With the world gradually getting to grips with the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s still a great deal of uncertainty surrounding most aspects of our lives and how they will be shaped once this dreaded virus is under control. Our aim for this post – The Work From Home Guide For Employers – is primarily to assist employers, although we would suggest that it’s also a useful tool for workers.
What you will find in the passages that follow is a condensed version of the International Labor Organization’s open access document entitled “an employers’ guide on working from home in response to the outbreak of COVID-19.” It features recommendations on duties and responsibilities plus the considerations and challenges faced not only by employers, but employees as well.
The ILO’s guide is designed to be used in addition to relevant national and regional legislation. It gives “practical guidance for working from home protocols as an alternative temporary arrangement during the crisis.” You can access the full 33-page document here, but we hope you can use this post as an at-a-glance reference point when you’re short of time.
Click on any heading in the table of contents to jump straight to that section. We’ve opened the article with a brief explanation of who this post is for, followed by the main questions around which the ILO guide is built.
Please note, unless otherwise stated, all quotes in this post are taken directly from the guide. In addition, you’ll find links to other relevant resources throughout for further information.
It should also be noted that 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.
Table of Contents
- Who is This Post For?
- What is Working From Home?
- Are All Jobs Suitable for Working From Home Arrangements?
- How are Companies Adapting to Implementing Working From Home Arrangements?
- Are Workers Obliged to Observe the Company’s Directive to Work From Home?
- What are Employers’ Responsibilities When Implementing Working From Home Arrangements in Response to COVID-19?
- What are Workers’ Responsibilities When Working From Home?
- How do you Measure Workers’ Productivity When Working From Home?
- What are the Main Challenges in Implementing Working From Home Arrangements and What Considerations Should be Made to Address and Manage Them?
- Should Working From Home Continue After COVID-19?
- The Work From Home Guide Takeaway
Who is This Post For?
This post is for employers who wish to gain a better understanding of their responsibilities and to formulate policies and procedures in relation to employees working off-site.
For those who already have measures in place, this post can be used as a reminder or as a review of current systems with examples and recommendations on how these may be improved.
It’s also extremely important for employees to know their responsibilities in light of the current pandemic, as well as to have some knowledge of the pressures and challenges faced by their employers, the ideal outcome of which being mutual understanding, trust and respect.
What is Working From Home?
“WFH is a working arrangement in which a worker fulfils the essential responsibilities of his/her job while remaining at home, using information and communications technology (ICT).“
Other terms such as teleworking, telecommuting, or remote working may be used interchangeably with WFH, but these terms may also apply to the fulfilling of duties which are performed neither at the usual work place nor the employees’ home.
To avoid becoming bogged down with definitions, the guidance in this post relates to work and duties carried out “off-site.” Generally speaking (and unless otherwise agreed between employer and employee) these are regarded as temporary measures so no permanent changes are required to the terms and conditions of employment.
Are All Jobs Suitable For Working From Home Arrangements?
The ILO estimates that “close to 18% of workers have occupations that are suitable for WFH and live in countries with the infrastructure to enable WFH.”
When considering which jobs may be suitable, the employer must assess the following :
- What specific tasks can be carried out off-site?
- How to introduce systems for communication and collaboration between employee, co-workers and employer
- Which resources and facilities are required to make the job possible – such as internet connection, IT equipment, mobile network coverage and power supply?
- Is the off-site environment appropriate? Can the job be done safely?
- How will WFH affect the employees’ mental, physical and emotional health? Factors to consider include children or dependents, disabilities and personal relationships (in particular abusive relationships / domestic violence)
- How will legal requirements be met? Does the employer’s insurance cover WFH? Is the employee covered by their own home insurance? It’s recommended that employers evaluate their current liability protection and where necessary extend cover accordingly.
“The employer should ensure the company policy on WFH assumes no liability for injuries arising in the worker’s home workspace outside the agreed work hours or any loss, destruction, or injury that may occur to the home of the worker. This includes family members, visitors, or others that may become injured within or around the worker’s home.”
When considering the points above, some jobs may be relatively easy to perform successfully off-site. Others may require a little creativity in order to identify alternative methods and strategies for getting the job done. Others may be seemingly impossible.
How are Companies Adapting to Implementing WFH Arrangements?
Some organizations may be ahead of the game due to already having WFH policies and arrangements in place before the crisis. Others have been able to respond quickly and implement strategies which have allowed them to carry on almost as “business as usual.”
For others, the process of sending their employees home to work is not so straight forward. A number of issues may come into play here, such as :
- documents being predominantly paper based / non-digitized
- policies and procedures for WFH not being in place
- difficulties implementing new systems
- concerns over security breaches whilst off-site.
“According to Mercer’s 2020 Global Talent Trends Study, only 22 per cent of companies were ready for mass remote working prior to the outbreak of COVID-19.”
Are Workers Obliged to Observe the Company’s Directive to Work From Home?
Under normal circumstances, the answer would be no. WFH is usually agreed mutually between employer and employee as a voluntary arrangement.
However, due to COVID-19 it has been made obligatory for many on a global level as a necessary temporary measure in the interests of public health.
“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.“
What are Employers’ Responsibilities When Implementing Working From Home Arrangements in Response to COVID-19?
“Employers have a duty of care for all their workers and need to, insofar as it is reasonably practicable, provide a working environment that is safe and without risks to physical and mental health. This includes assessing, controlling and mitigating risks in locations other than the normal workplace, such as the worker’s home during WFH”
Summarized below are the main employer responsibilities :
- ensure the job can be done at the off-site premises
- make appropriate adjustments to the task at hand
- provide the necessary equipment and tools
- implement a system of accountability for company equipment that is taken off-site
- provide clear guidelines for claiming expenses / compensation relating to costs incurred as a result of WFH
- ensure employees have a clear idea of working obligations and expectations including factors relating to health and safety (Supervision and training to be provided where necessary)
- make reasonable adjustments for employees with disabilities
- make arrangements for employees’ physical, mental and emotional welfare
- implement a reporting and investigating system for emergencies, illness, injury and accidents that occur when WFH.
For further guidance click here to access the Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 1981 (No. 155).
What are Workers’ Responsibilities When Working From Home?
“In addition to safety and health, the general obligations and responsibilities of workers, including those stipulated in the respective national labour and employment laws, the terms and conditions of employment, or the collective agreement shall be applicable in a WFH arrangement.”
We will be publishing a more in-depth article next week addressing workers’ responsibilities. In the meantime, key responsibilities are summarized below. Workers should :
- fulfil their roles and strive to achieve outcomes as agreed with the employer
- take responsibility for the health and safety of themselves and others whilst WFH
- take responsibility for their work-life balance, reporting and discussing any issues as they arise
- follow company policies, procedures and instructions
- adhere to regional and national legislation eg working hours / working time directive
- be accountable for off-site tools and equipment and use them correctly
- Report emergencies, hazards, accidents and injuries whilst WFH
- be available for and active in regular company communication
- make relevant provisions as necessary for child care / dependents.
How do You Measure Workers’ Productivity When Working From Home?
“Companies with remote workers are generally concerned about productivity from two angles. Some employers wonder “are they working at all?” while others are more concerned with “are they working efficiently?”
What exactly you need to measure varies considerably from job to job and task to task. In simple terms, a salesperson may be measured on sales closed. A call centre operative may be measured on call volumes. But things aren’t always so clear cut, especially when individuals have different tasks to perform, in which case these probably need to be measured differently.
It’s key to set clear targets that are achievable and measurable, ensuring they are not too low or too high. In addition, ensure deadlines are set for completion just as you would when workers are physically on-site as usual. Be prepared to revisit and revise these targets where necessary.
It’s also important to manage workers accordingly with regard to how and when you track their progress and achievements. Newer or less confident workers may require closer monitoring whereas others may become stifled and demotivated with what they consider to be excessive micro-management. The key here is to implement a monitoring strategy according to both employer and employee needs.
In many cases it’s more effective to evaluate the completion of tasks, achievement of goals and quality of output as opposed to hours worked, although it should still be made clear to the employee that they are expected to work the hours you have agreed between you.
What are the Main Challenges in Implementing Working From Home Arrangements and What Considerations Should be Made to Address and Manage Them?
“According to a recent survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management
(SHRM), 71 per cent of employers are struggling to adjust to remote work; 65 per cent of employers say maintaining employee morale has been a challenge; and more than one third of employers are facing difficulties with company culture, employee productivity and leave regulation.”
It’s not only important to have WFH systems and procedures in place, but also to ensure they are implemented correctly and reassessed regularly. Where necessary, modifications should be made to allow systems to evolve for the benefit of both employer and employee in this unprecedented time.
The challenges are many. The ILO guide splits them into 12 sub-headings.
The employer should :
- ensure there are systems in place for regular communication at all levels between employer and employees. This might include video conferencing, email, shared calendar, project planning software and so on.
- ensure they have up-to-date contact details for all members of staff and likewise ensure staff have all the necessary contact details they need.
- ensure employees are kept up to date with any changes in policy or procedure as a result of COVID-19, as well as informing them, where appropriate, of the effects of the pandemic on the organization.
- encourage two-way communication in relation to ideas for moving forward and making improvements to existing policies and procedures.
Maintaining regular communication by all channels is important, but in particular, video conferencing can be a great way to keep staff motivated and reduce the feeling of isolation that some employees experience.
ICT Equipment and Workstation Set-Up
Many ICT and workstation issues have arisen as a result of insufficient planning, communication and equipment. The speed by which organizations have had to deal with changes and challenges has meant that they have not been afforded the luxury of preparation time, and many of those without systems already in place have suffered, in particular SMEs.
It’s advised that employers and employees should work together to seek solutions to these issues. In addition, employers should assess how conducive the employees’ home environment is to WFH. Reasonable adjustments to expectations, responsibilities and the task at hand should be made accordingly.
Data Protection and Security
Employers should ensure that data security measures and policies are in place for WFH, in particular to safeguard against cyber attacks and confidentiality breaches. Appropriate software should be installed, for example anti-virus, secure VPN, firewalls.
In addition, staff must be made aware of these measures and be given adequate training where required to enable understanding of and adherence to the relevant policies and procedures.
Staff Management and Possible Abuse of WFH Arrangement
Many consider it to be more difficult for employers to monitor and manage their staff effectively in a WFH situation, but this doesn’t have to be the case. One of the keys to success here is to build and maintain mutual trust.
As mentioned before, employers should ensure their team members do not feel isolated as this can lead to a number of issues. These include demotivation and employees abusing the WFH situation. (See “communication.”) Also, where possible, employers should consider a results-based management approach. (See “how to measure productivity.”)
To achieve the above, employers should :
- agree schedules for communication – including which methods will be used, dates / times and frequency plus who to contact for particular issues
- support staff in achieving a work-life balance (considering hours of work, break times, methods for switching off when not working etc.)
- agree methods for monitoring and reporting performance
- identify additional support requirements and training where necessary for employees (including motivation, time management, productivity and output.)
Organization of Work Time
Working hours and how best to utilise them should be agreed between employer and employee in accordance with company rules, as well as regional and national legislation. It’s important for the employee to exercise self-discipline, and for the employer to monitor how work time is organized.
Employers should :
- establish expectations regarding employee self-discipline and adherence to company rules
- ensure workers take breaks and follow working hour rules in adherence with legislation
- request workers to record their hours of work.
Occupational Health and Safety
OHS is generally more difficult to monitor when the employee is off-site, particularly when they are in their home environment.
WFH can prove to be more challenging for the worker if they have limited space at home. In addition, they may not have suitable furniture such as an adjustable chair or desk. Factors such as these may increase the risk of injury or other health issues. Employers should :
- assess the ergonomic set up (or provide training for the employee to do so) and make improvements / adjustments where necessary
- ensure workers are aware of and adhere to health and safety rules and company policies whilst WFH (including ergonomics, fire hazards, electrical issues etc.)
- review policies and procedures where necessary to ensure all OHS aspects of WFH are covered
- ensure employees are aware of their obligations with regard to ensuring their own safety, as well as the safety of others whilst WFH
- provide ongoing evaluation and monitoring of the above whilst the worker is off-site, at the same time respecting their privacy at home.
Health and Mental Wellbeing
Whilst WFH will prove to be a positive and beneficial solution to many employees, it may cause others a number of problems including mental or physical strain, anxiety and depression.
They may also be feeling uncertain of the future of the organization in light of the present economic situation, possibly even fearing redundancy. Now more than ever, it’s fundamental for employers to be supportive and empathic. Employers should :
- be ready and willing to listen to all manner of issues as they arise including responding to employees’ distress in relation to the above
- maintain and ensure regular 1-2-1 and team communication to minimize the feeling of isolation
- provide employees with the tools they need to enable positive mental and physical health (through company provision of counselling for example, or to provide relevant and useful signposting in the absence of organizational resources.)
There are many benefits to WFH such as :
- reduced commuting time (meaning more time for family or leisure pursuits)
- greater autonomy and flexibility when organizing the work load
- increased motivation, productivity and efficiency.
However, WFH can prove to be more challenging to some than others. Those with children or dependents may struggle, especially when schools or child care facilities are closed. Many employees find that the boundaries between work and home life become unclear and that work can begin to interfere with their private lives.
Employers should :
- ensure clear company guidelines are in place relating to working time arrangements (hours of work, break times etc.)
- ensure employees are aware of legal guidelines and requirements regarding the work-life balance (from OHS for example)
- provide support for employees who are struggling to achieve a work-life balance.
Employers and employees should work together to agree more flexible solutions where necessary regarding working hours, targets, deadlines etc., in order for the work-life balance to be achieved.
Performance and Productivity
As well as the issues mentioned above, workers may also find there are other family members who need to share the working space, thus adding additional stress. This can have a negative impact on performance and productivity, as can more personal issues such as abusive relationships or domestic violence.
Employers should address performance issues with staff as they arise, whilst at the same time continuing to offer support and flexibility.
Caring for Children and Dependents
Employers and employees need to work together to find solutions which allow the employee to carry out his or her work duties as well as caring for dependents. They should consider :
- is it possible to arrange working hours around the needs of the family?
- can working hours be reduced on a temporary basis until additional child care support is available?
- can targets be reduced whilst it’s not possible to adhere to full-time working hours?
- is it possible to be flexible with deadlines in order for targets to be achieved?
Cases vary from worker to worker and the discussions on caring for children or dependents should reflect that.
Skills, Staff Training and Development
As well as the many areas covered above which require workers to have a good understanding of new or revised policies arising as a result of WFH, one of the most essential requirements of workers is a good knowledge of ICT.
Employers should be aware of staff training needs in all areas, ensuring that the relevant training is given. This can be carried out remotely via a number of methods including online training tools, 121 mentoring, group training sessions and so on.
Keeping Up With Government’s Policy and Directives
Of course employers need to keep up with the latest news regarding government policy and so on. There may be directives in place offering financial support to organizations that are struggling, and there will no doubt be ongoing changes which may affect WFH arrangements, such as tougher restrictions, or in other areas lessening of restrictions.
The bottom line is, we just can’t predict with any certainty how the situation is going to pan out next. This is a reactive situation, but in order to find ways to manage it more proactively, it’s also important for employers to feed into organizations at a higher level, such as national employers or business membership operations.
Should Working From Home Continue After COVID-19?
WFH in response to COVID-19 is essentially a temporary measure. However, in the long term it may well be of benefit to employers and employees alike to extend those arrangements or even to make them permanent. That would mean :
- employers could employ a more diverse workforce which isn’t dependent on geographical location
- employers could save financially / cut costs relating to premises, travel and relocation
- for those who suit WFH arrangements it could lead to increased motivation, productivity and retention of staff.
Will your organization continue WFH arrangements after the pandemic? By assessing the benefits and challenges of WFH, as well as by consulting with staff and any relevant outside organizations, you may find it better for all concerned to go back to working on-site as soon as possible.
Or you may just find that by taking a little time to plan and implement new strategies properly, extended WFH arrangements could allow your business to go from strength to strength.
“In mid-April, a survey was conducted in the United States of more than 1,200 full-time employees experiencing WFH during the pandemic. It found that nearly half of the respondents wanted to keep working remotely. More than 45 per cent said their employers are actively considering or are open to this strategy.”
(Click here for full article by SHRM)
The Work From Home Guide Takeaway
Our aim for this post was to provide a condensed version of the ILO’s full guide for employers on WFH arrangements which have become necessary for so many organizations in answer to the COVID-19 pandemic. Bookmark it for easy access and a quick reference guide.
We would advise taking a look at the full ILO document which not only expands on each area, but also provides templates which you can adapt for your own purposes. (For example, a WFH policy template.)
In addition, we’ve placed links throughout for access to other relevant resources which may prove useful when you’re reviewing, revising and implementing policies and procedures associated with WFH.
As well as providing guidance for employers, this post will also help workers to gain a clearer understanding of their own responsibilities (which we’ll be covering in more depth in a separate article.) It should also allow workers to gain a better insight into the challenges faced by their employers, hopefully helping to build mutual trust, understanding and co-operation – for the benefit of employers, employees and the organization as a whole.
Finally, we would be interested to hear about the working challenges you have faced in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Have you struggled to keep staff on track or has it been easier to manage your team under the new arrangements? Has WFH put a strain on your personal relationships or has it allowed you to be more productive whilst having extra time to spend with your family?
Leave a comment in the box below or email firstname.lastname@example.org.