Working from home – a guide for small business owners

Working from home is becoming increasingly popular, and it’s not just the big corporates who are offering their staff the chance to work away from the office. Savvy small business owners are now looking to enjoy the benefits it can bring to their ventures.

Changes in the law from 2014 mean that employers are legally obliged to consider flexible working requests from all employees. A flexible working request could, for example, include, working from home or from different locations, working flexibly, or staggered hours.

While some companies may see the current flexible working laws as constricting their business, it can actually be a very positive thing to offer employees.

Working from home – potentially major benefit for employees

By cutting out the daily commute, it can lead to a more efficient use of time. Reducing, or removing, the daily chore of traveling to and from work is usually a very big perk for the employee, and can be more attractive than a pay rise!

If an employee takes an hour to travel to, and from, work every day, by letting them work from home you are effectively creating 10 extra hours of free time for them every week. With so many employees feeling time-poor, this can transform their quality of life.

For businesses able to offer working from home, it is clearly potentially a huge benefit that can be used to attract, motivate and retain employees.

It can also reduce the cost of premises for an employer – which can be quite a drain for start-ups and small businesses. So how do you go about it.

Is your business suitable for homeworking?

Firstly, you should assess whether your business is suitable for offering employees the opportunity to work from home. The areas that tend to work best are sales, marketing and customer services.

Anything that is phone-based; jobs that can be done with remote access, such as IT support, or training; writing or research-based jobs, such as copywriting, editing, and research; and some administrative and finance jobs.

Personality types

You also need to consider personality type. Time management skills, self-motivation, discipline and basic IT skills are critical to anybody working from home successfully.

Sometimes, business owners have to look closely at their own behaviour too. If you are going to let people work from home, you have to trust them to get on with the job, giving you regular updates, but

not micro-managing them. This can require a cultural shift for some managers, or business heads.

Physical requirements

There are physical requirements for a home office that you should consider. A home office should have a work space and a reasonable working environment; and somewhere secure to keep any confidential information.

Don’t forget that you are still liable for your employees, wherever they work, so you should ensure that the have up-to-date security both in their home and on their PC.

If you are setting up a home office for an employee, you are responsible for making sure that it complies with health and safety regulations. Either you or the employee should carry out an assessment of the home office, that includes;

  • Safety of the electrical equipment use
  • Seating and layout of the PC workstation
  • Adequate lighting, ventilation and temperature
  • Checking for obvious safety hazard such as trailing cables.

You should give the home worker your feedback, and advice on health and safety, and keep a record of what has been done.

Employees working from home should have a business telephone line, broadband, a PC and printer and any other equipment required to do their job.

Use technology for successful home working

Technology developments mean that often an employee can work from home without your customers noticing. Most telecoms operators will re-route calls if you want to use a landline and intranets mean that you can keep everyone up to speed with company news and information.

Hosted databases, and remote access solutions mean that you can keep employees working from home connected with email, databases and office files. Make sure that you provide proper internet security to protect your information, and your hardware, from unauthorised access, or attack.

Stay in touch

Make sure staff working from home feel isolated, or cut off from the rest of the office. Keep in regular phone contact, and make regular use of video conferencing facilities. You can easily set up video calls for free with services like Skype.

It’s also a good idea to arrange a regular face-to-face meeting, and the occasional social event with staff that don’t frequent the office.

Review your contracts of employment

You will need to amend the contracts of employment for any staff working from home if the original contract specifies your office as the place of work, or if there are other material changes to the job.

It should be straightforward to draft a modification to the existing contract, that both you and the employee agree and sign.

Make sure you are clear on terms, such as what is company property, what the company will pay for, such as telephone lines, broadband etc, and any changes to pay, hours, and holiday. This letter should also state that the employee agrees to comply with health and safety regulations.

It is important that both parties agree to any amendments to the employment contract, so that the employee doesn’t feel pressured into changing their working conditions.

If an employee considers that they have been forced, or pushed into a change in their working conditions, it could lead to a charge of constructive dismissal.

Check your business insurance policies

Remember your home worker is employed by you, so you are still responsible for their working conditions.

You should also check your business insurance – make sure you are covered for staff and their equipment while they are working from home. Business equipment at home is not usually covered under the home worker’s home contents insurance.

You should also pay close attention to your employers liability insurance. Remember it is a legal requirement for employers to have a suitable policy in place. If you don’t, you can be fined £2,500 for every day you don’t have cover.

Benefits of working from home

The benefits to employers of allowing staff to work from home can include:

  • Better productivity and efficiency
  • More efficient use of time
  • Lower levels of sick leave
  • Improved staff loyalty
  • An attractive, low-cost benefit to existing and potential staff
  • Reduced cost of premises

Potential pitfalls

You need to make sure that you stay in touch with your employee – it may sound obvious, but it can be easy to lose control over what they are doing. Make sure you have regular meetings and telephone updates.

Equally, you need to make sure that your employee doesn’t feel isolated and loses motivation. Make sure they are included on training courses, so they don’t lose skills; and set clear goals and objectives, that are reviewed regularly.

Last updated: 19th June, 2022

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