Working from home operational guide
The following information should complement the sectoral guidance, found on the Coronavirus (COVID-19): returning to work safely page.
- employee wellbeing
- caring responsibilities
- working hours
- mental health
- social isolation and loneliness
- equipment and IT systems
- IT skills
- cyber security
- pay, expenses and finances
Employers should continue to make every effort to ensure that their organisational culture is fair and inclusive, considering the changed working environment their employees are now working in. Alongside the many wellbeing benefits of working from home, some workers and employers have identified additional risks, for example to mental health as people could feel more isolated, lacking peer support and missing regular contact with colleagues.
The pandemic has had an unequal impact across the workforce, as different employee groups and individuals have been affected in diverse ways due to factors such as their job role, and personal circumstances. Women’s employment in particular has been disproportionately affected in a range of ways and Close the Gap has further information on the labour market impacts for women in relation to COVID-19. Therefore, it is important that organisations foster a fair and inclusive working environment which extends to working from home, and that promotes diversity, inclusion and equality. Employers should have meaningful dialogue and communication with their workers to consider individual needs and working arrangements.
The ability to undertake normal working hours and manage workload when working from home during the current pandemic is inevitably affected by access to education, childcare and social care services while services may not yet be fully re-opened.
Workers may still need to care for children and/or older relatives or others who do not live with them, and some may be caring for more than one person. This itself can imply risk to health and wellbeing as workers, especially women, who have disproportionately more caring responsibilities, are managing a double workload.
The challenges of balancing unpaid care with work will also be different for different workers, for example depending on the age and stage of their children and of the specific needs of the persons being cared for.
As would be expected under normal circumstances, employers should have a fair and flexible approach towards those with caring responsibilities, and should make use wherever possible of additional flexible working options such as reduced or flexible working hours.
It is essential that those with caring responsibilities feel supported, and that employers communicate well with workers to understand their individual circumstances and work together to find solutions.
Further information on support for employers is available from Carer Positive.
Employers should be mindful of the issue of overworking, and all employers should support workers to set clear boundaries between work and home-life. For some workers, particularly those with caring commitments, the times at which their hours are worked may need to vary but employers should be mindful of the legal requirements for rest breaks:
- at least 20 minutes break during each working day lasting longer than 6 hours
- time period between stopping work one day and beginning the next is not less than 11 hours
- have at least one complete day each week when no work is done
Employers should ensure that their employees take their contractual paid leave if they wish – notwithstanding circumstances where people cannot travel – in order to comply with Working Time Regulations paid leave entitlements, and ensure rest and employee wellbeing.
Employers should have clear and established boundaries around the use of communication after an employee has worked their contracted hours, in an effort to reduce the effects of digital-presenteeism. Digital-presenteeism is the personification of the ‘always on’ culture, making it hard for workers to switch off during their leisure hours. Digital-presenteeism is driven by organisational culture, and this should be recognised and addressed by employers.
Employers should make use of resources to encourage their workers to manage their physical and mental health and to continue to communicate with colleagues to avoid feelings of loneliness or isolation.
Employers should also consider the fact that some workers may find working from home brings additional stress. It can be challenging for workers to raise concerns about mental health when working remotely, especially if their living arrangements are not conducive to working from home. Employers should consider implementing or extending opportunities for informal communication, providing additional support and be proactive in checking-in with workers around their health and wellbeing. This could involve signposting employees to relevant sources of support and information.
The Clear Your Head campaign has advice on creating routine, looking after yourself, staying in touch and feeling calmer that can aid people who may be feeling the adverse effects of mental health. Healthy Working Lives have information and guidance for employers on mental health.
Some mental health conditions meet the definition of disability under Equality Act 2010, and should be treated accordingly. The EHRC Code of Practice covers the definition of disability in detail.
Homeworkers are at risk of feeling socially isolated and lonely, especially those who live alone or are distanced from their family and friends and usual social networks. Social isolation will be felt more so than workers who are not working from home. Only being able to interact with colleagues in a work capacity by email or telephone calls can have a negative impact on mental health, motivation and wellbeing.
As such, employers and managers may wish to introduce opportunities for their staff to engage with their colleagues on an informal basis, for example, online coffee breaks, team quizzes and other social avenues of communication.
Employers are responsible for providing appropriate equipment that is suited to the tasks and environment, and encouraging employees to use them as safely as possible.
Consideration should be given to what systems need to be accessed, by whom and if they can be accessed remotely. Also the level of IT support available at home, and if the IT network has capacity to support the number of staff who will be working from home. Employers should be mindful of workers’ individual circumstances e.g. socio-economic constraints that their workers may face in setting up equipment and IT, as well ensuring software packages and platforms used are fully accessible for disabled workers. It is the employer’s duty to ensure that work can be conducted at home, this means providing workers with equipment, ensuring that this equipment is appropriately installed and ensuring employees have access to the internet if this is required.
Employers should consider the skills their workers require to work effectively from home and be confident with the hardware and software provided.
Employers should consider their training offer within the workplace. For example, employers could consider designated contacts that can help with general functionality (for example Excel or Skype) that sit outwith the regular IT departments, that can help colleagues with queries.
Employers may wish to take advantage of schemes such as the Scottish Digital Development Loan and the DigitalBoost programme which are both aimed at improving the digital capacity of organisations and their workers. The digital Development Loan offers interest-free loans up to 100k to invest in improving business digital capabilities and the DigitalBoost Programme has recently received a doubling of funding for the remainder of the financial year and provides support for businesses to train staff and invest in adopting digital technologies.
Digital connectivity has proven to be vital in the pandemic response, both enabling people to work and study from home, as well as staying connected to loved ones. Employers should be mindful of the digital divide that excludes some people from being able to participate online due to various factors including the affordability of data and devices, making working from home a challenge.
Guidance for how organisations can support those who are experiencing this can be found on the Connecting Scotland website, which aims to address the digital divide for those most in need of a connection during the pandemic by providing devices as well as support to develop digital skills.
Working from home creates unique cyber security challenges and risks that must be appropriately managed and these risks are further exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic as organisations are more dependent than ever on connected digital technology. Reverting to physical and in-person onsite operations in the event of a significant cyber incident can be challenging with the necessary physical distancing measures. Preventing, detecting and disrupting cyber-attacks at the earliest opportunity limits the impact on business and the potential for reputational damage.
The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) have produced guidance on the steps employers should take when introducing (or scaling up the amount of) home working. This includes guidance on the use of multi-factor authentication, virtual private networks, own devices, removable media and for organisations implementing new Software as a Service (SaaS) applications to adjust to home working.
In relation to defence against cyber threats, staff can be the greatest strength or the greatest weakness depending on their awareness so training in cyber security and resilience is crucial. NCSC have created a free e-learning resource for training staff ‘Top Tips For Staff’ which can be completed online or built into your organisations’ training platform.
NCSC have also produced guidance on what security questions to ask IT service providers during the COVID-19 pandemic when moving business from physical to digital.
Pay should remain unaffected if staff are working to their existing contractual terms and conditions agreed before working from home was introduced.
Working from home may incur additional costs and expenses such as display screen equipment, office furniture and stationary. These are expected to be covered by the employer and workers should be aware of the policies in place to cover additional costs. Employers should consider the socio-economic position of their workers and the impact on people if they are asked to buy equipment and claim the money back at a later date.
Employers should ensure their insurance covers them for employees carrying out their role from home. Workers should also ensure there are no issues with them working from home with their own home insurer, mortgage provider or landlord.
The Association of British Insurers (ABI) provides advice and guidance to support customers who may be working from home due to COVID-19.
Employers may find it beneficial to check the HMRC guidance on working from home allowances to check which expenses can be paid without incurring a tax liability in relation to who are working from home due to coronavirus.
Employers may consider if they wish to make a payment of the flat rate £6 per week/ £26 per month non-taxable allowance for working from home expenses, such as electricity, heating or broadband costs permitted by HMRC guidance. That is a matter for individual employers which needs to take account of their own financial situation at the current time.
Employees may find that working from home can affect an overall change in financial circumstances. Working from home may result in an increase in utilities’ costs like heating and lighting, while saving on other costs such as commuting costs like public transport and fuel.
Home Energy Scotland is the advice service funded by the Scottish Government which acts as the gateway to all Government-funded domestic energy efficiency schemes and offers impartial energy efficiency advice, and advice to consumers on how to keep their home warmer and more affordable to heat. HES can be contacted by telephone on its Freephone number 0808 808 2282.
Households requiring urgent financial assistance can apply to their local authority for a crisis grant from the Scottish Welfare Fund (SWF) which provides crisis grants to those in immediate financial need.
Employees may also wish to consider looking at HMRC guidance to see if they are eligible to claim tax relief for additional household costs in working from home because of coronavirus where these have not been met by the employer.
You may wish to use the checklist provided to guide you in working though the various considerations for your organisation.