When it was initially introduced, remote working was somewhat of a novelty, seen as a short-term thing to help the Nation adjust to a pandemic. However, with multiple lockdowns, and a warning from Chris Whitty yesterday that restrictions could possibly return next Winter, the ‘short term’ measures (along with employees’ desire for a hybrid working model) are increasingly shaping into the new normal.
The issue with this is that for many, remote working was put in place hurriedly without any long term assessment of the working environment for employees – and this could create problems down the road.
Wellbeing assessors for remote workers, Remote Reach have seen numerous home working set ups and spoken to many home workers – here they set out their thoughts on the minimum standards and equipment employers should ensure they have in place for remote working colleagues:
1. A fully adjustable chair
Employers should ensure that remote workers have access to a fully ergonomic adjustable chair – even if they say they do not want one or are ‘ok’ on the sofa and/or kitchen chair. A good chair will ensure they are healthy and will prevent future musculoskeletal problems. Many physiotherapists are already reporting ‘work from home backs’ caused by inadequate support.
With remote workers likely to spend one third of their day in this chair it is as important as a good bed – and will ensure your people are comfortable, healthy and more productive.
2. Workstation risk assessment
Your remote workers should all get a DSE risk assessment. The display screen equipment’ risk assessment covers all the physical risks that come from sitting at a workstation. A good risk assessment will put control measures in place to ensure your workers do not suffer any musculoskeletal disorders.
This should be done annually and ideally in person and objectively observed.
3. A dedicated work space
Working on the couch or kitchen table is not a long term solution. All remote workers should be encouraged to create a dedicated area that is set aside for work. This does not need to be a separate room – a section of a room is sufficient. This small separation goes a long way!
4. PAT test all equipment
If your remote workers are using electrical equipment to do their work, it is the responsibility of the employer to ensure this is safe – an annual PAT test is the best way to do this. This includes laptops, printers and chargers.
5. Mental health awareness and having a mental health policy
Do your remote workers know you have a mental health policy and if so, do they know how to access it?
Ensure your mental health policy has been amended to reflect remote working and the mental health pressure this can create. If you don’t have a mental health policy then now is a great time to get one written! The fact that you don’t see remote workers everyday will make it very difficult to recognise mental health issues that may arise. At the very least, while a policy is being drafted, ensure that employees know clearly who to contact if they feel they need mental health support.
It’s worth checking your EAP to see what support may be available, such as mental health helplines or counselling by telephone. These are often accessible by all employees, not only those who have access to EAP benefits, but they are tucked away as an ‘add on benefit’ in the back of your EAP handbook. Check it out and make sure you are signposting employees to these services that you pay for anyway.
There also also free and low cost apps and technology that can benefit remote workers.
CEO coach Peter Ryding, creator of award-winning employee coaching software, Vic Your Coach, has seen an rapid increase in enquiries since the pandemic began, as employers seek out new ways to provide mental health support and staff development for remote employees. Peter says:
“We developed VIC with employee coaching in mind, but it’s proving incredibly useful with mental health support and remote worker development too.
“In a physical workplace, a great line manager is invaluable – and you know them when you find them. They help employees develop confidence and leadership skills, not only upskilling them and improving job satisfaction, but also creating future leaders and supporting their mental health in a very natural, organic way. Of course, this is not so accessible when working remotely. Line managers need to ensure that mental health support is available and accessible – and VIC, with it’s AI support system, can really help employees with this, because it supports and nurtures employees in a similar way, giving wisdom, support and encouragement in real time.”
6. Flexible hours
Allow your remote workers to make their own hours – as long as it is within the needs of the business this is always a good thing. Almost every home worker that Remote Reach has spoken to say they feel more productive when they can work their hours at flexible times.
It’s important too that employers understand that the pandemic may have increased workers home responsibilities, with workers juggling home education of their children so a little flexibility on expectations may also be needed.
It is too easy to get stuck into work and not take the appropriate breaks – especially when you can’t see co workers taking theirs. The working time regulations and HSE guidance on screen breaks still apply. Encourage your remote teams to break often and take a full lunch break. They should get up for 5 minutes once an hour and take at least 30 minutes for lunch away from their workstation.
8. Communication tools
Give your teams the right tools to encourage smooth and effective communication.
Teams, Skype, Zoom are all great for meetings, but make sure employees also have the right equipment. People holding virtual meetings are generally more tolerant of unexpected distractions like barking dogs than they would have been in times past – however, if noise is an issue, then noise cancelling headsets can help with this.
9. Work-Life Balance
Encourage your remote workers to create a healthy work-life balance. Working from home should not mean working during ‘home time’ or being ‘on duty’ 24/7. Create a culture where work time and personal time don’t overlap and communication outside of work time is limited. Also, understand that the idea of a healthy work life balance will be different for everyone and flexibility is key.
10. Check in and ask how colleagues are doing !
This is the easiest and most effective step to put in place – encourage line managers to ask employees how they are – apart from work, apart from anything else.
Regular communication, sincerity and honesty will go a long way and will help maintain relationships and help employees feel valued. The same applies to furloughed colleagues. Even if they aren’t working with you during the pandemic, by making them feel included, you can keep a check on their mental health and ensure that they still feel part of the company.
While remote working may have been put in place in record time, it is now time to reflect on the new world of work – and employers that get this right have the opportunity to build a strong, healthy workforce that are an effective remote or hybrid working team.