In this article, we show you the steps you need to take to enable employees to work from a home office.
Collaborating with people that work from home is probably easier now than it has ever been. Advances in internet technology and personal computers, plus the near universal availability of higher capacity networking to people's homes has made home working an attractive and economically viable choice for those working in small businesses.
The benefits of home working
Home working can enable your team to have a more flexible approach to work so that tasks are completed to time, irrespective of the fact that the person was not at their computer or desk from 9am through to 5pm.
By supporting home workers you are able to tap into an increased talent pool of those people unable to work conventional hours due to, for example, childcare requirements.
Happier, more comfortable workers can lead to increased productivity and commitment from those in your business.
An established home working system can also help to support your business during a crisis situation, for example, if your employees cannot get to work or access to your premises is restricted.
Collaborative and supporting technology
As well as the typical infrastructure in support of the home office there are some other tools that can help encourage collaborative working with your team. Communication is key with home workers.
Putting in place an email system is vital as this enables the sharing of documents and regular communication. You could also use an online instant messaging solution to help your home workers stay in touch with you.
This bridges the gap between email and the telephone and can allow you to monitor whether your workers are present and available.
Both email and instant messaging solutions can be installed easily by small businesses, especially if you use hosted email services that do not require complex server installations. Neither of these systems cost much to install.
The email solution may need a small annual subscription dependent on the service you decide to use, but there are many free email services available. If you cannot set up a complex email system at your workers home, make sure that you have their personal email address so that you can stay in contact or send them work to do.
For more advanced sharing and collaboration of documents you may wish to buy a piece of software that allows document collaboration and sharing, such as Microsoft's SharePoint.
These products are especially useful as home workers can "check in" their documents so that they can be backed up in a central location. This also protects your organisation's intellectual rights to materials being produced.
These solutions do need more advanced setup and configuration so this will need to be considered when planning your solution. Some may take a few hours to install and configure other many days, working with an experienced consultant.
The cost of these solutions can subsequently vary from a few tens of pounds to a few thousand, depending on how customised you need the solution to be.
You may also wish to consider video conferencing solutions, such as Skype or Google Hangout that run on any computers with a webcam. These enable the team to see each other and maintain the all important social contact often missing when working remotely. Webcams often come as standard in PCs and laptops now, but can cost between £20 – £150 to buy separately depending on the specification you require, and are fairly simple to set up.
It is also worth bearing in mind that if someone works for you from home, you still have a duty of care as an employer to inspect their home working environment for health and safety hazards. For more information you can download a PDF on home working from the Health and Safety Executive.
Is home working suitable for your business?
As an employer, you have a decision to make about whether you allow home working, to whom and how much of it you will allow. For example, if employees need access to specialist equipment or supervision, you may have a sound business reason for rejecting a flexible working request for homeworking (note: from 30th June 2014 all employees have the right to request flexible working, which may involve some element of working from home).
If you do decide to offer home working as an option, you will need to think about and agree with employees how their work and performance will be supervised and measured.
Due to the complexities involved, we advise ALL businesses to seek advice before taking action. Forum members can call our helpline on 0845 130 1722 for more information.
The words 'home working' may strike fear into many bosses who imagine their staff sat at home with their feet up when they are supposed to be doing their job. But there are substantial benefits to managing workers from home, if done correctly.