In 2020, many of the global workforce were thrust into working from home. At first, this looked like it would be a temporary requirement.
Over time, it has become clear that many employees will conduct most of their work from a home base, and this presents some significant challenges for the workforce and their employers.
Our Working from Home Guide aims to equip you with the best information available on how to move forward.
Firstly, we will take a look at working from home and flexible working from the employer’s perspective. Then we will go on to look at it through the lens of the employee.
If you want to jump to a section that is specific to your needs, just use the contents table!
What does ‘Good’ look like?
‘Good’ working from home considers the physical aspects of work as well as wellbeing.
The need for both job satisfaction and morale. In this guide, we’ll look at promoting safe working practices and boosting wellbeing as an employer, alongside some actionable working from home tips for employees.
Working from Home - for Employers
Health and Safety law in the UK (DSE Regulations 1992) requires employers to supply guidance and advice when working from home.
Beyond this being an intermittent or temporary measure, the risks associated with using display screen equipment (DSE) must be assessed and controlled adequately.
Once we went beyond 6 months into the pandemic, working from home could no longer be considered temporary. Therefore employers would be expected to make adjustments were ‘reasonable practicable’.
The HSE in the UK advises employers should have regular discussions with workers to assess employees comfort and any adverse affects they are experiencing.
Home workers are more at risk of musculoskeletal discomfort due to their improvised working arrangements.
The old saying ‘what they don’t know won’t hurt them’ only works for so long here.
Guidance should be provided to employees on how to carry out a work station assessment and, on the back of that, they should be provided with the appropriate equipment.
What that equipment is will depend on each organisation – risks should be assessed and resources allocated in accordance with the perceived cost/benefit of any purchase.
A commitment to reducing and controlling the risk of work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSD’s) for homeworkers in the short-term, can pay off handsomely in the longer-term, through reduced absence, staff turnover and boosted morale.
What should an Employee working from home be provided?
Whilst there is no requirement to provide each employee with a full suite of equipment (desk, seat and range of computer peripherals), it is reasonable practicable to provide employees working from home access to basic equipment.
For other larger, more expensive items (e.g. ergonomic chairs, desks) advice should be given to workers to enable them to create comfortable working conditions.
Whether this is interpreted as allowing workers to take equipment home or giving them a reasonable budget to purchase their own is at each organisation’s discretion.
At the very least, providing a keyboard, mouse and laptop riser is a cost-effective control measure and simple way to support employees initially.
Permanent Shift to Remote Working?
Where employers decide to make working from home arrangements permanent, explanations on how to carry out workstation ergonomics assessments should be given.
Workers should also be provided with appropriate equipment and further advice on control measures they can take to lower their risk of poor physical and mental wellbeing.
For international corporations where staff work across time zones, the culture of teams working different hours is already in practice.
With that said, for many organisations, employees working varied hours is a much newer concept.
Employers may, particularly under the current circumstance, find a significant benefit from acknowledging and accepting that traditional style 9-5 working hours are not the best-fit for most working from home.
Flexible Working Options
Every employee has their own unique working environment and circumstances.
Productivity will likely be optimal if employees are encouraged to identify their own, most suitable working hours. As adults and professionals, it may make sense to place some trust in their judgment!
It is well established that autonomy for employees is empowering and encourages creativity, increased engagement and ownership of tasks and responsibilities.
Allowing employees to re-evaluate and adjust their working day may be a change from the norm. But, if there has ever been a time to commit to ‘flexible working’ in its truest form, rather than the lip-service and lack lustre promotion it is generally afforded, it might be right now.
Faced with the adversity and restrictions Covid-19 places on us all, in every part of our lives, it’s perhaps time to give flexible working a fair chance.
It’s equally important to ensure that individual arrangements are then communicated with the rest of team, department and so forth.
What is the Alternative?
Without this kind of strategy in place, unnecessary stress and anxiety has already been widely identified as an issue.
Employees are made to feel they should be available all day long, responding to evening emails sent be colleagues and find it difficult to switch off.
Whilst being seen actively online may be misconstrued as being productive, this will inevitably lead to burn out. It’s just another form of presenteeism.
To avoid situations like this, flexible working in your organisation should be promoted as the new norm working culture and should be clearly communicated, promoted with policies updated accordingly.
Employers also should take the pandemic as a catalyst to consider employees mental health and ensure social isolation doesn’t take place. Consider that all employees have very different personalities and that some simply adjust and cope with working from home better than others.
The negative mental health impact of loneliness and detachment from social interaction from working at home should not be underestimated.
Whilst it is detrimental to individuals, it has a knock-on effect to team performance and morale as a whole.
Actively encourage social interactions and activities amongst teams and departments; perhaps by encouraging weekly online team breakfasts or Friday afternoon online cookery class or quiz.
Give employees an opportunity to interact beyond emails and Zoom meetings!
A decline in mental and physical health will result in a decline in productivity. Increased absenteeism through illness, stress or burn-out is likely to increase, along with the number of cases of work-related musculoskeletal disorders.
These will undoubtedly impact your organisations out-put, performance, bottom line and reputation for employee wellbeing.
A proactive, supportive and flexible approach to your employees working arrangements will make a significant difference to employee productivity, wellbeing and morale and will set your business apart from your competitors.
Working from Home - for Employees
Comfort at your Desk
Get comfortable – look after yourself! You need to ensure you are working in a way that your body is not awkward, unsupported, bent over, shoulders slouched or wrists bent.
Aim for a neutral, relaxed and comfortable position.
Get yourself a comfortable chair, one with good ‘lumbar’ back support and with adjustable height so you can sit with feet planted flat.
For those of a shorter stature, a foot stool can make you feel more supported whilst seated.
Find yourself space at a full-height table, not a coffee table, ideally near a window. Looking down at your laptop or phone for periods of time can significantly increase pressure on the neck and shoulders.
You can really push the boat out and get a laptop stand to give you a second screen.
If you do choose to relocate to the sofa, make sure you use cushions to support yourself and prop your laptop.
Avoid Sofa Surfing!
Working on the sofa should only be if a table is simply not an option, for short periods of time.
Perhaps when reading is required or listening in on a call.
An investment in a complete working from home suite will avoid neck, back, shoulder and lower limb pain and make the WFH experience much more satisfying.
Remember, prevention is better than cure.
Equipment can be bought to everyone’s budget, and indeed, site’s like Gumtree are perfect for finding items such as second-hand monitors or ergonomic chairs.
Also, borrowing from friends or family will (at least should!) cost you little to nothing too.
If you have been adopting flexible working since around the start of the COVID pandemic (March 2020), working from home can no longer be considered temporary.
Should Employer's supply Home Equipment?
Now that much time has transpired since people were forced to work from home much more frequently, employers would be expected to make ‘reasonable practicable’ adjustments.
It is therefore reasonable for your employers to provide you with access to basic equipment whilst working from home.
Reasonable requests would include a separate monitor (or riser for your laptop), keyboard and mouse to attach to your laptop.
Whether this is interpreted as allowing you to take equipment home or giving you a reasonable budget to purchase your own, this should be discussed with your manager.
For other larger, more expensive items (e.g. ergonomic chairs, desks) provision of these would be at each organisation’s discretion.
The first step though is identifying any discomfort you are having and what could be done to alleviate that.
The second step is communicating and actioning this with your employer.
Where employers decide to make your working from home arrangement permanent, guidance on how to carry out workstation ergonomics assessments, provision of appropriate equipment and advice on control measures should be given.
Aside from the equipment, create a working environment conducive to good work.
Consider your lighting and work in a comfortably lit area.
If you have a reasonable view outside, take the opportunity to set up beside a window, bearing in mind positioning your screen to avoid glare, or if you can, make use of a blind.
An adjustable desk lamp is a valuable addition especially as we head into the shorter, darker days. Pick a level of brightness which you find comfortable to work in.
Connecting with Nature
Buy a plant for near your desk. Why?!
Our connection to nature is a proven to benefit our mental wellbeing. Studies prove that indoor plants, boost your mood, creativity and help reduce stress levels.
They also help to clean indoor air by absorbing toxins and producing oxygen. Bringing a bit of nature indoors can add life to a sterile space and absorb noise.
Speaking of nature, if you feel like taking a short walk – do it!
The fresh air and exercise will do you good; just be disciplined to get back to your work after and take advantage from it.
Either choose it as ‘time out’ of and come back refreshed or use it as a time for some creative thinking. Be strict with taking your downtime, enjoy your hard-earned breaks and don’t feel guilty about taking them.
Keep moving, don’t sit in a static position. Do a little dance if you have to, nobody’s watching.
This will help you avoid stiffness and aches from adopting awkward postures.
It’s also wise to avoid booking back-to-back Zoom meetings! Ideally we should only sit for short and moderate amounts of time.
If you’re the sort of person who will sit at their desk for long periods of time engrossed in their work, you are more likely to suffer from discomfort.
A novel idea is to buy a 40 minute egg-timer and when the timer runs out, get up and move around.
Whether it’s to rehydrate with a glass of water, or an energising smoothie or a relaxing cup of tea.
Alternatively put the washing out, open your post, or let the dog out into the garden. It’s all about changing your position and adding some movement, cancelling out the static posture experienced beforehand.
WARNING: Avoid social isolation!
Make an extra effort to chat to colleagues about non-work related things, take an interest in what’s happening in other peoples lives, ask someone how they are keeping, make someone laugh.
You may be surprised as the positive impact it has on both yourself and others.
Whilst we may know people professionally but how well do we really know our closest colleagues. Now is the time to get to know them better, find out their interests and let them know you’re there to talk to.
Productive Times of the Day?
Here’s a question for you to ponder to wrap us up – What time of the day are you most productive?
This isn’t always a question we ask ourselves, particularly when we are caught up in the daily grind of meetings and deadlines. Be honest with yourself and evaluate when you work best or how you can get the most out of your day.
Can you do things differently but not to the detriment of the quality of your work?
Are you an early bird and more productive earlier in the day or can get more done later in the evening, when children have gone to bed?
Re-evaluate your working day and your preferred working hours and then communicate this with your manager. Given everyone’s change in circumstances, now is a great time to have this conversation with your manager. It’s quite possible they will be working to their own optimal arrangements too.
And remember, as we all adjust, keep the work life balance in check.
Ergonomic & Wellbeing Support for Businesses
If you would benefit from further ergonomic and human factors advice or would like to receive an ergonomic review of your business, contact a Safeti OSH specialist below to start a conversation.