Many people claim that working from home creates benefits for both the employer and the employee as well as many self-employed people, but it is important to look at the down-side as well, including the risks it can cause, or at least increase. Can these be offset by reductions in other risks? Can we find reasonable control measures to enable us to maximise the benefits while minimising the risks?
From the employer’s point of view, the chief benefit is probably that of saving on the amount of office accommodation required. This is also a benefit for the self-employed.
From the employee’s point of view, the elimination of the daily commute is probably a major attraction, but for some, the ability to work in an environment of their own choosing and the absence distractions such as unnecessary supervision and office politics are the main benefits, enabling them to actually concentrate on the work and to work to the timescales and rhythms that suit them and enable them to work at their optimum pace.
Some would counter this by saying that there can be as many distractions in the home as in the office, especially during the school holidays. This is obviously going to be more significant for some than for others and it is necessary to find what is best in your situation.
Will you be taken for a ride?
Some employers are cautious about allowing working from home because of the risk that employees would take advantage and do very little work. Some companies try to mitigate this by requiring staff to complete work-sheets to account for their time. Some even require a certain number of key-strokes on the computer. Unfortunately, such control measures are often inefficient, ineffective and counter-productive. I would advise measuring outputs rather than inputs. If a person can get the job done to a satisfactory standard, then it should not matter whether the time taken was more or less than the norm. And obviously the opposite is equally true. It has to be acknowledged, however, that some jobs lend themselves to output-measurement more than others.
What about Health & Safety?
Some people are concerned that those working from home could be at risk of damaging their health by using ill-designed workstations and by failing to take adequate breaks from repetitive tasks. A few even suggest that employers should carry out Health and Safety checks at employees’ premises. That might be justified if there was a lot of physical work involved and the premises in question amounted to a workshop, but it is probably too intrusive if someone is merely using his home as an office. A sensible compromise might be for the employer to insist on all employees receiving adequate training in safe and healthy ways of working.
The Cyber Risk.
This is one of the most serious risks and one that is often overlooked. If an employee is using his own computer or even a device linked to a computer, it is essential that he maintains all the cyber-security standards that would apply if he was working in the office on the company’s computer. This means establishing a company-wide policy for such things as passwords, backups, encryption, malware protection and firewalls, as well as rules for use of the Internet and social media. There also needs to be a similar approach to the data protection and commercial confidentiality risks off-line, to ensure other people living in the house, or even visitors, do not get access to company documents.
The other side of the question.
It would be wrong to overstress the risks however. In some ways home-working can reduce the risks. My house is less likely to be targeted than most offices by people looking for valuable information. There is also a reduction in certain risks, if people are not concentrated in one place. In the event of a physical accident in an office there could be several victims, whereas this is far less likely with people working from home. Similarly, fire, flood or storm damage to an office could lead to the closure of the business, at least temporarily, whilst such a total shutdown would be very unlikely if workers were based in their various homes.
My advice is to weigh up the risks in your particular situation, along with other costs and benefits, and see what measures you need to take to control them, rather than making any broad assumptions about home-working being good or bad.
What about the Environment?
Finally, remember that from the point of view of Society, the reduction in commuter traffic is to be welcomed.