What is flexible working?
Flexible working means thinking afresh about the way you and your staff work, making the most of advances in I.T. to help you with increasing business productivity and work life balance. It really means any change in the 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 for your business.
At a very simple level, examples of flexible working could include:
- making more use of teleworking or telecommuting to avoid congestion rather than spending time and money on travel to work
- enabling your staff to carry out some of their work via remote working and telework rather than having to travel to work every day, perhaps making use of video-conferencing, Skype, Facetime or Google Hangouts 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 you would see employees improving personal productivity?
Some businesses will want to invest in technology to maximise the advantages of flexible working. Examples include:
- installing a Virtual Private Network (VPN) so that your 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 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 save on the costs of calls between employees who are remote working and the office
Some businesses even decide that they no longer need a permanent office at all – with dramatic cost savings! For more help, see the examples in our flexible working toolkit.
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 help employees to work from home or stagger their journey, they can reduce commuting, enjoy more flexibility in their lives, improve work life balance, saving time, money and stress – and your business will see increasing productivity.
- some of the time saved on travel to work can be spent increasing productivity.
- if several of your staff work flexibly you could share desk space and reduce your overheads or expand without the need for more office space
- you can attract higher calibre staff by offering a good work life balance or allowing them to carry out remote working 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.
Do I need superfast broadband? What technology do I need?
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 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.
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.
Secure remote access or use of a Virtual Private Network (VPN) gives employees access to files on your network whilst remote working, so they can work as effectively as they do from the office, when teleworking.
You can also save the costs of phone calls and allow seamless transfer of calls between employees working from home and the office by communicating over the Internet.
How much does flexible working cost?
Obviously the costs depend very much on your individual flexible working situation and the technology you 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 per month
What equipment will I need to supply for the flexible working employee’s home?
If you would like a member of your team to carry our flexible working from home then you may consider providing some or all of the necessary equipment. This is something for you to decide. It’s worth noting early on that you are responsible for your employee’s health and safety whilst they are flexible working (wherever they are located), so it may be easier to meet your health and safety responsibilities if you do provide suitable equipment.
Some things you 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 your employee needs 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 I manage the purchasing and supply of consumables such as print cartridges and stationery?
If a flexible working member of your staff requires stationery or consumables then there are a number of ways to manage this. You could carry on stocking any stationery in the same way as you would if they 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 you in advance to order in the necessary items for them. This way you would be in control of what’s being used for flexible working and be able to budget accordingly.
You may alternatively like to open an account with a local stationers, so that your flexible working staff can keep themselves stocked up and you simply receive a monthly invoice. Or, you may prefer to ask your 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, you may be unable to claim the VAT back if you choose this option. The disadvantage of these options of course is that an element of cost control is taken away from you – again, it really comes down to your individual business and how trustworthy your staff are!
If a flexible working member of staff leaves employment and does not return the equipment I have supplied, what recourse do I have? Do I have right of entry to their house?
Legally, you wouldn’t be able to access their house without permission, but it may well be prudent to have an agreement with your staff who are flexible working that when they leave your employment any company equipment will be returned. This is something that a flexible working agreement would cover. An example agreement is available in the Superfast Cornwall flexible working toolkit.
How can I assess whether a particular employee is suitable for 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 employees – they must also want to do flexible working.
One way to assess their suitability for flexible working is to ask any employee who wants to start flexible working to fill out an ’employee application form’. This will help them to think about things like the outputs of their job, the impact flexible working will have on their colleagues and the extent to which they 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.
What are the insurance implications? For the company? For the employee?
If working from home, employees’ contents and building insurance companies need to be informed. In addition, there are three areas that you 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 the employee’s insurance, but of course any shortfalls will need to be covered by the company.
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, employee productivity is more focused 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 ?
You are still responsible for your staff whilst they 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 you may have 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 you employ, remember you need 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 with flexible working?
All your legal responsibilities in the workplace are carried into a home working environment when flexible working. So for example if your employee holds customer information at home, your responsibilities with regards to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) would still apply.
What about Data Protection and the GDPR?
It is vital that you have a robust policy in place to ensure that client data and any personal data is protected and kept confidential when people are working away from the office. Mobile workers should be briefed to be especially vigilant when they are working in public places.
With the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) coming into force in May 2018, it becomes even more important to protect sensitive information, as there can be stiff penalties for companies who do not follow the guidelines laid down by GDPR or who suffer security breaches through poor internal procedures.
Make sure that flexible workers are briefed and trained about their data protection responsibilities and the requirements of GDPR and that they have the appropriate equipment and software needed to help them safeguard confidential data.
If I allow staff to do flexible working, is the business legally liable if there is an accident or if an employee’s heath suffers as a result? Could the company be sued? How can I avoid any such risk?
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.
A good starting point to manage such a risk is to ensure the employee completes the flexible working self assessment checklist (available in the Superfast Cornwall flexible working toolkit) before they start remote working with a review being done at 12 months or if there is a significant change that affects them. You should also book time after one month to review any possible impact that remote working has had on the health of your employee. This way you 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.
3.05. What do I need to do to comply with Health and Safety legislation? Do I need to check the working conditions at flexible working employees’ homes?
Working from home health and safety needs to be considered for your employee 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..
You 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 businesses has a policy of PAT (Portable Appliance Testing) electrical equipment, you should have flexible working equipment similarly tested.
Will flexible working affect employee’s 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 provide expenses payments to your flexible working employee for certain items or provide 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
Do I need to contribute towards expenses like heating and lighting at the employees’ homes and if so, how much?
There is no legal requirement to contribute towards an employee’s expenses when flexible working. You may decide to contribute but such a contribution may be liable to tax. For full or part-time workers at a home office, however, the employer can pay a small reasonable amount. tax free without the need for any supporting evidence of the additional costs
Will I have to change employees’ contracts if they 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 flexible working, and whether or not this is a trial for a limited time. There is an example agreement in the Superfast Cornwall flexible working toolkit.
If I offer flexible working to some employees, do I have to offer it to all?
The short answer is no! However, any employee who has been employed continuously for at least 26 weeks has a right to request flexible working and the employer has a duty to consider these requests seriously.
There are a number of ways in which you can manage the rollout of flexible working, for example initially offering the opportunity to specific employees only, or to employees in certain roles before opening it up to everyone across your business.
Offering flexible working based to employees in certain roles is a popular way of managing this. This means you can initially target the most appropriate roles, for example those with easily measurable outputs associated with them that require less on site presence and can be delivered through remote working.
Some of the staff who would like to enjoy flexible working, live in houses where there is no space for a desk. What are the health and safety implications if they use their kitchen table as a desk?
If the staff 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 be ensuring that they 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!