Home Working: 10 Factors For Employers to Consider

It is becoming increasingly common for traditionally office-based employees to work from home for or all of their working time. Data from the Office for National Statistics show that 4.2 million people in the UK spent at least half their working time at home in 2014.

Some businesses maintain that they can only thrive if they have all of their employees under the same roof at the same time. On the other hand, others point to reduced costs, reduced office space, increased productivity that comes with a happier workforce, and the ability to adapt to what could otherwise be disruptive factors.

It is about finding a balance between what works for the employer and what is good for the employees. Assuming, as an employer, you are minded to agree to an employee or employees working from home, what should you consider before home working is agreed? Here are ten factors to consider:

#1. Is the job suitable?
Not all jobs can be done remotely. You will need to consider whether the role can be performed just as well away from the office by someone working on their own. You will also need to be satisfied that the employee will be happy spending long periods of time alone, and self-disciplined enough not to waste their time watching television or being unduly distracted by domestic matters.

#2. How will you manage employees who work from home?
You will need to determine what level of contact is expected between the manager, team members and the employee. Discussions may be required about working time, and whether the employee will be required to be in the office on certain days, or for team meetings, and whether office time will vary according to needs of the business.

If the arrangements are to work, it is essential that there is trust between the home-worker and their manager.

#3. Does the employee have somewhere suitable to work from?
The popular image of someone working from home is that they spend their time sitting on the sofa wearing their pyjamas with a laptop computer balanced precariously on their lap while they drink yet another mug of coffee. This is far from ideal and may soon cause health problems arising from poor posture.

So, it is important that the employee has somewhere suitable from which to work and that includes having a suitable chair and a table of the correct height. Not only that, it must not be used at the same time for a conflicting purpose.

Here is a real example from some years back from a company I then worked for. That company employed a number of document consultants who worked from home. One was married to a pub landlord whose inn provided hot and cold food that was prepared in the kitchen of the landlord’s flat above the pub. It was from there that my then colleague worked while the inn’s staff prepared food around her using the same table. There was also the inevitable electric cable for the laptop computer trailing across the floor of the busy kitchen. Needless to say, these working arrangements were stopped immediately when they became known. That leads us neatly to…

#4. Health and safety
By law, all employers are responsible for their employees’ welfare, health and safety at work “so far as is reasonably practicable”, and must carry out risk assessments. This includes homeworkers. Employers should risk assess the proposed home working arrangements before they start, and conduct regular re-assessments, which may include stress, isolation, workplace equipment, first aid, and accidents.

#5. Equipment
What equipment will be used by the homeworker and who will pay for it? Will he or she provide their own device such as a computer, laptop, or tablet computer, telephone, and Internet connection? If you are providing the equipment, can the employee (and members of their family) use it for other purposes?

Disabled employees may need special equipment, you are required to provide by way of making a reasonable adjustment for their condition just as you would have to have done had that person been office-based.

If the employee is using his or her own device, you will need to ensure that suitable maintenance arrangements are in place for when IT problems arise, as they inevitably will do. Are there any other duties they can perform from home in the event of their device not working? If there are none, will the employee be required to take leave while their device is being repaired or work from the office?

If you provide the equipment, does the employee know who to call if there is a fault or breakdown? Moreover, is it practicable for the company’s I.T. support to maintain equipment that may be physically located many miles away?

#6. Data security
Employees who work from home need to understand the procedures they must follow and what is, and what is not, an authorised use of data. For example, you should consider:

  • Who has access to the computer or device, and to any personal data stored on it?
  • How and when are backups of that data to be made? How and where are those backups to be stored?
  • Is the employee’s home regularly left empty? Is it properly secured?
  • Is the software password protected and is the data encrypted?
  • Will paperwork and other documents be stored securely?
  • How is work transported from home to office and vice versa?
  • How will confidential waste be disposed of?

Employers who are in regulated businesses, such as financial services, will need to pay close attention to whether allowing home working contravenes any regulatory requirement imposed on both the employer and the employee. This is especially so if the employee is using their own device.

#7. Flexible working
A request to work from home may form part of a flexible working request. Any employee with at least 26 weeks service may request flexible working. Employers must consider requests in a “reasonable manner”. The ACAS Code of Practice on the right to request flexible working provides guidance that employers are expected to follow.

There is, however, no right to to be allowed to work flexibly. All the employee is entitled to is to make a request to work flexibly and to have their request dealt with reasonably.

The assumption is that if the “ACAS code of Practice on handling in a reasonable manner requests to work flexibly” is followed, the request has been dealt with reasonably.

It should be remembered that home working is not a substitute for suitable care arrangements. Whilst working flexibly can make it easier to work around drop off and pick up times, employers should make clear to the employee when working time is and what is expected of them during working time.

#8. Trial period
Not all home working arrangements are totally successful from either the employer’s point of view of from that of the employee. Having a trial period of a suitable and agreed duration is a good way to see if it really is practicable for the employee to work from home during the times they want. At the end of the trial period, both parties should have a meeting to review how successful or otherwise the home working was and what lessons can be learned from it.

#9. Will everyone want to work from home?
That is unlikely for the following reasons:

  • Not all office based jobs successfully lend themselves to home working;
  • Even where home working is practicable, some people will need to be in the office, which means the opportunity to work from home will not be open to everyone with the qualifying service; and
  • Not everyone will want to work from home. There is an important social aspect of working with other people. Loneliness and isolation can be serious problems for home workers.

#10. Contractual provisions
The employee’s contract of employment will need to have some special provisions that are not normally found in a traditional office-based contract of employment. These additional provisions will include:

  • Notifying the employer in advance of any change of the employee’s home address so that a new risk assessment may be carried out before they start work there and so that insurance cover can be transferred to their new home address;
  • A right for the employer and their authorised personnel to enter the employee’s home at all reasonable times by prior arrangement to conduct a risk assessment and to install, inspect, maintain, and remove the employer’s property.

With the development of the “gig economy” some employees may choose to cease being employed and provide freelance services instead. This could be particularly attractive if the employee has skills he or she can provide to several firms. Employers should take care to ensure that the employee is genuinely a self-employed freelancer, not an employee or worker in disguise.

Questions to Ask When Hiring a Home Inspector

Congratulations, you’ve found the perfect home to buy! Right about now, you are probably on information overload, and looking for resources to get everything ready. One of the most important steps you need to take after getting that ratified contract is to get the home inspected. Like most subjects on the internet, there is a ton of information about home inspections, and how to hire them. One source that is very underrepresented though is probably the best one out there: the home inspectors themselves. No, I’m not just talking about reading their websites, since anyone can put up whatever they want. Instead, we went to a group of highly respected home inspectors and posed this question: If you were hiring a home inspector to inspect a home for your out-of-state family member, what questions would you ask them?

1. What are your certifications?

If you are in one of the many states where home inspectors are licensed, that is just a minimum level to be able to do the job. As a group, we will look for a home inspector that has taken the time to get extra certifications above and beyond the minimum. There are multiple home inspection organizations (both national and local) that offer certifications for inspectors. The two major organizations are the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI), and the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI). Both offer multiple levels of certifications based on both experience and continuing education. InterNACHI has the Certified Professional Inspector and Certified Master Inspector certifications. ASHI has the ASHI Associate, Inspector, and Certified Inspector certifications.

In states where there isn’t a licensing program for home inspectors, it is even more important to make sure the inspector has a certification, since essentially anyone can call themselves a home inspector! In these cases, it can be tempting to hire someone like a general contractor to just walk through the house with you. But, as Andrew Jolley with JODA Home Inspections in Stansbury Park, Utah said “unlike contractors, home inspectors have a system they follow so that all systems are evaluated and nothing is left out of the inspection.” Additionally, a certified home inspector has received training on all of the systems in a house, as well how to inspect them and look at the whole house as a system.

2. What kind of report do you provide and when will I receive it?

Hopefully any legitimate inspector will be providing you with a written report that you can use in your evaluation of the home purchase. That being said, reports differ in both style and level of detail. An inspection report should include digital pictures of defects as well as narrative statements about the systems and defects found. Some reports will also include things like video, glossaries, and summaries. If there is a summary, make sure you still read the entire report!

The turnaround time for a report should also be determined. As inspectors, we understand the tight timelines your real estate agent has put you under, so we will always get you the report as quick as possible. Remember that sometimes a little extra research is required, so don’t expect to get the report at the end of the inspection. Most inspectors should have the report to you within 24 hours of the end of the inspection.

3. Walk me through your typical inspection, what are the most important things?

Norm Tyler of Sage Inspections in St. Louis, MO says: “I’d ask this for a couple reasons. It would help me decide if his approach would be similar to mine. Every inspector is a little different, some will detail 500 little issues, while I’m more of a ‘disregard petty cosmetic stuff so I can focus on finding $1000 problems’ kind of guy. More importantly, if the inspector takes the time to walk me through his approach now, while I’m just a prospect – he’ll probably take all the time needed to take care of me as a customer.”

4. Are you available after you send the report for questions and/or clarification?

This was one of the most popular questions I received from the inspectors I talked to. We all strive to write a report that explains all of the issues as clearly as possible, but sometimes things may not make sense to you. Being able to call or email your inspector with questions after the inspection is critical, especially if you can’t make it to the inspection.

Along with this, you should probably ask the inspector about their policy for follow-up inspections. Once you have negotiated repairs with the seller, make sure you get those repairs re-inspected. I have done a lot of re-inspections, and I have yet to find that all of the repairs were done. Sometimes I am given receipts for repairs that were clearly not even attempted. You should expect to pay for this re-inspection, so find out what it will cost ahead of time so there aren’t any surprises.

5. What is your home inspection experience?

You will find that home inspectors come from many different backgrounds. Some may have been in the building trades, and some may be doing it as a second career. The important thing to look for is an inspector that has experience doing home inspections. David Sharman of County Home Inspection in Peterborough, Ontario mentioned to ask them how many inspections they’ve done in the last 12 months. This number could vary based on the market, but it should be a reasonable number. Look for someone doing at least a few inspections a week, but be wary of those that have really high numbers (unless they have multiple inspectors at their company). This can be a sign of someone that is just doing the minimum to get on to the next inspection of several that day.

6. How many inspections do you do in a day?

Hopefully the answer is only one or two. Most inspectors will do a morning and an afternoon inspection. Some will add in an evening inspection. If it gets over three, start to worry about how long they are spending on your inspection. Most inspections will take 2-3 hours for an average size house. Smaller houses don’t really cut down on the time, but larger houses can significantly increase the amount of time it takes to inspect.

7. What extra services can you provide?

Michael Conrad II, at Diligent, LLC in Nashville, TN points out that you should check with the inspector to see if they offer any other inspection services, such as Thermal Imaging, Termite, Radon, and Mold inspections. This can help you in many ways, since not only do you get all of the inspections you need from one company, it allows your inspector to look at the whole house as a system and provide the best assessment of the house. Some areas require separate licenses for these extra inspections, so make sure they have those licenses as well if required. If licensing isn’t required, make sure they have a third-party certification.

8. Can I accompany you on the inspection?

The inspection is your time to learn about the house. Odds are, the inspection is the longest amount of time you will spend in the house until you own it, so make the most of it. Your inspector should encourage you to ask questions as the inspection is going on. After all, it’s a lot easier to explain (and understand) an issue with it right in front of you. If you wait until a day or two later, now the inspector has to explain it over the phone, and they’ve inspected more houses since then. Charles Buell, of Charles Buell Inspections, Inc in Shoreline, WA, says that he wants the client there the whole time. This is their time to learn about the house. Additionally, Jim Holl with 5 Star Home Inspections LLC in Hillsborough, NC says: A professional home inspector wants you, the future occupant, to attend the inspection so you can ask questions and see most of what the inspector sees. Since you are going to live there and get to maintain it, for safety, health and financial reasons, this is your opportunity learn all about your new castle. If the inspector doesn’t want you to observe, move on to the next inspector you want to interview.

9. Who will be doing the inspection?

This is mainly for the multi-inspector firms, but Ian Mayer of IM Home Inspections in Woodland Hills, CA warns to watch out for the bait-and-switch. The owner of the company may have really great certifications, but he sends out the guy that was just certified last week to do your inspection.

10. What warranties/guarantees are included with the inspection?

A home inspection is, by definition, a snapshot in time. It shows the condition of the house on the day of the inspection. None of us have a crystal ball to predict the future of a house, and sometimes sellers will intentionally hide known defects. Some home inspectors offer various warranties and guarantees with their inspection. Make sure you read the fine print on anything offered to ensure you understand what you are getting and what the limitations are. Frank Rotte of Certified Inspection Services, LLC of San Diego points out that many repairs are actually under the deductible, so the buyer ends up paying for the repair anyways.

11. How much does the inspection cost?

This is the last question you should ask, and it’s really only so you know how much to write the check out for. In other words, don’t price shop, and don’t look for the cheapest inspector. (How much are you paying for that house again?) James Braun with Braun Inspection Consultations in Jefferson City, MO rightly says that “A good inspector is not cheap, and a cheap inspector is not good.” You are making what may be the largest purchase of your life, do you really want the cheapest inspector you can find to do your inspection?

Thank you for sticking with me for this long, and I hope that it has been informative for you. The best home inspectors are those that work for you, and inspect each home as if they, or their favorite relative, were buying it. These home inspectors have nothing to gain except providing you with the best inspection they can, which allows you to make an extremely important decision. Now, go out there and hire the best home inspector you can find.

6 Reasons for a Custom Home

Our homes are often a reflection of our style. However, if you live in a neighborhood where it seems as though every third house has the same floorplan as the one you own, then you may be longing for a place that is truly designed around your needs and your personal style. After all, there is more to owning a home than having one just like the Smiths down the block!

If this sounds familiar, then a custom home is just for you. With a myriad of home designs available, and the ease of changing the floorplan to meet your needs you can quickly have a home that is everything you have ever wanted!

Here are some other advantages to having a custom home built:

1. Fulfilling a dream – Let’s face it. There is something special about being able to walk into a home and know that it is designed exactly to your specs and needs. From the number and size of the bedrooms, to the garage and the state of the art kitchen, a custom home can be everything you desire.

2. Save money – Contrary to what might think, a custom home typically cost less than buying a ready-made home. After all, in most pre-existing homes, there will be some type of upgrade or remodel necessary. By building a home of your own design, there will be no reason to remodel.

3. Everything is new – When you purchase an existing home, you get minimal information about the status of the appliance, plumbing, electrical, etc… Consequently, you spend the first few years learning the home’s nuances and quite possible replacing things. With a new build, you know the history of each element. Sure, there will still be things to discover, but at least it won’t be a constant chore of replacing or upgrading.

4. More energy efficient – Older homes often need more work done on them, be it HVAC systems, doors, windows or water system in order to be energy efficient. With a new build, you can be sure that the home is at the top of the efficiency technology.

5. Landscaping – When you buy a home, you often need to spend time redesigning the landscaping to suit your level of involvement. With a custom home, you can decide how much time you want to invest in yardwork and plan the landscape accordingly.

6. D├ęcor – With an existing home, it is common to go in and paint. Of course, that first means putting down sheeting or taping of areas to protect it from any paint. With a custom home, the painting can be done prior to moving furniture, which make it a much easier task.

If you are wanting a home that truly shows off your uniqueness, then now is the time to start planning a custom home. After all, there is no reason to settle for status quo. Talk to a local builder and learn more about having a home designed and built that suits your needs, your style and your budget. In no time at all, you can have a custom home ready to move in to.