Skip navigation.

ICT Management. > Making Policies & Best Practice
Networks > Access From Outside
Using Your Computer > Safe & Responsible Computer Use

Home Sweet Home? The joy of telecommuting

By Lasa Information Systems Team

More and more people are working from home, either regularly or occasionally. More and more people depend on their computers for a significant amount of their work. It’s inescapable that more and more people are working on computers at home. If they’re working for you, it’s time you made sure that your organisation is getting the deal it wants. This article examines some of the policy issues thrown up by working from home.

Guiding principles

  • Be clear what you expect when people work from home, preferably in writing.
  • Keep work and domestic life reasonably separate, to protect your information and your image.
  • Be aware that many of your responsibilities as an employer apply equally to people working at home. Don’t forget about insurance or health and safety.
  • Think about the IT support needs of people who work from home. Should they have standard equipment and software? How will you fix problems that occur?

Procedures and responsibilities

Before launching into a discussion of hardware and the like, we need to lay some groundwork. Without wanting to add too much bureaucracy, in the end you may need a written policy to cover the most important points, and to ensure that everyone knows where they stand.

Data Protection and security

Your organisation is responsible for the data processed by your staff, regardless of where they do it. The main difference between working in the office and out of it is in security. What would be the consequences if your staff lost crucial data between home and the office? You may decide that emailing documents to and fro, or giving staff direct access from home to their documents at the office is less of a risk than sticking files onto floppy disks or giving people a laptop which could get stolen en route. How much would it matter if your worker’s partner or teenage children accessed confidential documents on the computer at home? Should you insist on a separate computer for work and home use? Should you provide specific equipment, and insist that it only be used for work? Or is it enough to ask people to use passwords on their documents and to keep their work in a separate area of the computer? For more information on potential security issues see the article from Computing - Remote workers could be your weakest link.

Backups

If you have a centralised system at work backups probably get done. If you rely on individuals, they probably don’t (despite Computanews carrying a warning about backing up, every six months or so for the past twenty years).

So what happens when someone works on a stand-alone computer at home? You also need to think about how you would gain access to the information on the computer used at home. What would happen if the worker fell seriously ill and you needed a vital document from their computer? What about complying with a Subject Access request from a Data Subject whose details were on the home computer? And what about investigating malpractice?

Image

While many people now accept that working from home is a realistic and reasonable option, you do need to watch that it makes a positive contribution to your image. No one cares if your Chief Officer writes their Management Committee reports in dressing gown and slippers, because they won’t know. But when you’re communicating with others, your image can slip.

One of the delights of email is that it can give people excellent communications no matter where they are. But what does it say about you if someone sends work emails from their home internet account?

You may even be breaking the law if they send business communications that do not identify the organisation properly. There are security implications if other people also use the same account, and possible confusion if your worker manages to make a mess of things: who will end up taking responsibility if they manage to libel someone in a message sent to a business contact from a home account?

For example I received an email from ‘Sue Wilmington’ asking if I could carry out some Data Protection training for ‘our housing department’. It was only when I read the email that I realised it was actually from someone called ‘Jack’ (all names have been changed), but I was still none the wiser as to where Jack worked or how to contact him other than by email, because the message didn’t have any contact details and had been sent from a personal account. Only when I actually asked for the details was I given them.

I still have no idea who Sue is. It wasn’t a wilful attempt to mislead me; but it could never have happened if the initial contact had been by letter.

Email guidance

  • Make sure that people sending emails from home provide, as a minimum, a work return address. Ideally emails should be sent from a work account.
  • Make sure that all emails sent in the course of work comply with good practice: identifying the organisation (and the person) clearly, and providing real world contact details (preferably both postal and phone).
  • Emails must comply with the law on written communication. Any information on your note paper (such as company and charity details) must be replicated on emails.
  • Train people in how to access their work emails from home, while maintaining synchronisation between the two systems. Written communication is less likely to be sent from home, but you may need to think about whether to supply headed paper and a laser printer, or to insist that people print out only drafts at home if they have a poorer-quality printer.

Phone lines

People often work at home to avoid the telephone. If you do want people to be accessible at home from outside your organisation, however, you may need to think about a separate line for them. This avoids the embarrassment of the wrong person picking up the phone and saying the wrong thing; it avoids conflict over whose calls have priority; it allows the line to be switched to answerphone out of hours without cutting off the whole household — and the answerphone message can be work-related. It may also allow your worker to have work-related internet access from home at your expense.

Insurance

Most home contents insurance policies do not cover equipment used for business, although some do, provided you tell the company. Your business insurance policy may cover you not just for theft and damage, but for the consequences — interruption to your work and the costs of reinstating lost information; but the policy might not cover equipment you don’t own or that isn’t on your premises. So you need to look into it. Decide who is responsible for what and then make sure that you have the right cover.

Health & Safety

You have health and safety responsibilities for staff who work at home; they also have responsibilities for their own health and safety. As far as computer equipment is concerned, there are fairly obvious points such as making sure that the layout of the working area doesn’t involve trailing wires or overloaded electrical circuits, and the equipment must not contribute to injuries such as RSI. This means making sure that the desk, chair, lighting and other arrangements are as suitable as they have to be in the office. You may want to provide equipment for people who work from home regularly, and you may want to inspect — or get them to report on — their working environment.

Of course, much depends on how often people work from home, and for how long. Those who very occasionally work from home by choice are less likely to suffer long-term effects than people who regularly work from home on a formal basis. For them, in particular, the design of the job also comes into play: you must be careful not to place expectations on them to work in a way that will damage their health or safety.


Paul Ticher is an independent consultant and trainer. With Gill Taylor, a personnel specialist, he has developed a one-day training course looking at all aspects of employing people who work from home — some of which are mentioned in this article. He can be contacted on 0116 273 8191 or as [email protected]

Whilst home working can be a convenient and good solution for employer and employees alike, care needs to be taken to ensure that the chance to work from home is available to different staff consistently and fairly. Further questions to consider include:

  • is home working available to all staff who would like to do it, or can some staff vanish for days more easily than others?
  • what if staff would like to work from home but don’t have a computer – will the organisation supply one? What if their software is non-standard – will the organisation pay for standard software for their home machine? What if their home machine isn’t powerful enough to run standard software?
  • what if staff would like to work from home, but can’t because, for example, they would be disrupted by children?
  • what if staff have little choice other than working from home, because of disruption at work, or because there aren’t adequate computer facilities there?

With the provisions of the Employment Act 2021 giving employees the right to request flexible working (effective from April 2021), and the increasing move towards work / life balance, home working will become an increasingly important issue for all organisations to address.

Further resources


About the author

Lasa Information Systems Team
Lasa's Information Systems Team provides a range of services to third sector organisations including ICT Health Checks and consulting on the best application of technology in your organisation. Lasa IST maintains the knowledgebase. Follow us on Twitter @LasaICT

Glossary

Answerphone, Floppy Disks, Hardware, Internet, Line, Network, PDF, Software

Related articles

Published: 5th December 2021 Reviewed: 8th October 2021

Copyright © 2021 Lasa Information Systems Team

User comments and discussion

If you have useful information to add to this article please Add a comment. Comments will appear after they have been moderated.

Discuss this topic in the Knowledgebase forums. This is a useful place to share knowledge, experiences, and ask questions.

Please sign in or register to be able to post a comment or discussion.