Over the past few years, the working world has experienced numerous shifts, evolving how we work in so many different ways. Not just how we work, but also where and when we work.

Working from home (or the trendy WFH) and flexible working have transitioned from novelty concepts into commonplace practice embraced by businesses of all shapes and sizes.

That’s why, for many business owners, putting a working from home policy in place can be such a great idea. In this blog post, we explore the rules and regulations around this kind of policy, as well as offering our advice on how to create one.

The rise of home working

The Covid pandemic and the various associated lockdowns were, of course, a huge catalyst in working from home becoming more common, as well as the rise of hybrid working, splitting time between home and being on-site.

According to the ONS, “the proportion of homeworkers planning to work mostly from home rose 12 percentage points between April 2021 and February 2022”.

The same research shows that the number of people working from home exclusively has fallen since then. However, the number of people operating between their place of work and their home rose, suggesting that hybrid work is here to stay.

There are many benefits that come with home-based and hybrid working in businesses where it’s a viable option. Employee morale, staff retention, and saving costs on overheads, just to name a few. That said, if your business is going to reap the rewards, this is something that needs to be managed considerately and efficiently.

What is a working from home policy?

A work from home policy serves the same purpose as any other kind of policy your business might have. In this case, think of it as an agreement between employer and employee.

It ensures everyone is treated the same, defines any regulations, and helps you manage expectations too. How you actually document it depends on you – for example some businesses have a staff handbook for employees to access when they need to check something.

Am I legally obliged to put a work from home policy in place?

No, work from home policies are not a legal requirement and in some cases, they won’t provide any particularly practical benefits. This is really down to the business owner to decide.

Some businesses find it has lots of advantages, others less so, so it’s about finding the balance. It’s also worth noting that while working from home and hybrid work have their advantages, there are also potential stumbling blocks to anticipate. Having a clear policy in place might help you to avoid or navigate these.

The benefits of having a WFH policy

Whether employees are working from home exclusively or incorporating hybrid work, a working from home policy can be super useful. Below are some of the main benefits of putting this kind of policy in place and why it’s worth investing time into, even though it may not be a legal obligation.

Helps set boundaries

A policy will set limits so that employees know what is, and isn’t, acceptable. This includes things like working hours and when you expect them to be available, even when they aren’t sharing the same physical workspace.

Provides security and structure for staff

Policies aren’t just for the employer; they can also be attractive to staff as a source of clarity and structure to follow. When introducing new ways of working that move away from tradition, this can also instil a real sense of security.

Supports a healthy work-life balance

When working from home, some employees feel that they need to prove their productivity and work extra hours to do so. A WFH policy with clear expectations around remote working hours can help control this so your workforce doesn’t burn itself out.

Underpins important dos and don’ts

Like managing expectations and setting boundaries, a policy will also make clear to everybody in the business what they can and can’t do regarding working from home. Anything outside of that can then be discussed on a case-by-case basis.

Protects the employer/business

As well as providing structure for employees, it also helps to safeguard employers against any problems. If staff go beyond what the policy outlines, for example, the employer can refer to the document and more easily address the issue. Without a policy in place, it can be more difficult to manage situations.

Helps streamline internal communications

All the above makes for a more streamlined flow of communication between employer and employee. Having a policy in place for everybody to access makes life a lot easier!

What to include in a working from home policy

When it comes to actually creating your work from home policy, there are plenty of templates online that you can use. Or your own HR team might have an internal document structure of their own that you’d prefer to follow.

Where the content is concerned, here are some things we’d recommend including:

Stipulated working hours

Let employees know when you expect them to be available, even if your ‘virtual office’ hours are a little different to the traditional. Encourage staff to communicate when they plan to be online and working, especially if they’re in different time zones.

Communication guidance

Outline how employees should be communicating with each other. This might be via email, or you might have a virtual communication tool running such as Slack. This section should also include guidelines around expected response times.

Time-tracking requirements (if any)

If you have a time-tracking tool in place, outline requirements for use and what type of information you expect to be recorded. Do you just want to see when staff are working on billable work? Or do you also want a full breakdown of internal comms too, for example?

Security processes that must be followed

If there is any security protocol, systems, software, or plugins that staff need to use in order to protect the company’s data and information when they work remotely, this needs detailing in your policy.

Equipment allowances

Some companies with home-working staff will allow employees a budget to kit out their remote workspace with a chair, desk equipment or high-quality headphones, for example. If this is something you want to offer, your policy is the place to detail what is available and the process involved.

Expenses guidelines

Although it’s not obligatory, some employers choose to supplement internet or phone bills, for example. So, if you plan to reimburse employees for expenses incurred as a result of business-related activity at home, you can outline those details in this section.

Health and Safety

This won’t be the case for all businesses, but some employers might want to go out and assess their employees’ workstations for health and safety purposes. If this is something you’d like to implement, you’ll need to outline the details of this in your policy.

Some other top tips on creating your work from home policy

Now you know more about the benefits of putting a WFH policy in place and the kinds of things you should include, here are some final pearls of wisdom to help you along the way.

Be as detailed as possible

The more specific the information you provide in the policy itself, the less confusion, and fewer questions there are likely to be. It’s also important to review the policy and make sure it’s updated if anything changes. Regular review and revision will ensure that the policy evolves with your business and its workforce in a positive way.

Seek professional guidance

Working from home policies aren’t a legal requirement for businesses so this step isn’t compulsory. However, if you do want to have a professional cast their eye over your policy before it is actioned, it can’t hurt.

This might be a legal expert or a HR professional—or both. Either way, this will give you peace of mind and confidence when communicating with your employees.