North East Connected

U-turn on working from home could leave SMEs in a spin, says HR expert

New government measures to combat COVID-19 will pile the pressure on small and medium size firms, according to Darlington-based HR2day.

The HR firm has been working closely with SMEs throughout the lockdown, working through the details of the furlough scheme, and supporting firms to introduce new remote working practices.

Although the government originally backed the shift to remote working, it withdrew that support by late summer as the harsh economic impact of the shift on, for example, shops and public transport, became clear. This week, employees were encouraged, by the government, to work from home if they can. For those unable to work from home, the government said they should continue going to work, providing it is COVID secure.

Nicky Jolley, founder and Managing Director of HR2day, said: “There are too many grey areas in the new measures introduced this week, particularly in the guidance around home working.

“Lots of small business now have working from home practices in place, but have not had the opportunity to assess whether productivity matches up – they are still busy catching up on business lost or put on hold in the summer. They can’t be sure whether their business can thrive with another shift to home working.

“Home working will start to feel less appealing for many, with the colder weather and shorter days, and we know there has been a huge increase in calls to domestic abuse charities across lockdown, so employers need to factor in that home is not always a safe place for everyone.

“The rights of staff to work from home during the pandemic remains a thorny issue for firms operating in traditional industries or customer-facing jobs, where a large proportion of staff don’t need a computer to do their jobs, so home working is not possible for everyone. Here, giving office-based staff the scope to work from home, whilst requiring others to continue attending, can create divisions amongst staff, which in turn damages company morale.

“Firms have to make balanced decisions, considering the governments’ public safety aims whilst looking after their staff, which is why we may see firms continuing to ask employees to attend work where possible, with them continuing to invest in their COVID-secure environments into the winter, as we learn more about the virus. Blended home working, with some days in the office, could help many employers and employees get through this challenging period.

“Threatening firms with fines of up to £10,000 feels like a backwards step at a time when all employers and employees are thinking about what ‘doing the right thing’ looks like for them.”

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