A guide for those who work for an MP
Last updated: 13 November 2008
Added: 11 March 2005
This guide is for MPs’ staff who spend some or all of their time working from home….or are thinking of doing so.
According to the TUC, 3.5 million people in the UK now work from home as work patterns change rapidly and technology progresses to allow for more flexible forms of employment . Working from home can have huge benefits, including less stress and lower transport costs but you may find it more difficult to separate work and family life or motivate yourself outside the office environment.
The rules – and the things you need to think about – are very different if you’re a home-worker or a freelance contractor.
Our guide is in three parts:
- Background information and advice
- The experience of one staffer who currently works from home
- Advice from the Commons Resources Dept
- Finally…your views.
Part 1 – Background information and advice
A lot of the on-line information about working from home talks about ‘teleworkers’ because it’s assumed that you will be using a computer and Internet connection to interact with your office, and much of the advice is about how to set these systems up and work with them. But there is a lot of good general advice for anyone who is trying to work from home.
Government sites are also a good source of valuable guidance. Business Link has a whole section of its website, at www.businesslink.gov.uk which is essential reading. At the DBERR site, their ‘Telework Guidance’ document (www.webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20090609003228/http://www.berr.gov.uk/files/file27456.pdf) is essential reading, too. PDFs may take a while to download, and you’ll need Adobe Acrobat to read them. You can download Adobe Acrobat for free here.
If you’re working from home you’ll have to avoid the temptations of daytime TV – not a challenge, you may think, but never underestimate the appeal of a guest-filled sofa when work is dull. If you must watch something then Working Lunch is a reasonable compromise – and this 2006 online guide to working from home (news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/working_lunch/2265994.stm) may even give you some useful tips. There is also an even older, but still interesting, news report on the trend to home working at news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/3645475.stm.
Finally, don’t forget to take good care of your computer and secure your Internet connection. Maybe you have House of Commons standard issue equipment but, if not and you are using your own with Windows PC, then Microsoft’s Security at Home site – www.microsoft.com/athome/security/default.mspx – is vital reading. If you’re in the Apple camp then don’t assume all is well – www.apple.com/macosx/features/security/ is there to help.
BT March 2005
Updated CD 10 November 2008
Part 2 – Working from Home – How to make it work –
words of wisdom from an experienced staff member
I work for an MP and am a mother of three with 20 years experience in Parliament. I have found that my job is pretty much full time and that it’s just as easy to do the letters on a laptop at home as it is at the office in Westminster. Of course e-mail can be a curse in the sense that people can contact you the whole time but the beauty of it is that you can respond from wherever you are.
The work involves a fantastic quantity of e-mails, angry telephone calls, boring routine work etc… I know I am not alone in facing this kind of challenge because the British work the longest hours of any European nation and we have more women in the workforce than any European country.
Modern-day thinking is all about encompassing home life and office life; therefore working from home has increased. Some big employers have made ‘working to enhance their employees work/life balance’ a central tenet of their employment philosophy. Many employees carve out a job working partly from office and home and remain on call ‘out of hours’ providing vital extra back-up. Also, the general trend is towards more flexibility in the workplace and working from home in a part-time capacity.
Whatever situation you might be in I hope this guide will be useful in providing you with the tools and, most importantly, the confidence to work effectively from home. After much trial and error here are my tips for how to make your life easier.
1) Clarify your role within your office – whatever your job title you will be expected to provide the whole range of support required. You will have to manage the office and deal with day-to-day business just as you would from any other conventional office set-up. There will be visitors to direct and telephone enquiries to handle. e-mails and letters will still be coming in thick and fast. The diary will need to be managed and engagements arranged. All this can be managed working remotely away from base camp, but you need to establish clear boundaries and make sure everyone understands and respects them.
2) Establish a proven work record. To achieve your aims of effective work from home you will need to prove that you can provide all the support your MP will need: whether it be photocopying, filing or more demanding research and case work. You will need abundant goodwill and be able to sail through the dramas and complications that can arise in an MP’s office.
3) Plan ahead. You must decide what personality type you are: it helps to be a good planner if you hope to work from home. You must have a strong planning focus and have a sound balance that will help give you a clear vision of where you want to get to and achieve. You must advise all those around you – your boss, colleagues, friends and family about your commitment to work efficiently from home.
4) Efficient delivery. As a remote worker you must be a great encourager – you will have cut your organisational teeth in the MP’s office and now see yourself ready to concentrate on serious service delivery. You must put a high priority on forging positive relationships with colleagues and establish a reputation of efficient delivery so your track record will speak for itself. You will find that added success brings added pressure and you have got to handle it. There is a lot of give and take in an MP’s business but they are an easy target and you must be able to cope with anything that comes your way.
5) Up to date technology. The key to success in working from home is the smooth running of the designated ‘MP staff office’. You will need to structure your work environment and integrate your work priorities to function just as easily from the office as from home. Ensuring that you are equipped to a high standard is essential to the day-to-day business of running constituency work.
Amazingly, Parliamentary work can be just as effective from home, as at the constituency or Westminster office.
It’s a significant undertaking that must be supported from your boss down to ensure the right level of partnership and co-operation.
The major challenge will be to get across simply and effectively that you are working remotely and ready to deal with any issue, however complex. You will have a framework in place to cope with all the key jobs required by your MP.
The great outcome is that you will be dealing with a lot of stuff working remotely as distinct from home base, and most people will not know the difference.
In a working-from-home environment there will be difficult times ahead, but, with the right attitude, I believe working from home can become, and be seen to become, a thriving workplace.
|Tips for working from home|
|1||Mail re-direct. Members’ Post Office: x 4639 or use the Redirection form – available on the Serjeant’s Intranet (Office services > Mail > Form to redirect Mail)|
|2||Separate phone line for modem/broadband/internet and fax|
|3||Contact Telephone Supervisor in The Commons for number divert: x 6161|
|4||Keep duplicate stocks of all stationery, Internal telephone directory (from telephone supervisor number above), ministerial responsibilities book, copy of entire office address book|
|5||Technology – you will need a pc equivalent, fax and printer. Invest in a small copier such as Canon FC 336. Phone with number display and hands free facility|
|6||Troubleshooting tel nos. keep safely to hand: Email problems/connection with parliamentary intranet: x 2001|
MC-W March 2005
Part 3 – Advice from the Commons Resources Department
When we first wrote this guide (March 2005) we indicated that:
“in due course, the F & A Dept [now the Resources Dept] will be providing us with information which will enable you to make sure that your home working conforms to House of Commons standards. This will cover Health and Safety issues as well as: security of data; what Members and their staff can claim from the allowances; contractual changes; possibly the tax angle; etc. Given other priorities, this is unlikely to materialise before the General Election 2005. Meanwhile, have a look at the Green Book and the Finance & Administration Department Intranet.”
This hasn’t happened so we recommend you keep an eye on the Resources Department’s pages on the parliamentary intranet. A new Green Book is due out in Spring 2009, we hear.
Part 4 – Finally….let us know if you have any tips on working from home. Use our Feedback Form.
Here’s the first contribution – a stark warning!
Re Home working. A member of our staff wanted to work largely from home. But when I started to look into all the rules and responsibilities of it, I came to the conclusion that it wouldn’t be practical. As her ‘line manager’ I was expected, apparently, to physically go to her home and check the height of her seat, lighting etc, regardless of the fact that I don’t know any more than her about such things. I was also supposed to ‘advise’ her about possible implications for her home insurance, mortgage or tenancy agreements, council tax and liability if she sells the house with one room as an office! Then there were issues under the Data Protection Act about storing constituents’ details on her pc. If you go into it properly, as a responsible employer, it’s just ridiculous. Neither of us would have time to do anything except monitor her working conditions! But what no-one could tell me with authority was what would happen if we took the ‘who’s to know’ line, ignored all of it, and then she got RSI or fell off her own chair or electrocuted herself on her own lamp on her own desk in her own home……LM. 14/3/05