Virtually all companies have had to switch to remote working, and this looks set to continue for the foreseeable future with 74% of employees saying they want a mix of remote and office-based working, according to research by The Adecco Group. As the founder of a fully flexible law firm, Cognitive Law, Lucy Tarrant shares her experience of guiding their clients through switching to home working as well as what they have learnt along the way.
Cognitive Law was one of the lucky ones. When the Government mandated that everyone work from home unless they could not do so, we were ready to do so straight away. That is because every single fee earner and member of the Head Office team already worked from home, either regularly or sporadically.
Far from feeling smug (we had a myriad of other issues to worry about during lockdown), we set out helping our clients and trusted partners work from home too.
Some of our advice was very short term, such as make sure they have a computer, a desk, and a chair. The rest of our advice was medium term and is now looking to be long term. Making sure someone had a computer, a desk and a chair was obviously the starting point; but as lockdown prevailed it soon became obvious that a quick fix was not going to be sustainable.
Most of us have broadband at home, so connecting to on-line office systems seemingly would not be a problem. That was until you added home-schooling, or in my case device-addicted teenagers, into the mix. So, we suggested our clients cut their home-workers some slack. I have always believed that presenteeism is over-rated and does not consider an individual’s body clock or personal circumstances. Someone may not be at their “desk” working for 7 hours a day, but when could they be their most productive? Unless a specific task needs to be performed at a specific time, I find that expressly permitting the work to be done at a time to suit the worker is far more beneficial for all those involved.
That does not mean however that it is a complete free for all, a do what you want when & if you want to. Usual performance monitoring needs to apply, and internal controls need to be communicated as clearly as if everyone remained in the office. There is no reason why the provisions of a worker’s employment contract and the company’s policies should change by virtue of a change in the location of the actual worker, and I would strongly suggest this message is conveyed.
Now back to the computer, desk, and chair. Some clients had to order laptops to be delivered to their workers. Some had to arrange delivery of their office desk tops. Some even had to order chairs and desks to be delivered. That is because if your staff are working from home you remain responsible for their health and safety. It remains an employer’s responsibility to make sure their workstation is set up correctly for them, and that they have everything they need. Hence the nationwide delivery of chairs and desks.
And what about the new vogue for zoom calls?! Communication is crucial whilst everyone in a business is so disparate. Even though Cognitive Law was already established as a largely remote working practice, we still needed to overcome the complete absence of face to face get togethers. So yes, we called upon Zoom. And Microsoft Teams. And WhatsApp. In fact, I think we have covered pretty much every video calling platform since lockdown began. Although there is no obvious legal requirement to see your staff face to face, the benefit of making the effort to do so is self-explanatory. Those who have not previously been used to home-working may feel really cut off, and it is incredibly important to make sure they are not feeling too remote. It’s also important to reinforce the fact that it is still business as (ab)normal, so without micro-managing an employee who doesn’t need it, a pervasive on-line presence will help to underline that someone is still employed to perform a role as expected.
These are just some of the practical issues we have been able to help our clients with. There are lots more that we could cover, such as handling mental health issues and returning to work, but they are the stuff for another blog, another day.