Investigating flexible working
What is flexible working?
Flexible working means thinking afresh about the way you work for your employer, making the most of remote internet access and other advances in I.T. to help you improve work life balance, whilst increasing business productivity and work life balance. It really means any change in time or location in which the work is normally done. Superfast broadband makes it easier than ever before to gain the advantages of flexible working both for yourself and your employer.
At a very simple level, examples could include:
- making more use of teleworking or telecommuting to reduce travel and avoid congestion rather than spending time and money on travel to work
- carrying out some of their work via remote working and telework rather than having to travel to work every day, perhaps making use of Skype, Google Hangouts or Facetime to speak face to face to customers and colleagues.
- adopting a more flexible approach to when work is done. If some of the work were carried out in the early morning, in the evening or at weekends perhaps it would suit you better as well as be improving personal productivity?
Some businesses invest in technology to maximise the advantages of flexible working. Examples include:
- installing a Virtual Private Network (VPN) so that staff can all work via remote computer access just as efficiently as they could in the office. A VPN is more stable and reliable if you have a superfast broadband connection.
- supplying staff with wireless enabled laptops or other devices such as tablets or smartphones so they can use broadband hotspots and work on the move and so minimise downtime
- having staff working from a number of different locations around the UK – or even around the globe – connected together by superfast broadband
- using Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephony to help save on the costs of calls between employees who are remote working and the office
What are the advantages of flexible working?
Today many people have to combine work with family care commitments and long to achieve work life balance. And, of course, in Cornwall and Isles of Scilly, many people live in remote locations and have a long journey to the office. If you can work from home sometimes or stagger your journey, you can reduce commuting, enjoy more flexibility in your lives, improve work life balance, save time, money and stress – and it is likely your employer will see increasing productivity.
- some of the time saved on travel to work can be spent increasing productivity.
- you can achieve a better work life balance, spending more quality time with your family, meeting other responsibilities such as the school run or pursuing other interests
- you can carry out remote working for an employer without having to move house
- motivated staff show increasing personal productivity and are less likely to take sick leave
- staff retention is increased, as is the proportion of women who return to work after maternity leave because of the improved work life balance.
In today’s business world, true competitive advantage is the ability to anticipate change, react quickly and be available 24/7. With flexible working or teleworking in place, businesses can do just that and help their staff can enjoy improved work life balance.
Do I need superfast broadband? What technology do I need for flexible working?
You do not need superfast broadband to implement flexible working, but it helps and makes it even easier to carry out flexible working effectively. You may need no new technology at all – flexible working and teleworking could just mean coming into the office later or using existing equipment such as laptops and mobile phones for remote internet access.
At a simple level, you could just reduce travel to work and costs by making use of video conference calls instead of actually going to a meeting.
Applications sharing allows two or more people to collaborate with remote access and edit the same file or document on screen at the same time from different locations. The cloud has now brought a new and increasing range of applications within your reach, and it is especially straightforward and fast to use cloud computing if you have a superfast broadband connection.
Secure remote access or use of a Virtual Private Network (VPN) gives you access to files on your network whilst remote working, so you can work as effectively as you do from the office, when teleworking.
And Skype, Facetime and video-conferencing means you can still have face to face meetings, even when you are in different locations, maybe even hundreds or thousands of miles apart.
Terminal services is an advance to VPNs, where the software application being used runs on a remote server and the person just sees a screen image of what is running through remote access. This allows remote access to work and processing at speeds exactly as if working in the office.
You can also save the costs of phone calls and allow seamless transfer of calls between staff working from home and the office by communicating over the Internet.
How much does flexible working cost to implement?
Obviously, the costs depend very much on your individual flexible working situation and the technology you and your employer choose to meet your teleworking needs, but as a rough guide, the main types of technology cost in the region of the following:
- conference calls 10’s
- applications sharing 10’s
- secure remote access (VPNs) 100’s
- cloud computing. From 0-10s a month
Superfast Cornwall can advise you on your particular situation – contact us to find out more.
What equipment will my employer need to supply for my home so I can start flexible working?
So you can carry our flexible working from home, your employer may consider providing some or all of the necessary equipment. This is something for you to discuss and agree with your employer. It’s worth noting early on that your employer is still responsible for your health and safety whilst you are flexible working (wherever you are located), so it may be easier for your employer to meet your health and safety responsibilities if they do provide suitable equipment.
Some things your employer may consider contributing towards could be paying a proportion of broadband costs or superfast broadband costs and/or a contribution to an adjustable chair. Of course, if you need a computer for flexible working or teleworking , this will often be provided (a laptop is usual for mobile working ).
A separate telephone line in the employee’s home may be considered appropriate to manage bills effectively. But some companies may opt for more extensive use of a mobile phone or the flexibility and potential cost savings of a VoIP internet telephony system.
How will my employer manage the purchasing and supply of consumables such as print cartridges and stationery?
If flexible working employees require stationery or consumables then there are a number of ways for employers to manage this. They could carry on stocking any stationery in the same way as you would if staff were based in the office. This way when the flexible working staff come in for meetings etc they can pick up anything they need, or contact the employer in advance to order in the necessary items for them. As a result, the employer stays in control of what’s being used for flexible working and is able to budget accordingly.
Some employers alternatively like to open an account with a local stationers so that flexible working staff can keep themselves stocked up and the employer simply receive a monthly invoice. Or, some employers prefer to ask staff who are remote working to buy stationery and consumables as and when they need it, keep the receipts and claim it back on expenses. However, employers may be unable to claim the VAT back if they choose this option.
If my employer supplies equipment for flexible working and I leave the job, will I need to return the equipment?
Yes, you will need to return all equipment supplied to you by your employer as it will remain their property.
How can I know whether I will adapt well to flexible working? (E.g. self motivation levels, time management skills, home environment.)
Staff who do flexible working or teleworking need to be self motivated people who are good communicators. The home should offer a suitable working environment for flexible working both in terms of space and being free from distractions. Importantly, flexible working or remote working should never be imposed on you, you must also want to do flexible working.
One way to help work out your suitability for flexible working if you want to start flexible working or teleworking is to fill out an ’employee application form’. This will ask you to think about things like the outputs of your job, the impact flexible working will have on your colleagues and the extent to which you would like to have flexible working.
An example form is available in the Superfast Cornwall flexible working toolkit.
The toolkit also includes tips of how to overcome any disadvantages of flexible working, such as possible feelings of isolation.
What are the insurance implications? For the company? For me?
If working from home, you will need to notify your contents and building insurance company. In addition, there are three areas that your employer will need to ensure are covered by suitable insurance when using flexible working. Firstly employee public liability, secondly any equipment in the home and finally people and equipment working on the move.
These may be covered within by your own insurance, but of course any shortfalls will need to be covered by the company. Make sure that this is all clear in advance and that these three areas are covered.
Are there any other considerations to do with flexible working?
For most businesses, the biggest factor in adopting flexible working practices is not the technology or costs, but the change in culture required to trust employees whilst they are not under direct supervision. Flexible working isn’t for everyone – some employees enjoy the office environment and need the interaction with colleagues or would find it difficult to motivate themselves if they were flexible working at home.
One of the ways to overcome these challenges is to start gradually and take flexible working and teleworking one step at a time.
When flexible working, management focus needs to shift from hours worked to measurable outputs, and in this sense, employees productivity is more focussed towards achieving business objectives.
The important thing with flexible working is that both the employer and employee are committed to it and determined to make it work. If the cultural barriers can be overcome, the rewards for the business and the individual are substantial.
What are the health and safety implications of flexible working?
Your employer is still responsible for you whilst you are flexible working, be it at home or otherwise. Risk assessments should be carried out as normal for example on display screen equipment (DSE), and other provisions for accident reporting, first aid, training, etc will still apply.
A ‘place of work’ is usually designated in the home so that the employee is covered say in a certain room where remote working normally takes place. It is worth noting that some businesses take the practical step of allowing employees to carry out their own self assessments and along with this is the simple further step of taking a photograph of the designated work area for flexible working to add to the self assessment information. However whatever method is used, your employer needs to ensure that flexible working risk assessments are kept up to date so you should ensure that these are redone at least annually or earlier if there is any significant change in the flexible working environment.
Are there any legal risks for the employer with flexible working?
All the employer’s legal responsibilities in the workplace are carried into a home working environment when flexible working. So for example if you hold customer information at home, your employer’s responsibilities with regards to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) would still apply.
If I do flexible working, is my employer legally liable if there is an accident or if my heath suffers as a result? Could the company be sued?
Yes. The company has the same duty of care to the employee whether they are working on the company’s premises, flexible working or remote working , including at their home, and all Health & Safety Executive (HSE) legislation for the workplace includes workplaces in the home.
To help the employer manage such a risk, they should ensure you complete the flexible working self assessment checklist (available in the Superfast Cornwall flexible working toolkit) before you start remote working with a review being done at 12 months or if there is a significant change that affects you. You should also book time after one month to review with your employer any possible impact that remote working has had on your health. This way you and your employer can identify any health and safety risks from flexible working, carry out the appropriate risk assessment and take measures to minimise or stop the risk.
What do I need to do to comply with Health and Safety legislation? Does my employer need to check the working conditions at my home?
Working from home health and safety needs to be considered by your employer as carefully as if they were working on your premises. All the same HSE legislation for the workplace applies equally to remote working in the home.
Your employer will therefore need a risk assessment for remote working to be done, but the basis of this can be a self assessment checklist to be completed by the flexible working employee. (This is available in the Superfast Cornwall flexible working toolkit.)
If your employer has a policy of PAT (Portable Appliance Testing) electrical equipment, you should have flexible working equipment at your home similarly tested.
Will flexible working affect my tax or insurance positions?
There are normally no home working tax implications for employees that are remote working less than 50% of their time. If the employee is given equipment for remote working from home, say a laptop and this is also used for personal use this could incur a benefit in kind liability. As long as the remote connection equipment is only for business use, however, this liability would be removed.
There is also a potential Capital Gains liability upon sale of an employee’s home if they claim tax relief on the space at home designated for remote working at home.
Employees who are flexible working from home should inform their home insurer, especially if this means there is additional equipment of value kept in the home.
What is benefit-in-kind and what are the taxation implications?
When a benefit is provided to an employee in lieu of money, it may be seen as a benefit-in-kind.
There may be benefit-in-kind’ tax and National Insurance implications if you are provided with expenses payments when flexible working for certain items or you are provided with other non-cash benefits unless, as HM Revenue & Customs phrases it, any private use is ‘not significant’. These can include things like a company car or private medical insurance, and depending on the level of private use could include providing a remote connection for home employees.
Certain benefits, like using a company PC for personal use or childcare facilities, are exempt. Further guidance can be found on the Government website – https://www.gov.uk/flexible-working is a good starting point.
Are there any other tax implications of flexible working?
A flexible working employee can claim expenses against tax. The exact expenses available cannot be generalised and will probably need to be assessed on a case by case basis but as a general rule expenses are usually only paid against items (including rooms) that are exclusively for business use or where any private use is ‘not significant’.
There can be significant implications if someone who is flexible working starts to claim things like a proportion of council tax, rates and decor against a home office or garden office, which could then become liable for capital gains tax when the property is sold. Advice should be sought on this.
Will my employer contribute towards expenses like heating and lighting at my home and if so, how much?
There is no legal requirement for an employer to contribute towards an employee’s expenses when flexible working. Your employer may decide to contribute but such a contribution may be liable to tax. For full or part-time workers at a home office or garden office, however, the employer can pay a small reasonable amount tax free without the need for any supporting evidence of the additional costs.
Will my contract have to be changed if I start flexible working?
Not normally. This can be managed by providing a ‘Flexible working agreement’ that addresses matters like the initial extent of flexible working, the agreed ways in which an employee will be contactable when working flexibly, and whether or not this is a trial for a limited time. An example agreement can be seen in the Superfast Cornwall flexible working toolkit.
If my employer offers flexible working to some employees, do they have to offer it to all?
The short answer is no! However, any employee who has been working continuously for an employer for 26 weeks or more has a right to request a flexible working arrangement, and the employer has a duty to consider these requests seriously. (Certain categories of employees are excluded from this, such as the armed forces.)
I would like to enjoy flexible working, but I live in a house where there is no space for a desk. What are the health and safety implications if I use the kitchen table as a desk?
If you are using Display Screen Equipment (DSE) at the table for a significant period each day, then the HSE regulations regarding DSE will apply. A good reference point is the HSE booklet “Working with VDUs” If the kitchen table is for general desk use then you should ensure that you can be comfortable when flexible working at the table and in all cases look to reduce the possibility of upper limb disorders. See the HSE booklet ‘Aching arms (or RSI) in small businesses’
What are the working from home health and safety regulations regarding use of a laptop? (e.g. prolonged use, use on a sofa, etc)
It should be assessed in the same way as any other Display Screen Equipment (DSE). This is covered by HSE regulations and therefore is subject to specific guidance. Other staff who only need to make occasional use of DSE will still be covered under the more general Health & Safety at work legislation. A good starting point is the HSE booklet “Working with VDUs” which has a section specifically covering the use of laptops. In short, use of a laptop on a sofa for prolonged periods is very unlikely to comply with DSE guidelines!
Who can request flexible working?
Employees can apply for flexible working if they’ve worked continuously for the same employer for the last 26 weeks. It’s known as ‘making a statutory application.’
Of course, anyone has the right to informally make a request, and our proven productivity benefits, cost savings and improvements to customer service all help to make the business case!