Home working policy and procedure

1. Purpose

• The purpose of this policy and procedure is to provide a framework of understanding about how home working operates at HOS. It is based upon the principles outlined below, which also meet the requirements of all relevant employment legislation and support a new and modern way of working

• HOS recognises that for mutual benefit homeworking is an option for many job roles within HOS. This policy defines what home working means for HOS, what needs to be in place to ensure the wellbeing of employees. It is the HOS’s policy to encourage open discussion with employees to ensure that questions and problems can be resolved as quickly as possible.

2. Scope

• The policy and procedure applies to all employees and agency temps. In order for the policy to be effective, it is essential that colleagues and those involved in the management of colleagues are aware of the policy and procedure and adhere to it. Ultimately it is the responsibility of the Senior Leadership Team in conjunction with HR & CS Manager to ensure that this is the case.

• No HOS employee will be deemed as a home-based worker so there will be no change to HOS’s responsibilities as an employer or of employees’ responsibilities to work to required policies and processes.

3. Core principles

• HOS will provide appropriate training and support to those involved in the management of the colleagues. Any colleague at a management level should satisfy themselves that they understand the requirements of this policy and the related policies and procedures.

• HOS will promote best practice in the management of home working. It will regularly review its provisions to ensure that they are legally compliant and reflect best practice.

• HOS will support home working and this will be agreed between the line manager and the individual taking into consideration team and business needs. Individual needs for flexibility will also be considered on a case by case basis.

• Whilst home working, employees must take responsibility for their work during HOS office hours; the system is reliant on there being trust between managers and employees. This is so fundamental that any breach of trust will be treated very seriously and may be regarded as misconduct. Appropriate action may follow under the Disciplinary Policy. If misconduct is found, the agreement to work at home may be withdrawn.

• Working at home is a benefit available to all staff and not a requirement nor an automatic right and days must be agreed in advance with the line manager. There will be some circumstances where working from home is not a viable option or where the operational needs necessitate a different approach. For example a member of staff whose performance is being reviewed under the capability procedure may not be considered suitable for home working. Such circumstances are expected to be the exception not the norm.

4. Job roles

• HOS believes that some roles lend themselves to homeworking more readily than others.

• Under homeworking roles can be undertaken from the office or home. The balance between office and home working will vary depending on the role and the person concerned, and the days which are office-based days, and which are home-based days will be agreed. Home working will normally be no more than 2 days per week to support team engagement.

• All roles will have their principle work place as the HOS office and, unless a formal contractual arrangement through a Flexible Working request is in place, will be subject to review and change.

5. Employees in probation period

• Depending upon the confidence and abilities of the member of staff, managers may need to plan for colleagues to come into the office rather than working from home during their first weeks in post.

• This may mean reorganising working arrangements for other team members who may be needed to support the member of staff by coming into the office and/or asking other members of the team to work from homeon particular days.

• The decision on when an employee can work from home will be the decision of the manager taking into consideration performance and work allocated.

6. Home working in practice

• Colleagues where home working is mutually agreed will be asked to complete an agreement that they understand their responsibilities and those of HOS while working at home. This includes the areas covered below. Annex 1 lays out the Home Working Agreement that should signed by the colleague and the line manager. This will be held in the colleagues personnel folder.

6.1 Insurance cover

• Colleagues should ensure that all HOS property is used appropriately and responsibly and that all reasonable precautions are taken to prevent damage and theft. Any damage or theft of HOS property must be reported to the line manager immediately.

• Colleagues working at home are covered by HOS’s Employer’s Liability Insurance and Public Liability Insurance providing the rules of this policy have been followed.

6.2 Communication and contact

• Communication arrangements must be robust. Colleagues working from home should be readily contactable, normally by email and by telephone, during normal working hours. Home workers must let their line manager or colleagues know in advance (where appropriate) of any times they will be out, seeking permission where appropriate.

6.3 Information security

• All colleagues working from home must ensure that they adhere to HOS’s policies, procedures and guidance in relation to Information Security, Data Protection and Freedom of Information.

6.4 Health and Safety

• The work that colleagues will be carrying out at home is paper-based or computer-based work and in general such work is not high risk. Nevertheless, HOS has responsibilities under health and safety legislation when colleagues are working from home, including the requirement to undertake appropriate risk assessment. Annex 2 is a Home Working Health and Safety Self-Assessment Checklist that colleagues need to complete and sign and then ask their line manager to sign. This will be held in the colleague’s personnel file.

• Staff will be provided with equipment which is appropriate for their job roles and in line with any reasonable adjustments that an individual has.

• Any other equipment requested outside of the normal equipment provision will need to be considered once a clear business reason has been made by the individual

6.5 Additional household expenses

• HOS will not pay any additional household costs as home working arrangements are deemed a mutual benefit.

7. Attendance and Availability for Work

• Staff must be available and able to work on their contracted days whether they are in the office or working from home, unless absence is for an authorised form of leave or sickness. Any variation to this arrangement can only be made by prior agreement with the manager.

• Employees should remember that the needs of the customer, and the service will always take priority. This will mean that staff are expected to be available to come into the office on a working from home day should a need arise. This may include situations when they are unable to connect to the business systems, or if they are asked to do so by their manager e.g. in the event of sickness of a colleague, inadequate cover, emergency or service need.

• Managers will be aware of the personal circumstances of their staff and should try to balance individual needs when calling staff in on working from home days.

• Where an employee is being asked to attend the office at short notice, managers should endeavour to make the call at a time that enables the employee to arrive at their normal starting time. Where this is not possible the employee’s travelling time will be considered as part of their working day

• Staff should log in to the IT and telephony system to clearly indicate their availability status throughout their working day. This entails ensuring that outlook calendars are kept open, accessible to colleagues and are up-to-date

• As a rule staff are expected to work in the same way, whether they are in the office or working from home. For example, if they would usually be available to answer the telephone, respond to emails etc. during the hours the service operates (usually between 9.15am – 5.15pm) they will be expected to do this when working from home, unless a change is agreed with their line manager. Whether or not the line manager agrees to a change, will depend upon the circumstances of the request and its impact on the team and service delivery.

• In the case of a systems failure, employees should contact their manager, who will need to establish the extent of the system failure, the impact on the service and decide on the appropriate course of action. In some cases this will involve seeking advice from senior management. Managers should activate their business contingency plans as appropriate.

8. Patterns of Work

• Working from home does not mean that employees are able to choose when and where they work. The days that employees work in the office or work from home will be organised, planned and agreed in advance with their line manager. This will not be in a public place EG library or internet café.

• The needs of the service will always take priority, however a collaborative approach between management and staff is more likely to achieve a mutually beneficial arrangement.

• Ultimately the manager will have the responsibility for ensuring that service needs take priority; that staff are treated fairly and are trusted to take responsibility for themselves and their work when working from home.

• Managers will, in consultation with their staff, decide a pattern that best meets the needs of the service.

• Employees must understand that these patterns are subject to change; there is no entitlement to work from home on specific days of the week. Consequently employees must be ready to alter their working pattern if required and should be wary of making any commitments on homeworking days as these may need to change. More guidance on this is provided in the FAQs available.

• The arrangements for the scheduling of rotas will vary to suit operational needs. Rotas will also need to be reviewed to take into account new starters and leavers.

• Working from home is not a substitute for caring for dependants. Employees are expected to have made alternative arrangements for the care of their dependants during their working day.

9. Exceptions from Homeworking

• HOS recognises that there are circumstances where this may not be possible.

• The following are examples of where managers may consider making exceptions.  This is not an exhaustive list and advice may need to be sought from HR depending on the circumstances.

Staff who require specialist equipment.

• There will be a priority seating for staff who have special requirements and where hot-desking is not appropriate.  However, the HOS does not want to prevent them from having the same opportunities as other staff to work from home

• In discussion with the individual, and seeking advice, managers should take individual circumstances into account and ensure that staff are treated fairly and according to their particular needs.

Staff whose personal circumstances are not conducive to home working.

• There could be a number of reasons where working at home is not possible for a member of staff, e.g. shared flats/houses, insufficient space, someone else caring for children/relatives in the home, etc.  In the short-term, they may need to attend the office more frequently than other members of staff and managers are expected to manage this in consultation with other team members.

10. Hours

• The HOS operates a 35 hour working week. The scheme of flexible working hours will continue to operate.

• Employees will work their contractual hours whether, or not, they are working in the office or from home.

• It is expected that standard office hours will continue to be 09.15 -17.15 for most services. Staff will therefore be required to work hours that facilitate and enable the operation of the services.

• Hours can be worked flexibly in line with service needs and with the agreement of the line manager in order to achieve a better work life balance.   Managers will therefore need to consider the suitability of flexi-time within the operational demands of the service.

• Where flexi-time is operating, the scheme will be applied as set out below. Managers may make minor changes to meet particular needs.

• Flexi-time is not restricted to days worked in the office, however employees will need to agree any extra hours to be worked from home in advance with their manager.  Consistent extra hours need to be agreed as a flexible working request.

• Flexi-time scheme:

  • Bandwidth hours: 08.00 – 18.30
  • Core time: 10.00 and 16.00
  • A normal working day unless pre agreed
  • Lunch break: There is no set time for lunch but a break of at least 30 minutes must be taken; for standard office hours this would normally be between 12.00 and 14.15.
  • Accounting period: The four week period over which staff work their accountable hours. All staff should operate the same period accounting period
  • Accountable hours: The hours worked over the four week accounting period; for full time staff this is 140 (pro-rata for part time employees)
  • Flexi-day: A maximum of two flexi days (pro-rata for part-time staff) in an accounting period may be taken off by prior arrangement with the manager.
  • Carry over of hours in credit or debit: The allowance of 14 hours worked above or below accountable hours may be carried over between accounting periods. This figure is pro-rata for part-time staff.
  • Additional hours: These are hours that have been previously agreed to be worked outside the bandwidth.
  • Timesheets: It is good practice that a timesheet be completed each day to the nearest 5 minutes. They should be approved by line manager and available for examination when required.

11. Absences

Sickness

• As when due in the office where an employee is unable to attend for work due to sickness, they must on the first day of absence, contact their manager at the earliest opportunity.

Working from home when sick

• As a guide working from home is not to be used as a substitute for a working in the office day, when an employee feels “under the weather” i.e. they feel unable to make the journey into the office but feel able to continue their normal work from home. Last minute changes could impact on other team members and are therefore difficult to accommodate.

• It is however recognised that there may be teams or circumstances where such requests may be agreed by exception. In their discussion the manager should consider the hours the employee expects to be able to work and their likely output before determining whether it is appropriate for the employee to work from home in this situation. It is also imperative that the employee has the necessary equipment at home to be able to do this (i.e laptop etc.,).

• An employee who has reported in as sick and will have it recorded as such, is not expected to work either in the office or at home. Managers should be respectful of this.

12. Performance

• Working from home relies on outcome based management. This means that staff are managed based upon their results. To achieve this staff are expected to deliver outcomes within their contractual hours. The arrangements for how hours are worked will be agreed in advance with line managers.

• This approach will require a strong commitment by managers and employees to plan and ensure that regular 1-2-1 meetings take place and relevant targets are used to represent the outcomes required.

• Working from home requires some changes in relationship between employees and their managers. As a result there are different responsibilities for all staff. All responsibilities are set out below.

Employees will:

a) Agree working arrangements with their manager (and in consultation with other team members where appropriate)

b) Ensure that their manager knows when and where they are working at all times

c) Ensure their Outlook calendar is up-to-date and their working status is known at all times

d) Meet agreed work objectives, deadlines and monitoring arrangements, with a focus on outcomes and achievement

e) Take care of HOS equipment such as laptops, particularly when travelling or working from home. Any loss, damage or theft must be reported to the manager and the police if appropriate.

f) Comply with the IT security and data protection requirements

g) Complete the Data Protection Act training module

h) Take reasonable care of their own health and safety and follow the Display Screen Guidance and other health and safety arrangements and procedures

Managers will:

a) Ensure that safe working practices are understood by employees and that they have the tools they need to do their jobs effectively

b) Ensure, in consultation with other managers, that working arrangements mean we do not exceed our desk capacity on any one day.

c) Plan which members of staff are working in and out of the office on any given day. This will necessitate thinking creatively about how home working could work for their staff.

Managers will ensure that their staff:

a) Understand that it is not compulsory to work from home, but that it is an available benefit

b) Have access to the appropriate technology to work effectively both in the office environment and from home

c) Have access to appropriate training and support to work effectively in the new ways

d) Take responsibility for creating a safe working environment when working from home

e) Have access to appropriate support equipment to assist in the creation of a safe working environment when working from home

f) Have SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely) objectives, priorities and targets which can be measured in line with the Performance Reviews, as well as clarity about the outcomes expected of their job role

g) Have their individual circumstances and requirements (particularly where an employee has a disability) taken into account, including the needs of newly appointed staff, trainees and apprentices who may initially need to come into the office more often for support rather than working at home

h) Have access to continuous performance review process which includes regular 1:1 conversations and/or supervision

i) Ensure that information governance and health and safety requirements are adhered to at all times

13. Recruitment

• Working within a home working environment requires particular skills. It is therefore important that these are incorporated into JD/ES when making new appointments.

• As services move to home working the following criteria are to be included in the employee specification for each post. These criteria should then be applied and assessed as part of the normal selection process. Whilst they can be found below they are also contained at Annex 3.

Managerial posts

• The HOS home working policy means that staff maybe managed remotely. Managers must therefore be able to:

  • tailor their management style as appropriate to the needs of dispersed teams/ employees
  • understand and apply different strategies for the effective management of performance by outcomes
  • set clear SMART objectives for staff within a working environment
  • address conflicting needs of staff in a fair and equitable manner that engenders confidence and trust
All other posts

• The HOS home working policy allows staff to work from home. To be able to do so you must:

  • Have demonstrable experience of working to complete targets/objectives through independent working and problem solving,
  • Make effective use of time management and prioritising skills

• The recruitment pages on the HOS website will be updated to reference the home working strategy. Interview panels should however be prepared to provide a fuller explanation of how home working operates within the team.

New starters

• The induction and probationary procedures should be applied to new employees in accordance with the respective policies. Managers will however need to ensure that these employees receive an induction that incorporates the Home Working Policy and Protocols and how these operate within their service area.

14. Expenses and Travel

• In common with most Government Organisations, HOS does not expect to issue additional equipment for home working, other than that which is provided as standard issue, unless there is a medical reason or reasonable adjustment to enable the employee to carry out the duties of the post. Those staff wanting to request additional equipment can complete a business case. Requests will be considered on a case by case basis.

• It is anticipated that, in the majority of cases, the costs of working from home will be offset by the savings in the cost and time of commuting to work, and the benefits of an improved work/life balance. Therefore any costs incurred by working at home will not be met by the HOS

Annexes available upon request to website@housing-ombudsman.org.uk