Employees are demanding to work differently – the '9am-5pm, job for life' model is fast becoming out of date, and agile working, flexibility and portfolio careers are the buzz words 'du jour'.

With housing costs in major cities having made central living out of reach for most, and new technology allowing working practices to evolve, many employees are looking to work for employers who are willing to embrace regular home-working and have in place the technology to allow this.

Cutting out the commute can be a win:win for all; offering opportunities for the employer to reduce/ reallocate office space and, for the worker, the benefit of valuable time-savings. So for employers keen to win in the war for talent, an enthusiasm for looking imaginatively at how and where their employees work is key.

However, beware the bear trap that is ‘out of sight out of mind’. Employers’ responsibilities towards their employees don’t stop at the revolving doors in the HQ atrium. Employers are still responsible for their employees, in many respects, even if they work from home and as such, the contract of employment may need to be updated accordingly and a number of practical considerations addressed if these arrangements are being put in place.

For example, care needs to be taken to ensure that the home environment offers a safe place of work for the employee and Working Time obligations and data protection requirements must continue to be met. Equally the employer will want to ensure that acceptable confidentiality standards can be maintained and that expectations as to required levels of productivity are clearly understood by the worker.

Key issues for employers

There are a number of considerations to address when agreeing to an agile working arrangement.

Health and safety

An employer is responsible for an employee's health, safety and welfare so far as is reasonably practicable. This means that employers must conduct risk assessments of all the work activities carried out by employees, including for those working from home. Consider how you might regulate stress levels, how to ensure rest breaks and other Working Time obligations will be met, whether specialist equipment is required or needs to be safety tested or virus and security protected, first aid arrangements, and reporting work-related accidents. The Health and Safety Executive provides useful guidance regarding homeworking.

Data protection and security

Employers will want to ensure that acceptable confidentiality standards can be maintained and they will need to carry out a risk assessment of the data protection implications of agile working. This would include consideration of who might have access to the employee's computer? What rules do you have regarding encryption, use of passwords, and the transfer of data between home and office? Is the employee's home secure and what measures should be taken against accidental loss, destruction or damage?

Insurance and consents

Check your employer's liability insurance covers employees working from home. Make sure your actions (or any lack of action) don’t invalidate the insurance. Remind the homeworker that they may need consent from their mortgage provider to work from home.

Working Time

Employers will want to ensure that expectations as to required levels of productivity are clearly understood by the worker and they will also need to ensure that homeworkers do not exceed the 48 hour limit on their working week when travel is taken into account (or that they have opted out of the maximum hours' cap). Normally, time spent by an employee travelling to their place of work would not count as "working time" under the Working Time Regulations 1998. However, where the employee's normal place of work is their home and they travel to their employer's premises or to see clients/customers, this could count as "working time".

Expenses

Clearly spell out who is expected to pay for what; eg computer equipment, printer ink and paper, travel to the office etc.

Hours of work

Specify when the employee will need to be available for work. For example, will the employee be required to observe strict office hours, have complete flexibility over when they work, or have certain "core hours" when they must be available. Will the employee be required to account for their time and if so, how?

Trial period

Consider allowing the homeworking for a trial period, and include this in the contract, so you can assess whether the arrangement will work longer term. It is also worth including the right to require the employee to revert to office-based working.

With employees increasingly welcoming the opportunity to have more flexibility about where and when they work, employers, keen to distinguish themselves from others in the war for talent, may see real rewards if they are able to offer this.