Today’s post, The Employee Guide to Working From Home, has been put together because of the huge increase in employees working off-site or remotely due to COVID-19.
For many, arrangements have had to be made quickly and without proper planning or implementation, and both employers and employees may find themselves struggling.
The purpose of this article is to offer some guidance to employees relating to the challenges faced in these circumstances, along with some practical recommendations to make working from home (WFH) work better for you and your employer.
The International Labour Organization recently published their “employers’ guide on working from home in response to the outbreak of COVID-19.” This is an open access document which we have adapted and condensed, and upon which the main body of today’s post has been created from a worker’s perspective.
(Click here to see our article for employers.)
Please note : this is an adaptation of an original work by the International Labour Office (ILO). Responsibility for the views and opinions expressed in the adaptation rests solely with the author or authors of the adaptation and are not endorsed by the ILO.
You can either read this entire post or click on the headings below for a direct link to a particular section.
Table of Contents
- What is Working From Home?
- Are All Jobs Suitable for Working From Home?
- Are Workers Obliged to Work From Home?
- Employer Responsibilities
- Employee Responsibilities
- Measuring Productivity
- Working From Home Challenges
- The Working From Home Guide Takeaway
What is Working From Home?
Generally speaking WFH is a temporary arrangement whereby employees perform their main duties at their home by means of ICT. The terms remote working, teleworking or telecommuting can be used interchangeably with WFH, but these terms may also apply to any other off-site premises, whereas WFH relates only to the employees’ home premises.
In some cases, WFH or remote working began before the COVID-19 pandemic and may even be written into the employment contract as a longer-term or permanent measure which has been agreed by employee and employer.
To clarify – this post relates to temporary WFH arrangements as a result of the pandemic, although some of the content will apply to longer-term remote working solutions.
Are All Jobs Suitable for Working From Home?
Some jobs will be easy enough to do from home. For others, you may need work with your boss to come up with ideas on how to do things differently so you can get the job done. We’ve highlighted below the key points your employer should be considering when assessing whether or not a job can be carried out whilst WFH :
- how can connectivity and communication be maintained? (eg video conferencing)
- what equipment, tools and facilities are needed? (eg internet connection)
- what are the legal requirements? (eg insurance)
- what are the health and safety risks? (eg can the job be done safely?)
- how will WFH affect the employees’ living arrangements? (eg child care responsibilities)
- will WFH have a negative impact on mental health? (eg in the case of domestic violence)
It’s really important to be open and honest with your employer about your home circumstances in order for them to assess the practicalities of you WFH. If you’re already WFH and your circumstances have changed, or if things just aren’t working, you should discuss this with your boss and look for alternative solutions.
Where jobs can’t feasibly be carried out at home and if your employer is unable to identify alternative solutions, they may discuss taking paid or unpaid leave with you.
Are Workers Obliged to Work From Home?
“In accordance with Article 19(a) of the Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 1981 (No. 155), workers are legally obligated to cooperate with the employer to secure a safe and healthy working environment in support of relevant statutory provisions, collective agreements or company policies.” (Taken from the ILO employers’ guide on working from home in response to the outbreak of COVID-19.)
Usually WFH would be agreed on a voluntary basis. In light of current circumstances it may be considered as a temporary public health measure and therefore a legal obligation.
When implementing WFH arrangements, the main employer responsibilities are as follows :
- make sure it’s possible and practical for the job to be done off-site
- make adjustments to tasks or expectations where necessary
- ensure employees have the tools and equipment they need
- ensure company equipment is accounted for and looked after whilst off-site
- implement a compensation / expenses system to reimburse employee WFH costs where appropriate
- make employee obligations clear for all duties and responsibilities
- make adjustments as required for employees with disabilities
- take employees’ physical, mental and emotional welfare into account and provide support as required
- ensure systems are in place for reporting and investigating emergencies, illness, injury and accidents that occur when WFH.
The key responsibilities of employees when WFH are as follows :
- to carry out their duties and achieve outcomes as discussed and agreed with their employer
- to assess the working environment in relation to workstation set-up or possible issues whilst WFH
- to follow health and safety rules and guidance, being responsible for themselves and others whilst WFH
- to follow guidance for achieving a healthy work-life balance, reporting and discussing any associated issues with their employer as and when they arise
- to be aware of and follow all company policies as they would on-site, as well as interim measures implemented as a result of WFH
- to be aware of and follow relevant regional and national legislation in relation to working hours
- to inform the employer of any resources or tools required in order to get tasks completed
- the correct use of tools and equipment when using off-site, and to be accountable for any loss or breakages
- to report emergencies, hazards, accidents and injuries whilst WFH
- to take part in regular organizational communication and to be available for such within the hours agreed
- to refrain from facilitating meetings with clients or co-workers whilst at their home premises unless the employer approves in advance
- to take part in any training deemed necessary in order to facilitate a safe and conducive WFH environment
- to arrange care for children or dependents as required – where possible – to enable WFH arrangements.
Your employer may deem it more effective to measure your productivity in terms of results or outcomes, rather than by the number of hours you work. Make sure you are fully aware of your targets and of your employer’s expectations. These should be communicated to you clearly.
Regardless of the methods used to measure your productivity, you will generally be expected to adhere to the agreed hours of work. Of course, if you are unable to do so, and likewise if you are unable to achieve your targets, make your manager aware and look for solutions together which will enable you to get the job done.
If you feel you need additional supervision / monitoring – speak up. If you feel stifled as your boss is micro managing – speak up. WFH is new to many employers as well as employees and for mutual benefit it’s key to keep communicating what’s not working so well, as well as what’s good.
Working From Home Challenges
Now more than ever it’s so important to be open and responsive to new and alternative methods of communication. Video conferencing is an excellent solution to keeping the team together and minimizing feelings of isolation.
If there’s an ICT (or any other) training need in order to get the job done, raise this with your manager. As well as online courses, you may be offered 121 coaching or mentoring to get you up to date with ICT systems and procedures.
Also, ensure you have correct and up to date contact details for co-workers and managers. Likewise, if your contact details change, make sure you pass your new details on.
Remember that WFH in the majority of cases is new to employees and employers alike. With that in mind, be ready and willing to share ideas as there’s bound to be aspects of remote working arrangements which could be improved. You’re still part of the team, even though not physically present, so have your say and work together to improve motivation, productivity and to achieve the best outcomes possible.
ICT Equipment and Workstation Set-Up
Due to insufficient planning and the speed by which WFH arrangements have had to be made, various workstation set-up and ICT problems have surfaced for many workers. These include insufficient ICT equipment, non-adjustable chairs or desks and other factors contributing to poor ergonomics.
You should work together with your employer to identify which – if any – of these problems apply to you whilst WHF, and in turn to find solutions which will allow you to perform your duties in an environment that is safe and conducive to working.
(See also Occupational Health and Safety)
Data Protection and Security
It’s your employer’s responsibility to ensure that the correct data protection and security measures are in place whilst you are working on- or off-site. This includes safeguarding against cyber attacks and confidentiality breaches.
Make sure you are fully aware of company systems, procedures and policies relating to the above, and adhere to them at all times. This is for the protection of yourself, your employer and any other individual or organization about which you have access to confidential data.
Organization of Work Time
Although you may be measured on outcomes, your actual hours of work should still be discussed and agreed with your manager, along with how you will organize your time to achieve optimum results. This should be in accordance with company policy, as well as regional or national legislative requirements.
WFH may pose many challenges, especially in the early days. For example, you may experience a sense of something like freedom, whereby you are at your own devices to get the job done without your employer or co-workers seeing what you are (or aren’t) doing.
You should ideally settle into your new routine as early as possible, exercising self-discipline and commitment to the job. Your employer should be monitoring how your work time is spent, and of course whether you are achieving agreed results.
Make sure :
- you understand employer expectations regarding hours worked and outcomes achieved
- you exercise self-discipline, take breaks and follow rules and legislation regarding working hours
- you provide your employer with a record of your hours worked as required.
Occupational Health and Safety
OHS can be especially more difficult for employers to monitor when workers are off-site. As well as possible workstation issues such as poor ergonomics, you may have limited space for your work area. There may be higher risks of injury or other health issues which arise as a result of WFH.
In an ideal situation you should have received training on issues relating to OHS, including workstation set-up and identification of risks and hazards. This will allow you to carry out assessments on your home environment and work area.
If you haven’t received training, request it from your employer and when your assessments are complete, discuss them together so that adjustments and improvements can be introduced where necessary.
Health and Mental Wellbeing
WFH is more suitable for some than others. You may find it to be a positive and beneficial solution to the current situation. Or you may find it extremely challenging physically, mentally and emotionally.
It’s important to discuss how you’re feeling with your manager, especially if you’re struggling to adapt. Your employer should be responsive to your issues and work with you to identify ways to make things better.
Honesty and openness are essential, as are maintaining regular communication in order to minimize feelings of isolation. Perhaps your organization has provisions for staff counseling or can allocate you a buddy or mentor to help get you through the tough times. Remember that you’re not the only one struggling, and there’s no shame to admitting you need a little extra help.
If WFH suits you and you are doing well, maybe ask your boss if you can offer support to other team members might who need it.
For many, reduced commuting time means more time for family or for outside interests. They may enjoy greater autonomy and flexibility when it comes to scheduling tasks and managing their work time. This can be great for productivity, motivation and efficiency.
This isn’t always the case though. Many workers are finding that the lines between work and personal life become blurred when WFH. They may struggle with dependent or child care when schools and child care facilities are closed. They may find themselves working way over their agreed hours in order to get the job done, thus putting a strain on their private lives.
In addition to the above, there may be issues such as other family members needing space for remote working or for school work. This can add additional stress and may make situations worse such as abusive relationships or domestic violence.
If you’re finding it difficult to achieve a good balance and are experiencing problems with the above, discuss this with your boss. Perhaps you can reassess your working hours, put alternative arrangements in place in the short-term and identify possible longer-term solutions moving forward.
It’s in your employer’s best interests to encourage a healthy work-life balance and to resolve problems as soon as possible, not just as a responsible employer, but also because when the balance is achieved, staff tend to be more motivated and productive which in turn can severely reduce staff turnover.
Click here for more on the work-life balance from the ILO.
Caring for Children and Dependents
With children or dependents at home, you may need to discuss the following with your employer :
- can working hours be arranged around the needs of your family?
- if child care facilities are unavailable, is it possible to reduce your working hours until the situation is resolved?
- is it possible to reduce targets if circumstances deem them unachievable?
- can your employer implement more flexible deadlines in the short-term?
Situations and challenges will be different from worker to worker, so make sure you are open and honest with your employer so you can find the best solutions together.
The Working From Home Guide Takeaway
Hopefully by reading this guide you’ve gained a clearer understanding of how to make WFH work better for you, along with the challenges faced by employees and employers alike.
Remember to be honest with your employer regarding your home circumstances and the possible impact that WFH may have on your mental and emotional wellbeing. If you’re enjoying WFH and are finding it of benefit to you, maybe you can offer support to those who are struggling.
One of the most important things for all to remember is that although you are not physically present, you are still part of the same team. Keep the lines of communication open, share the good and the bad aspects of remote working and look for solutions to improve things further in this difficult time.
Let us know your thoughts and ideas. Are you finding WFH to be a challenge or have you settled into your new working arrangements without any issues? Are your colleagues or your managers struggling? What new systems have been implemented to make life easier?
We’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment in the box below or email firstname.lastname@example.org.