Since the turn-of-the-century, the government, employers and business experts have highlighted the benefits of working from home. The emergence of the coronavirus pandemic, and the challenges of lockdown, has also strengthened this argument. Many would argue that the London business community has been hit hardest by the pandemic, but this has been a UK wide challenge.
There are many issues to take into consideration when looking to work from home. These include the risk factors, financial aspects, and the practical challenges of colleagues working together on a remote basis. It will be a tricky balancing act between maximising company resource while giving colleagues the opportunity to work from home.
Since COVID 19 began to emerge towards the end of 2019, we have seen a huge change in working practices in the UK. As a means of maintaining a degree of economic activity, albeit under severe restrictions, many people were encouraged to work from home. This created a safe and secure environment, reducing dependence on the furlough scheme and other financial safety nets.
We know that the coronavirus will be around for many years to come, perhaps in a similar fashion to the flu virus, and we will need to learn to live with it. This has caused serious concerns amongst many employees, a growing number having significant reservations about returning to the “working office environment”. In some ways, this has forced employers to consider formal working from home opportunities. Guidance, preparation and support for those looking at alternative working practices will be critical going forward.
To suggest that the traditional working environment is dead is a little over the top. While there will always be certain activities that require face-to-face collaboration between colleagues, technology has changed the workplace in recent years. Zoom meetings, shared data and good old-fashioned emails have allowed many colleagues to remain in full contact even when working out of the office.
In some ways, it may look as though some companies are dragging their feet on the subject of flexible working from a distance. However, a lot is going on behind the scenes concerning health and safety, regulations and HMRC is busy working on home working guidance. Working at home will eventually be an option open to a growing element of the UK workforce. In the short term, those looking at jobs working from home may need to be patient.
There are many benefits in making your home your workplace. It is only when you actually begin working in your new environment that you appreciate these. They include:-
• Flexible scheduling
• Customise your environment
• Casual clothes
• Easier to make phone calls
• No distractions from colleagues
• No stress of commuting
• Save money on lunches
• Better work/family balance
It is also important to balance the pros of working at home against the cons. Some of the issues to be aware of include:-
• Social distractions
• Difficulty sticking to routines
• Temptation to take power naps
• Lack of face-to-face communication
• No chitchat
• Feeling of isolation
In recent months we have seen a number of employers come forward to suggest a mix of office hours and home-based hours. Initial feedback suggests that this is something that many people would prefer. This offers a degree of flexibility while also ensuring that all employees “stay in the loop” and maintain an element of personal contact.
This is one of the main challenges facing employers and workers. But, unfortunately, adjusting a job role to accommodate a more flexible approach while maintaining that vital “team spirit” is not easy!
When it became evident that more people would need to work from home through the COVID 19 pandemic, HMRC brought in new legislation. This ensured that those working from home were able to reclaim expenses from their employer. However, there was and still is one proviso, the ability to reclaim expenses relates to assets solely for business use. In addition, you can also claim between £4 and £6 per week when working from home without receipts. This is to cover household expenses such as heating, electricity and broadband.
If you exceed the £6 a week limit, you will need to provide additional evidence to cover expenditure. In situations where you are able to use employer equipment in a private capacity, this will be classed as a benefit in kind. It would be subject to Class 1A National Insurance and recorded by a form P11D. Many experts believe that HMRC will at some point revisit the whole concept of working from home and the tax structure.
Homeworkers of the future may find it difficult to balance family life with working life. Already we are starting to see companies issuing new advice and guidance to employees choosing to work at home. The government has also been vocal on this particular subject offering an array of additional guidance notes. In theory, balancing family life and working life seems easy; simply close the office door. However, it is not always that simple!
Self-discipline will be a very important attribute when working from home and looking to finish that important job. It is crucial that you are able to differentiate between work time and family time. While planning each hour of every day is not easy, there should be strict parameters and rules. You need to have your work desk, an area set aside for your working day. This area needs to be comfortable yet practical, uncluttered, yet contain all of the equipment and information you require. It is not simply a case of putting a computer desk, computer and other equipment in a room. It takes more planning than that!
Splitting your day job from your private life is not only beneficial to your employer, but it also gives you time to focus on your partner, children or simply chill yourself.
Creating work at home guidelines is a challenging job in itself, never mind the challenges facing those who are making the switch. Workers will need support from management and colleagues to ensure this works for all parties. It is also essential that homeworkers are available and contactable during working hours. There may also be some occasions where assistance or input is required outside working hours.
All members of staff must be aware of the options available. The working from home guidelines should be available to everybody and, where practical, everyone given the same opportunity to adjust their working environment. Whether working in an office or at home, all workers should be treated the same. This includes all inter-company communication, job opportunities and any updates on the business. Just because you are based at home does not mean that you should miss out on the latest news!
There are potentially huge cost savings with a home office compared to commercial premises. It is generally accepted that the cost of retaining an employee is between 1.5 and 2 times their salary. Of course, this will vary depending upon the type of job and the industry, but it gives you an idea of the potential savings with a home office. Consequently, we may see many job adverts in the future where people are based at home.
As your employer is only contributing to household costs while fully financing business costs, there is no rent as such with home-based employees. It is perfectly feasible that some companies will be able to downsize their office space going forward and save significant rental charges. There are also personal costs to the employee such as travel, vehicle wear and tear and other expenses such as lunch. So, whether considering moving your job lock stock and barrel to your home or continuing to work in the office environment, there’s a lot to think about.
At first glance, it is difficult to see any downside if given the option to do your job at home instead of the office. You can simply roll out of bed, slip into your private room and begin your working day. The cost benefits are fairly straightforward, the tax indications well documented with an array of new government regulations, support and guidance issued on a regular basis. It is only when we delve into the mechanics of this new trend that the cracks begin to emerge, and we find that home-working is not for everybody.
One of the main challenges is to remain focused, separating your working life and your private life while also maintaining close contact with your colleagues. This option will be more relevant to some industries than others and significantly improve efficiency with some jobs, but it will require careful consideration. The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way we think about the workplace, health and safety and the social aspect of our working life and private life. There was already a trend emerging prior to the covid outbreak, and this is likely to continue. At what pace, that’s the question?
Workers, employers, governments and also the tax authorities have had to adapt to the coronavirus pandemic. In the midst of various lockdowns, there was a need to maintain a degree of economic activity, hence the push towards a home working environment. As we touched on above, while there are numerous benefits, there are also issues to consider. Switching from the office to home will not suit every employee, employer, and for specific industries, it is just not viable.
Health and safety concerns were certainly at the front of many employers and employees minds in the midst of the pandemic. The introduction of vaccinations and improved hospital treatment, slashing death rates, has helped to reduce some of these concerns. However, until we can say for sure that the worst of the coronavirus pandemic is over, it is difficult to say with any real certainty how the home working trend will progress.
We know that it is here to stay; there are significant benefits, and demand for a home-based job will increase in the future. That said, there will need to be improvements in guidance, regulations, and support to accommodate this. In addition, business efficiency and profitability will decide how far this trend goes.
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