Remote working hazards extend beyond the physical work environment. Working arrangements are also important. For example, some employees may find it difficult to adapt to working in an environment with limited social contact, while others may find it harder to manage their time or to separate work from home life. For these reasons it’s important to consider competence in areas such as time- and self-management at the recruitment and selection stage, or before allowing existing employees to work from home.
Employees need to be aware of issues of time management and social isolation and they must realise that working from home isn’t always an easy option. Those who apply to work from home thinking that it will give them an opportunity to juggle their work around a busy home life may find that the opposite is true, as it can be difficult to turn off the computer and close the office door at the end of the day, especially when deadlines are looming.
Remote workers may be tempted to work longer than normal hours, due to the lack of direct supervision. In some ways, “24/7 availability” is a curse of the modern age. The insistent ring of a mobile phone is difficult to ignore. The sheer volume of email can mean that workers feel they have to deal with it all the time, even when they’re not officially working. Give your staff some practical training and tips on how to separate their work and home lives.
Simple things like installing a dedicated telephone line for work, which is switched to an answer phone at the end of the working day, can help. It may be appropriate to negotiate a “lifestyle contract” with remote worker. This involves formally agreeing ground rules relating to childcare, hours of work, access to the office and use of mobile communications. You should monitor this – for example, managers could check during one-to-one meetings that their staff are managing their work–life balance effectively. “Lone working” is also a major consideration for employees working at home and while travelling.
All remote workers (including those working at another employer’s premises) risk feeling isolated, and some people can find this stressful. They may also have concerns about what happens if they have an accident or become ill while working alone. Workers who travel on their own may be worried about their personal safety, particularly if they’re carrying valuable equipment. It’s important to maintain good communication systems and formal means of contact with remote workers to minimise feelings of isolation. How you do this will depend on the number of remote workers you’re dealing with and what they’re doing, but you should consider:
- regular one-to-one meetings between remote workers and their line managers, either at the employee’s house or an agreed location
- regular meetings between remote workers and their co-workers – these give employees the opportunity to network and get to know each other. They can also be used to deliver training or reinforce the organisation’s standards
- requiring remote workers to come into the office once a week to make sure they stay up to date with corporate systems and with staff at the office
- good access to information, such as policy documents, internal contact directories and essential files. This can usually be achieved through connecting online to the organisation’s server
- access to the organisation’s intranet site or a secure area of the internet for employees
- access to helplines for support in dealing with software problems and equipment failures
- procedures if information technology systems fail
- online meetings or virtual discussion forums, tele- or video-conferencing
- identifying people as key contacts who have specific responsibility for routinely contacting remote workers and acting as their first port of call
- providing contact details of key people such as employee representatives, health and safety advisers and human resources officers
- including remote workers in outof- work social occasions and celebrations and in the circulation of company newsletters and updates.