By Gerard Walker, Future Jobs-Skills-Work Insights
The Department of Business, Enterprise, and Innovation held a Public Consultation on remote working guidance this summer in terms of how the existing guidance on remote working could be improved with some 520 submissions being made.
The IITD also contributed, drawing upon research work undertaken, training experiences, and the valuable views of L&D members. The IITD has responded to a growing need to provide training support for organisations, managers, and HR/L&D professionals dealing with the challenges of setting up remote working including the development of a suite of tailored online training programmes.
The key themes raised in the submissions received in the public consultation are summarised below.
Tax and Financial Incentives: Concern was expressed of the cost of utilities including broadband, phone lines, purchase of equipment, electricity, and heating, and that the current tax relief is not necessarily suitable for e-workers. The current process for claiming tax relief is viewed as difficult and not sufficient to cover employees’ costs. A campaign to raise awareness of available tax reliefs to employers/employees was suggested.
Employment Conditions: There was support for the concept of voluntary remote working as an arrangement that employer/employee can opt-out of. Submissions from employees expressed a preference for a hybrid model of remote work (working remotely 2-3 days/week). The responsibility for the provision of equipment such as desks, chairs, and technology was raised. Clarity was also sought on whether employers can use 'check-in' technologies to monitor employee activity and advice on non-intrusive software that can be used.
Occupational Health and Safety – Workstation Set-up: A strong theme was that the current legislation on health, safety, and welfare at work is directed at traditional office environments. Clarity was sought on what constitutes a safe and ergonomic workspace and how this can be achieved at home. This included how risk assessments can be carried out remotely. There was a call for the development of a protocol for work-related accidents in the home, outlining liability and insurance coverage.
Broadband: Poor connectivity was cited as a major difficulty for working from home during COVID-19. For remote working to be successful it must be accompanied by the rollout of national broadband infrastructure. Guidance is needed on employer responsibility for ensuring a remote worker has broadband if their job requires it. There was a high interest in hubs that provide workstations, broadband, and social interaction.
COVID-19: Submissions were made in the context of working from home during COVID-19. Some submissions expressed that, while their employers were keen to have staff back on-premises, they would prefer to remain working from home. Clarity would be helpful in the parameters of returning to work, and likewise, continuing to work from home and what employees’ rights are in this area.
Occupational Health and Safety – Mental Health: Concerns emerged on feelings of isolation, loneliness, and difficulty switching off from work and how these can impact employees’ mental health when working remotely. To counter this, well-being and mental health supports/training should be put in place, including facilitating informal contact with colleagues, encouraging employees to take breaks, or exercising during the day. The IITD also highlighted the well-being of remote workers and maintaining workplace relationships.
Training: The importance of training was raised around the need for upskilling and management training and how best to deliver training for remote employees. Key points, also supported by the IITD were:
- The guidance could promote awareness amongst employers of the training platforms available to upskill existing teams on remote and flexible working and advice on how to move existing training options online. A blended approach to training could be beneficial going forward – part virtual, part physical.
- Areas of training for employees working remotely included workload management, communication, maintaining work/life boundaries, and IT skills, mentoring, and coaching.
- Training for managers for organisations making the transition to longer-term remote working, including leading remote teams, assessing performance, measuring productivity, culture change, and building trust.
Equality: Views were expressed that remote work and/or the right to request remote work should be available to workers who can carry out their jobs remotely. Examples of best practice on how employers can introduce remote working policies would be helpful, such as template request and response forms. Whilst remote work provides an opportunity to make work more accessible for people with a disability, the provision of assistive/accessible technology to enable remote work was raised as a concern.
Data Protection and Cybersecurity: Submissions sought guidance on conferencing and remote-enabling software. Advice would be welcome on best practice/minimum requirements to offset these risks. Guidance on data protection in co-working spaces and hubs was also requested. Clarity was also sought on maintaining cybersecurity in remote working arrangements.
Insurance: Some submissions sought clarity on how work-related accidents and/or damage of equipment are covered by insurance, both at home and in a hub. Mental health insurance was also suggested. It was proposed that businesses could benefit from clear, practical guidelines outlining best practices in health and safety, insurance policy, and liability in the case of an accident.
Organisation of Working Time: Guidance for employers was sought on how to record employees’ hours worked and ensure breaks are being taken remotely. Also, for employees on maintaining boundaries and switching off from work. Flexible systems for logging in and out of work over a longer period were suggested for employees with caring duties. The importance of creating a culture of trust which encourages work/life balance was emphasised. IITD also highlighted that this successful introduction of remote working arrangements requires the buy-in of senior management and corporate culture of flexibility and trust.
Key Takeaways: The submissions received under the public consultation will inform enhanced guidance on working remotely with the support of an Interdepartmental Group. This guidance will be available and regularly updated on the DBEI Guidance on Working Remotely webpage as a resource for employers and employees. Submissions will inform the development of a National Strategy on Remote Working.
The IITD believes that remote working will enable companies to grow by attracting and retaining top talent while allowing employees to achieve a work-life balance. The investment by Government in Digital Hubs around the country will offer opportunities for social contact and business mentoring as well as having the equipment and high-speed broadband infrastructure to effectively support remote working and learning.