Fuelled by the progress in smartphones and cloud-based IT, more and more managers and employees work outside of an office. They may use a range of devices, but often on an ad hoc basis, and without clear remote work best practices. It has also led to the blurring of personal and work life and the expectation of 24/7 availability.

Headlines from the latest Employee Outlook report from the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development (CIPD) & Halogen*, which explores attitudes towards a range of workplace issues, makes for interesting reading:

  • 40% of UK workers actively check their work mobile or emails at least five times a day outside of working hours (with those in the public sector the most likely to do this); and
  • 17% say it makes them feel anxious or even impacts their quality of sleep

On the other hand:

  • 30% of employees say they feel empowered by remote access
  • 53% say it helps them to work flexibly and
  • 37% say it makes them more productive

On the one hand, remote access opens up the flexibility of work – and therefore the pool of diverse talent available to a business to help it be successful; as well as increasing our agility to respond to customer expectations, to remain competitive. It can, when managed, reduce the stress employees feel under.

On the other hand, an excess of remote work and an inability to switch off can be negative for employee well-being (both for individuals and across a business) and productivity – due to (for example) reduced engagement, sickness absence, employee turnover, or mistakes made when tired.

We’ve seen the debate in France, with companies being required to guarantee their employees a “right to disconnect” from technology, and in Germany where some larger corporations have taken their own steps to limit out-of-hours messaging.

With legislation on this unlikely in the UK, what can employers here in the South West do to find the right balance between harvesting the benefits of remote access, and mitigating the negatives? Here are our top tips:

  • Involve staff and managers in developing some clear guidance and expectations for employees who work remotely, and give practical training that helps them to separate work and home lives effectively. Is it clear when staff can switch their ‘phone off, or say “actually, I’m not working now”? Providing a dedicated ‘phone/device for work may help, but some employees will prefer to use one device.
  • The more someone is working remotely, the more likely it is you will want to agree ground rules relating to (for example) childcare, hours, access to an office and use of mobile communications. This should be monitored – managers can check during one-to-one meetings that their staff are managing their work–life balance effectively.
  • Leaders should be encouraged to role model the expectations set. Employees will inevitably look upon the example set by senior staff as a guide to expected behaviour and company culture.
  • Ensure you have good, up-to-date policies on homeworking and flexible working requests. We regularly help our clients with these.
  • Work on developing a culture of trust, where employees are empowered to take ownership of their work but also feel supported to speak out if they are facing problems. HR should play a critical role in engaging with staff and challenging problems where they exist.
  • Ensure that any technology provided is reliable, so remote workers don’t face practical barriers to performance. This includes tools to aid communication like Skype, Facetime or GoToMeeting, but train people to use them effectively first.
  • Remember that the same principles for health and safety apply to home and remote working as to conventional workplaces, so ensure that the workspace(s) and equipment are safe and that remote workers are sufficiently knowledgeable about health and safety.

*Reference: CIPD Press Release (27 April 2017) “Logged on but can’t turn off?”

Our employment solicitors work in partnership with organisations to improve their HR practices and advise on employment issues. To discuss this article or any other HR issue call 01392 210700 or employment@stephens-scown.co.uk.