Eight things you can do to help your employees work from home

From April 2014, any employee who has more than 26 weeks of continuous service with you will have the right to request flexible working, and you will be required to give the request serious consideration.

The good news is that the latest Workplace Employment Relations Study has shown that enabling flexible working, including working some or all of the time from home, leads to a happier and more productive workforce.

Employees can save time and stress by avoiding the rush-hour commute, or fit their work in around family commitments. Those members of staff who feel they have greater autonomy and freedom over how and when they do their work are more likely to “go the extra mile” for their employers.

But there can be one major challenge to working from home – and, no, it’s not the irresistible lure of a comfortable sofa and the Jeremy Kyle Show. It’s the technology. The best laid flexible-working plans can be thrown into disarray by a dodgy internet connection or a corrupted flash drive. How can you guard against these problems and help your staff to work effectively from home?

1. Make sure your staff have a good home internet connection.

Yes, this costs, but not nearly as much as the time lost when a cheap-as-chips domestic broadband service cracks up when the kids get home from school.

2. Make sure your business has the best internet service you can afford.

Not all internet connections are created equal. Many small businesses suffer from fluctuating broadband speed, which can have an impact on day-to-day operations as well as on the connectivity of people working from home. Consider your options to make sure your connection is the most stable and reliable it can be.

3. Install an IP-based phone system to connect the employee’s home with the office system.

It creates a more professional image if home-working employees can make and receive telephone calls on the office number, avoids poor quality calls from mobiles, and makes expenses easier to deal with. Voice over Internet Protocol technologies can be a useful way of making these connections.

4. Ensure you have a seamless email system.

With the vast majority of business communications now taking place via email, it is essential that home workers are able to pick up and send emails working from home as if they were in the office using webmail or other Outlook connection options.

5. Think about printing requirements.

The options of printing at home, the office or both need to be thought through, from a technical standpoint as well as in terms of quality and confidentiality. Everything is possible but a clear set-up ensures documents are not printed in the wrong place – wasting paper and possibly making a confidential document openly available.

6. Decide between using a VPN connection or a Virtual Workstation interface.

A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is a means of connecting external machines to your network using the internet. Your home workers can log in and connect directly to the office network from home. A Virtual Workstation, on the other hand, can be set up on the office server and home workers connect to it using a web interface without the need for a VPN connection. A major advantage of a Virtual Workstation is that it can used from any location and with any hardware, so you do not have to spend time setting up individual machines and is available for everyone to use.

7. Consider giving everyone a work laptop.

There is substantial value in assigning everyone a portable work laptop that they can take from work to home. It is set up the way they want it to be, and there is no risk of saving a document on to a home computer or having to compete for time on the computer with other members of the family.

8. Find a solution to the document-sharing challenge.

Sending documents everywhere via email slows down the systems, eats up your storage, and creates a version-control nightmare. If employees are going to work effectively from home, you have to create systems and policies that enable them to share documents from the office network. Most small businesses do this by creating shared network drives either on the office server or in the cloud, using applications such as Docushare, Dropbox, Skydrive or Googledocs.

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