The Covid-19 pandemic facilitated a huge shift from office work over to home remote working. In the post pandemic landscape many have now returned to the office. But large numbers have either chosen not to, or their companies have experienced benefits from a remote workforce. Or perhaps are now working on hybrid models with a mix of office and remote working.
The benefits of remote working may be myriad. For companies, economic advantages may be found from leasing smaller office spaces and reduced utility costs. Increased productivity and performance from staff. Less sickness and absence as staff are not physically together, thus enabling the spread of sickness.
Workers too are often finding that they are also enjoying economic benefits. These are being derived many sources including the reduction of transportation, lunch and office clothing costs. But primarily the reported benefits are reaped as regards work/life balance and the ability to customise their day and working environment to include the taking of exercise.
Whilst unquestionably the physical and quantifiable advantages of remote working for the employee are many, there are downsides and additional risk that a Health and Safety Manager, or those with health and safety responsibilities must be aware of.
What are the Disadvantages of Remote Working that HSE Managers should be Aware of ?
Some new challenges have arisen. Here are a few of our suggestions that Health and Safety Managers and professionals should be aware of:
- Issue Identification Challenges – When employees aren’t physically present, it can be tougher to identify and address issues that an employer must be aware of and the Health and Safety Manager required to assist with
- Safety Culture – Growing or changing the organizational safety culture takes on a whole new level of complexity when the team is dispersed and can’t interact as closely as before
- Communications – Essential health and safety communications may seem less personal via remote means. Delivering health and safety messaging, or implementing HSE programmes may be less likely to have the same impact when delivered via email or webinars
- Increase in Musculoskeletal Disorders – As remote workers risk working in poorly set up workstations without adequate supervision
- New previously Unidentified HSE Risks – That traditional risk assessments will not be able to uncover due to proximity issues
- Not being able to Physically Visit each Environment – Relying instead on the employees risk assessments of their own workplaces and workstations remotely. The results of which may not always be accurate
- No Follow Up – Relying on employees to follow health and safety working practices and guidelines without the ability for physical follow up by the health and safety personnel
Issues Specific to Mental Health Caused or Exacerbated by Remote Working
- Increase in Issues with Mental Health – Often caused by employees feeling lonely and isolated. It is an essential that the Health and Safety Manager identifies the risk and protects the employees psychological health in addition to their physical health
- Challenges in forming good Working Relationships – Especially in teams and with colleagues who the employee may have never met in person. With little or fewer opportunities to interact in person, employees don’t always get to know each other as well, thus making teamwork difficult
- Social Isolation – Can lead to mental health struggles and the creation of new categories of vulnerable workers not previously identified during risk assessments
- Burnout – Working from home can lead to higher levels of burnout for some. It can be harder to mentally switch off at the end of the workday when your working environment is at home. Often resulting in employees working longer hours
- Trust – Remote working can make it difficult to establish trust as opposed to in person interactions. This can effectively negatively the Health and Safety Managers work where trust is key
How to Help Staff to keep themselves Healthy – Physically and Mentally
- Encourage them to Not Sit Still – Being sedentary for 6 or more hours a day can increase the risk of death by 40%. Shocking, eh ? This is due to the increased risk of various musculoskeletal and cardiovascular diseases, as well as some kinds of cancer. A fix to look at could be standing desks for staff ?
- Encourage Movement – Encourage employees to engage in regular movements. As the Health and Safety Manager perhaps you could look at leading stretches during lunch breaks or running a short yoga sessions in the afternoon ?
- Promote Healthy Eating – Working from home gives a great chance to eat a healthy and balanced diet. Perhaps you could educate staff in the preparation of fresh meals every day ?
- Ensure Social Contact is kept – Encourage social contact and create an online community within the workplace
- Promote Meditation – Keeps employee stress levels low and help focus on the important things in life. Introduce employees to apps such as Headspace
- Help Staff Create a Daily Routine – Give employees examples of how a routine can help them keep their productivity, energy and concentration levels high. For example; a short run and a healthy breakfast, work until lunch, have a meal and go for a walk. A routine to finish the workday such as shutting down all devices and closing the home office door will help them to switch off and create a clear divide between home and work
- Encourage Staff to Keep Home Life Separate – No matter how tempting to grab a laptop and work from bed all day explain how important it is not to let private and working space become one
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