Addleshaw Goddard

UK 200 2013 position: 23

Remote technology: liberator or oppressor?

By Annabel Mackay

The ability to work remotely has had a fundamental impact on work-life balance. Employees can pick up emails and take calls as they journey to and from work. Remote technology gives them the freedom to leave the office at a civilised hour and log on at home if required. However, these developments do not automatically improve work-life balance. They blur the line between work life and home life and what was once liberating can quickly become oppressive without careful management. Employers need to be aware of the potentially destructive impact of remote technology both from a health and safety and an equality law perspective. Equally, employees have to take responsibility for their own health and safety and ensure that they manage their working time outside work in a way that works for them.

So how could technology that allows employees to get away from the office and work from the comfort of their own home be oppressive? A study commissioned by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) on working long hours indicated that it is not just the number of hours that an individual works that is relevant but how much control they have over those hours. The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety conveys a similar message in its literature on work-life balance. The key factors that have an impact on work-life balance are a lack of time and scheduling and feeling overwhelmed and overloaded. Employees will become particularly anxious when work prevents them from fulfilling their family responsibilities and vice versa. While home working can help employees to work more flexibly and bring positive benefits in terms of staff retention and productivity, it is important to ensure that employees can maintain control over their working hours and that they are not constantly distracted by the little red light twinkling on their BlackBerry after office hours…

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