There has been a lot of analysis of the pressures of homeworking, including issues relating to health and safety, use of equipment, and the fact that employees are in effect funding their own workplaces. A more subtle issue in my view relates to the method of homeworking and how individuals are being supervised.
There are many consequences of homeworking for both sides of the employment relationship, including the absence of important day to day contact, not arsing only in front of a remote screen. Relationships are built in other less formal ways, including those random conversations which occur every day, and through the more ad hoc supervision which can arise spontaneously. As someone who has supervised a department of colleagues with different levels of experience, I saw that the team would develop through the ability to walk into an office to chat about a case, and also the time spent listening to how colleagues might deal with a particular problem issue or the challenging client in a meeting or on the telephone.
The role of a team leader or supervisor can differ according to different industries and pressure can be applied through direct contact or on a virtual basis. When people work together more discussion about work related issues is undertaken face to face. The use of communication by electronic message takes away that contact between colleagues and can allow a greater level of pressure to be applied by way of depersonalisation of the message. A potentially hostile message about team targets might be delivered in a more robust way through a keyboard than face to face in a team meeting.
I have spoken to many friends, colleagues and opponents who are home working. Not everyone is suited to work on the kitchen table in front of a laptop and the feeling of isolation has been a common theme. Further, we all have different stresses on a homeworking scenario, for example a colleague might have a poor IT or internet system, slowing work output or preventing it altogether at times. This might be about not being able to download materials or being unable to communicate on completion of that settlement agreement which has a short deadline. The assumption that everything is fine also ignores pressures arising due to home circumstances (eg childcare) or personal physical or mental health issues. Not everyone is comfortable talking about their problems which can build up as time passes.
I have also encountered evidence through client discussions about management putting workers under further pressure. In a one-to-one video call, there are no other witnesses to what might be said, with express or implied pressure to work in a particular way or at certain times. I have friends who tell me about being criticised by their manager for not being online at home almost continuously, not only law firms! The homeworking dynamic blurs the line between the work and home environment, allowing some employers to believe that their employees should always be on call, not simply during standard work hours. This type of bullying can be subtle or overt.
For many the option of working at home is welcome, saving commuting time and saving on expenses of travel to work. All of that is fine but employers must ensure that those involved in management of staff understand the risks arising and have appropriate training, and support for workers. We might have a home workforce in certain sectors, but it must be on a basis which respects each other and the right to a home life as well as an existence in front of the laptop.