Working from home safely
As much of the UK workforce starts working from home due to coronavirus, employers need to take measures to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of their employees. Here are a few of the issues to look at.
An employer’s duty of care to their employees doesn’t end when they are working from home. All health and safety legislation still applies and employers have a responsibility to carry out a risk assessment to ensure that their employees’ home working conditions are suitable. Depending on circumstances, this could include the lighting, ventilation, temperature, and equipment being used.
Devices and equipment
It is important that employers make it clear what equipment will be provided, who is permitted to access it, whether equipment needs to be insured and who will arrange and pay for this. The employer is responsible for the equipment and devices supplied to homeworkers, but the homeworker has responsibilities to ensure that the equipment is used appropriately during the work-from-home period.
According to the 2018 Mobile Security Report, over half of CIOs in the US suspected their remote workers had experienced security hacks in the last year. It is vital that procedures are put in place to ensure online security and data protection. These include two-factor authentication for logging in to company systems, and secure cloud-based software for storing data and documents.
Workstation set ups
Home workstations should be set up to comply with Display Screen Equipment (DSE) regulations, which can be found on the Health and Safety Executive website. It is the employer’s responsibility to ensure that home workstations are set up in a way that protects the health and safety of employees.
Managing employees and monitoring work
Technology means it is easier than ever to manage a remote workforce, but there will certainly be adjustments to make. Clear deadlines and whole team communication will become more important than ever. Many companies will find that centralised, cloud-based software solutions are an excellent option. Projects can be managed online, from one dashboard, and everyone with access to the software will be updated as tasks are completed.
Online communication options make it easy to stay in touch with colleagues and continue to collaborate. It is important that everyone knows the protocol and what is expected of them. Software such as Skype and Zoom can be useful for one-on-one or group meetings. Online workspaces such as Slack and Trello can be used to make communication easier and allow teams to collaborate.
Amid the coronavirus crisis, working hours may need to be more flexible than usual. Homeworkers are likely to be not just working from home, but working from home with their children, or supporting vulnerable family members in various ways. While set working hours can be helpful for everyone involved, employers will need to build in some flexibility to allow workers to meet both work and personal commitments in these unusual times.
Employee wellbeing is still the responsibility of the employer, and now more than ever, people will be feeling anxious and isolated. The ability to just pop in and talk to a manager or HR professional has been removed. So it is vital that all employees know who to contact if they experience wellbeing or mental health issues while they are working from home.
Employees often report that they do not take natural breaks at home which can be a concern, especially when using DSE – setting alarms or calendar reminders to ensure regular breaks are taken can be highly beneficial. It can also be helpful for workers to set ground rules when other family members are home to minimise distractions and ensure a positive work-life balance.
Creating a work from home policy
A clear, well-designed work from home policy can ensure that employees work from home effectively and productively. This policy should be available to all employees, and should lay out aspects such as employer expectations, work processes, preferred communication channels, working hours and flexibility.
Will this cause a permanent shift towards homeworking?
There are, generally speaking, many advantages to working from home. It tends to result in reduced costs, as workplace overheads go down, increased productivity for many workers, a lower staff turnover and a better work/life balance. Working from home in these challenging times, however, is also likely to result in employees feeling more isolated and experiencing challenges to mental health and wellbeing.
There is speculation that this enforced work-from-home period could result in a permanent shift towards working from home in the future. While it is likely that there will always be a need for traditional workplaces, this is certainly a time to reflect on how you can improve efficiency and support flexibility, by incorporating remote work options into your company’s future.
Take a look at our dedicated page on Social Distancing in the Workplace — packed with useful information and guidance for businesses.
Follow our step-by-step guide to Coronavirus Infection Control to help your business operate safely.