Companies failing to support home workers

Survey: Many companies don't release that they must include teleworkers in annual workplace risk assessments

More than one-third of UK companies may be failing to look after home workers adequately, according to a survey of IT directors, the results of which were published this week which warned firms that they must include teleworkers' homes in their mandatory workplace risk assessment schemes.

Despite the fact that the numbers of global teleworkers is predicted to reach 41 million by 2008, 35 percent of companies surveyed for the report do not include mobile and home-workers when it comes to implementing UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) guidelines. A further 21 percent of the 100 IT directors questioned were unsure on their teleworker support policy.

Graham Ridgeway from management service company Touchpaper, which conducted the research, said companies need to accept that teleworkers should be given the same facilities as on-premises employees. "Home working is on the rise as communications technologies improve and employees seek as better work/life balance," Ridgeway said. "As such people working from home need to be treated the same as those who work from the office with access to support and information."

Home workers should be covered by the same health and safety regulations that apply to office-bound employees such as annual safety checks around electrics, cabling, heating and ventilation as well as seating and workstation positioning.

A spokesperson for the HSE confirmed that home workers should be included in any office risk-assessment but said that the executive had no real prescriptive guidelines on exactly what health and safety checks facilities should be provided by companies.

"Every organisation has to carry out a risk assessment to identify areas of risk and put actions in place to reduce or eliminate any potential issues as far as reasonably possible," she said. "However we are not prescriptive on exactly what companies should do for home workers as it varies from case to case."

Research from analyst firm Gartner released this week shows that teleworking is on the rise globally thanks to the increase in broadband infrastructure and increased pressure from national and regional government on companies to offer flexible working options to employees. In 2004, US legislators approved a bill to penalise federal agencies that failed to provide eligible employees with the option to work from home in 2005.

Gartner also claims that although most employee groups are in favour of more home working, employers are failing to meet the demand.

"Most of the teleworking groups or associations around the world, with incisive knowledge of how teleworking is developing within their area, highlight a wide chasm between the enthusiasm of the workforce for teleworking and the degree to which management will allow them to telework."

According to Gartner, the rise of remote working means companies should move away from time-based assessment of worker productivity to a system based on goals. "Although the objective-based system requires greater trust between the management and teleworking staff, it can lead to improved productivity as the weight of personal responsibility tends to focus the mind on work."