworkers may also be concerned that their managers (or other colleagues) will suspect that they work less (or less effectively) than workplace-based colleagues. Therefore, some thought should be given as to how you will measure the quality and quantity of your homeworkers’ output.
A suitable reporting and appraisal system should be agreed at the outset, building in sufficient opportunity for reviews of work progress, involvement in projects, levels of performance, expectations and any difficulties that either the homeworker or their manager consider should be addressed.
Furthermore, homeworkers should not be denied promotional prospects open to comparable workers merely because they work at home. There may be good reasons why such workers cannot be promoted to a particular position, but you will have to show that a decision can be objectively justified if, for example, a discrimination claim is brought.
Introduce a trial period
As part of reviewing an employee’s performance you could consider whether you wish to include a provision enabling the homeworking arrangement to be brought to an end.
If you have concerns as to how the arrangement will work, it is sensible to have an initial trial period and a right to require employees to revert to conventional working at the end of that period. If there is to be a trial period, the duration and the measures used to identify success or failure should be clearly set out in any employment contracts.
Set clear expectations
You should try to agree as much as possible with your employees and make sure expectations on both sides are clear in advance of any homeworking arrangement. This leaves leaves less room for disagreement and for potential problems and issues to arise further down the line.
Implement a homeworking policy
It is also advantageous for your business to have a clear homeworking policy in place, which needs to be effectively communicated to all employees and reviewed on a regular basis. This helps with the point highlighted above about ensuring as much as possible is agreed in advance and expectations are set from the beginning.
Adapting to new ways of working
Homeworking was on the rise before COVID-19, but the pandemic has meant it has become “the norm” for more and more employees.
Indeed, this certainly looks to be the direction of travel and is something the government are looking at with the Employment Bill (where having the right to flexible working is being proposed as the default and a day-one entitlement for employees, and without a qualifying period of service).
Efficient performance is key for all businesses, so it’s important that it is managed as effectively for those working from home, as it is for those in the physical workplace.
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