The home office
Specifying office facilities also now includes
facilities for the extensible office - the office extended into
the home and other locations.
Many people work occasionally at home. A growing
proportion (see chapter 1) either use their home as a base for
work or work at home regularly. An important and growing
minority work full-time at home.
A "home office" can range from the
dining room or kitchen table to a specially designated room, or
even special purpose outbuilding. The constraints of home
location need to be recognised - rebuild or substantial
refitting are unlikely to be options! It is important, however,
to see that the home office is set up as a viable and attractive
location for work.
Several excellent furniture solutions for home
workers available, including fold-away systems that are not
intrusive and take up little space when not in use.
Whilst the general approach set out in this
article is valid in most countries, specific information legal
compliance only applies to the UK market.
Health and safety:
Health and Safety is a priority area to address
in relation to staff working from home, and probably represents
the likeliest risk in terms of employer liability and employee
welfare. Although the UK Health and Safety at Work Act is not
specific about domestic premises, the employer has a statutory
duty of care for employees' and contractors' health, safety and
welfare wherever they are working. It is important to note that
the employee also has a duty of care, subject to adequate
training and support. The main risks are in the areas of:
hazards in the workplace area of the home
hazards from equipment provided
use of display screen equipment
lighting, ventilation and heating
workspace and ergonomics
risks to third parties visiting the home for
The UK Management of Health and Safety at Work
Regulations require a risk assessment along the following lines:
Assess the risks created by working from
home, including identifying hazards, and who is at risk
(i.e. other members of the household)
Inform the person or anyone else affected
about these risks
Take preventative actions or precautionary
measures to address them
Repeat the risk assessment at intervals.
In the office environment the designated health
and safety manager undertakes risk assessments directly. This
approach can be intrusive and impractical at an employee's home
and self-assessment is often the best approach, backed up by
training, support and provision of equipment such as chairs,
desks and lighting.
A holistic approach to health and safety will
also take note of the reduced risk home workers experience from
traffic accidents and stress-related illnesses.
The European Working Time directive also applies
to staff working at home and compliance can be treated in a
similar way to health and safety. Most organisations will
introduce some form of time recording in order to operate a
flexible working scheme and this can be used to monitor
compliance with the directive.
Moving away from the regulations, there are
risks that staff will work excessive hours and fail to take
necessary breaks at home, ultimately to the detriment of their
health and work quality.
Confidentiality and security:
Taking work away from the office, either
physically or electronically, can increase risks that
confidential information will be exposed.
Technology solutions - passwords, encryption,
biometrics, etc. - are addressed in the next section. However
passwords must be kept secure and certain precautions must be
taken. Particular issues relate to work in progress being seen
by household members and PCs being used for domestic and work
Options can include lockable furniture, e.g.
workstations where computers can be locked away.
The key is to understand the risks, address
these risks through a combination of technology, procedures and
training and monitor compliance. Where, after this, risks still
remain too high, home-working should not normally be
Equipment, employer's liability and householder
insurances are all impacted by working from home. Issues are
mainly to do with clarity and informing all relevant parties.
For example an employee's household insurer may need to be
informed if the home is being used for work.
As with other issues related to home working,
the employer's policies, procedures and guidelines should be
clear and establish a reasonable balance of responsibility
between employer and employee.
There is evidence that some insurance companies
look favourably on home working, as higher levels of daytime
household occupation reduce the risk of theft.
Dealing with noise and distractions:
Many workers flee to the home to get on with
work without the continuous distractions and interruptions of
office life. Home workers, too, report having to cope with
a variety of distractions from noisy children and animals to the
silent beckoning of the biscuit tin.
To a large extent these are management issues,
but there are also important facilities considerations. These
are often related to the nature of the work being undertaken.
For example, a home-based call centre agent will need a noise
and distraction free place to work. Programming work or other
work requiring intense concentration, for different reasons,
will require an environment without distractions and
While quiet is generally important for
productivity, there may be a less pressing need for complete
absence of distraction for someone who occasionally brings work
home, or the largely mobile worker who does a moderate amount of
writing up or exchanging emails from a home base.
Local authority issues:
Whilst working occasionally at home is a fact of
life, more permanent arrangements may be subject to a number of
planning and related issues. Generally speaking, where a
business use is clearly ancillary to the main (domestic) use of
the house, there should not be a problem. Issues that can
trigger difficulties, however, include:
Activities that affect the neighbours'
"amenity" - such as excessive numbers of visitors,
car parking, noisy ventilation units, etc
Erecting outbuildings or extensions for
Erecting radio masts or satellite dishes
Having non-resident employees working in
someone else's home office - e.g. a personal assistant to a
In addition, dedicating part of a house to work
could trigger a liability for business rates, although this is
very unusual. In some cases local covenants, for example in
blocks of flats, may attempt to "ban" working at home.
It is not unknown for a council to promote teleworking on the
one hand as an economic development instrument, while in its
role of providing social housing bans its own tenants from doing
In practice there are numerous "grey
areas" here. Employers and employees need to take a
pragmatic view on the merits of each case whether it is wise to
contact the local authority for advice or to let sleeping dogs
lie. The key variables to take into account are whether the
extent of homeworking activity might possibly constitute a
change of use, or whether any building activity would require a
Once again, the role of the employer is
primarily to make staff aware of the issues but not to assume
Tax and financial considerations:
There are quite a few complex issues to do with
compensation for working at home and possible tax liabilities.
It is certainly in order to pay allowances to
staff for working at home, though these should be modest and
cover only additional and verifiable costs incurred such as
heating, electricity and telephone costs. Payment of
"rent" should normally be avoided as it may make part
of the house liable for capital gains tax on disposal. Travel is
another area that can cause complications. If an employee is
contractually home-based, payment for necessary trips to the
office might be treatable as tax-free expenses, though the tax
authorities may still challenge this.
Equipment provided exclusively for work should
not trigger any tax liabilities. In fact computer equipment
provided by an employer for home use by an employee or his/her
family is not taxable.
Generally speaking, expenses incurred when
working at home are not tax deductible for employees. For a
self-employed contractor, however, certain expenses may be
allowed. If the introduction of a teleworking scheme also
involves a change in status, with employees becoming
self-employed contractors this may be a relevant consideration.
But increasingly, the Inland Revenue is taking a hard line
against such practices.
Legislation and interpretation is changing all
the time and professional advice should be taken before
embarking on a scheme.