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05 July 2022

Working from home: the controversy

4 mins

Although we no longer follow European Union (EU) decisions since our formal departure from the EU it is interesting to analyse the parallels and differences in various approaches to the issue of remote working, whether to continue with it, and if so, at what cost.

There are largely three options for employers:

  1. Full-time back to the office working
  2. Hybrid working (permitting the workforce to split their time between the office and remote working)
  3. Fully remote working

Key business considerations

Many organisations have been exploring different types of hybrid arrangements to see what suits their organisation best. There are many considerations from a company’s point of view, some of which include taking into account lease and insurance costs, productivity of the workforce, and mental health implications.

An example of one particular company’s approach as of late, is the option to work from home as often as they decide, but in return for only 80% of their current salary. This approach is interesting as it offers the benefits of remote working which many people desire, but requires the individual to weigh up whether these benefits are worth a 20% pay cut. The fact that employees do not have to live in the capital, or within a commutable distance, factors into this pay cut, as the London weighting is therefore not required. 

A radically different stance has been taken by those in the Netherlands, whose government introduced a new tax-free work from home allowance, which came into effect on 1 January 2022. This allowance is intended to cover the additional costs associated with working from home, such as increased use of electricity and water. Employees are essentially reimbursed two euros per day for these increased costs. Although this isn’t a substantial amount, it demonstrates the different stances governments and companies are taking toward working from home. The UK Government have also recognised the additional expenses incurred when working from home, demonstrated by the offer of tax relief for additional household costs when working remotely. When applying, one may be able to claim tax relief for gas, electricity, metered water and business phone calls.

Allowing staff to continue to work from home will impact upon other business decisions, such as whether to retain their current office space or whether they now require less square footage. Should a company require a reduced office space, this may release further monies from their budget to be spent elsewhere.

Some employers have been creative in response to the new flexible working world. For example, Tesco are piloting a scheme to have flexible office space in stores. Some employers have entered into this pilot scheme with Tesco which will see them set up offices for their employees working remotely.

Given the current cost of living crisis, companies have been looking at ways in which to help employees manage their living costs. An obvious solution, for the job roles that can be performed from home, is to allow employees to work from home more often. Employers should re-evaluate whether employees’ presence in the office is necessary when weighing up the current situation in which for many, travelling to work can be a financial struggle. For those who cannot work from home, strategies have included offering condensed hours to employees to reduce the frequency of their commute and therefore overall expenses. 

As a business, whether you choose to permanently have your staff working from home or adopt the hybrid style of working, it is important that you continue to ensure that you undertake risk assessments in relation to health and safety checks at an employee’s home, have clear processes in place to monitor the productivity of your staff, and protect the business’s confidential information. It is also important to ensure that your managers regularly check in with their staff to ensure they do not feel isolated from the business.

Many companies do offer the option to work from home as it is often considered an attractive option for applicants, especially now, in the current climate. As more job adverts offer the option to work from home, it is clear for many sectors that the traditional way of working nine to five in an office has changed.

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