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Considerations for Employers When Staff Are Working From Home

6 July 2020

Whatever industry you are in, COVID-19 has fundamentally changed how businesses and staff operate. With more employees working from home, there are several unique challenges that employers are having to consider. We round up what employers should do for staff working at home

How do you keep staff motivated, encourage collaboration and support training, particularly for new employees – and how do you provide them with the equipment they need while supporting their mental health and wellbeing?

It is likely that even after the coronavirus lockdown has ended, some of these new ways of working will remain, with staff potentially seeking to retain the elements that worked for them. By being clear in your implementation of policies for working from home, and by setting expectations and goals, you can better gauge the success of this lockdown period and ease the transition back into work. Here are five things employers should do for staff working at home.

Setting up a home office for your employees

Traditionally, the merits of home working would depend entirely on its suitability to the business in question. While remote and flexible working arrangements had been gaining in popularity – often as a way to improve mental health and employee retention – they were still relatively rare in many sectors. The coronavirus pandemic has changed this, and we have seen a rapid uptake in remote working, with many businesses learning as they go.

As a business, you are likely to know which jobs (if any) are suited to working from home. The greater difficulty lies in ensuring that home working emulates your office environment, from a mentality perspective and in terms of health & safety as well as from a data protection perspective. It is important to ensure that your employees’ home offices or other working environments are not only legally compliant, but also conducive to working in an efficient and effective manner.

There are also more fundamental issues which may prevent employees from working remotely. These might include a low-quality internet connection, or lacking the tools necessary to do their job. If you rely on powerful workstations in your office to edit media, for example, your employees may not be able to perform that same work at home or perform it as quickly. Software subscriptions are also frequently tied to specific workstations or networks, so any cloud-based software (e.g. Adobe Creative Suite) may be unavailable.

Risk assessments for remote working

Working from home is still work, and so your employees’ workspace must comply with health & safety regulations. Employers should provide home workers with a health & safety risk assessment template to assess their home office space, considering elements such as ergonomics, PAT testing for electrical equipment, adequate lighting, good cable management and a suitable working temperature. The inability to fulfil any of these criteria may prevent employees from being able to work from home safely.

Consider an employee who shares their home with someone else who is also working remotely. As many homes will not have two adequate spaces for home working, this may prevent your employee from working in a way that complies with health & safety regulations. If they only have a laptop, placing this on a desk or dressing table (or working from their bed) is unlikely to comply with guidance on ergonomics. These are just some of the unique criteria that might cause issues with remote work.

A solution to these issues may be to simply loan out equipment. By arranging for a safe way to borrow equipment such as chairs, desks and computers, you can help your employees to fulfil their roles and to emulate the office environment. This will allow them to borrow equipment that has been safety-tested and risk-assessed, and includes all the features they are used to. In this case, it may be worth drafting an agreement for the loan of the equipment and setting out rules on how it should be used.

If you are unable to safely assess employees’ home office space, or your employees are uncertain about performing their own risk assessments, you can carry out remote assessments. Loch Training & Wellbeing can carry out DSE assessments virtually over a video call, helping to assess the home working space and providing tips to help your staff work from home. For more information, get in touch with us today.

Psychometric testing

The Covid-19 pandemic has left many businesses with little choice but to allow people to work from home. In some cases, this has been a positive development, as employees have taken well to remote working. However, some people will not perform as well when working from home as they would in the workplace, for a few complex reasons.

One aspect of this is an individual’s work ethic. While some people are naturally highly motivated and organised, others rely on aspects of their daily working life for motivation. The presence of other people around them can provide support and motivation, while working from home can leave them stranded. Similarly, the home environment may feel like a space for relaxation, rather than work, and could lead to distractions or the temptation to do other things.

In the workplace, you are often in an environment where there is both a passive pressure to perform, and an absence of distractions that would prevent you from focusing on your work. When working from home, distractions can range from noise to housework that needs doing. The lack of oversight or role models and the presence of these distractions can lead some people to perform worse when working remotely.

A good way to address these issues is to undertake psychometric testing. Loch HR can help you to set up a Suitability for Remote Working test, designed to gauge different personality types among your workforce and how well suited they are to working from home. By obtaining and analysing this data, you can take action to help your employees get the most out of remote working, and arrange schedule to stagger the return to the workplace based on who would benefit most.

Training and staff development

One area in which it may prove difficult to provide continuity is training and staff development. Without somebody close-by to provide guidance, new or recent hires can easily be forgotten about, and not feel able or empowered to ask questions. This not only makes onboarding for new employees difficult but could also stunt the growth of less experienced employees and be an obstacle for those who require a sounding board to share ideas with.

Successful onboarding often has two elements: direct and indirect learning. Direct learning is the time spent actively training and educating a trainee, teaching them and answering their questions. Indirect learning is the information they gain from the office environment around them, such as overhearing conversations or observing details (e.g. practices or aspects of routine) that allow them to integrate more quickly. When working from home, both of these methods can be imperiled.

One way to solve both issues may be to more closely emulate the office environment. While apps such as Zoom place a limit on the length of calls, others – such as the popular app House Party – allow you to remain in a video call for long periods of time. Where possible, it may be helpful to maintain a constant connection between a trainee and a senior employee in this way. Even if they are only a silent presence in the background, maintaining that link will empower the trainee to ask questions and not feel that anything is too trivial to justify a call.

Similarly, other online productivity apps and tools can help to foster collaboration online and keep colleagues abreast of what others are working on. Apps such as Teamwork and Toggl are useful for keeping track of the time you have spent on projects, be it for clients or your own personal record. This then allows supervisors to see where time is being allocated and ask trainees if they need help when a task appears to be taking longer than it should. This has the added benefit of providing a level of autonomy to all employees, while also gauging the merits of that autonomy.

Supporting the mental health of employees working from home

Employers have a responsibility to care for the mental health of their staff, and this is particularly pertinent when working from home. As well as the inherent isolation of remote working, world events are putting additional strain on many people. Failing to accommodate for mental health conditions while remote working could contravene the Equality Act 2010. Actions that trigger or worsen a mental health issue could also be construed as harassment and may also fall under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.

Employers should both be mindful of recognised mental health conditions among employees, and considerate of the circumstances that may lead to the development of mental health conditions, or exacerbation of undiagnosed issues. Ensuring good mental health should form part of your working from home risk assessments, as well as your COVID-19 risk assessments on returning to the workplace, given the potential fears around infection.

Good communication is vital when looking to improve mental health while remote working. Employees should feel empowered to speak out about any issues they may be having and assured that you are taking the issue seriously. Our Mental Health First Aid training course (which can be done online) can help staff at all levels to better support each other, and provide pathways for further support and treatment. Remote working is ideal for this, as it allows individuals to speak one-to-one over video calls without worrying about being overheard.

With many people working from their personal computers, the division of work and personal life may also be increasingly blurred, making it harder to switch off. It may be prudent to consider rules around work/life balance and think about ways in which to separate the two. One example may be to make it clear that there is no obligation to send or respond to emails outside of working hours. You should also encourage employees to exercise and take regular screen breaks, perhaps even going as far as mandating these throughout the day.

How Loch Associates Group can help

The ability to work from home has been a saving grace for many businesses during this difficult period, but it should not be used as an excuse to let standards slip. Businesses still have a responsibility to uphold safety and employment laws for remote workers, and to maintain the same standards they set in the workplace.

While these obligations present a challenge, fulfilling them will leave your employees and your business better off. Loch Associates Group have the expertise and experience in providing guidance and support with a range of health & safety services remotely, including risk assessments, risk management, comprehensive health & safety reviews and mental health first aid training. Visit our Health & Safety page to find out more, or please get in touch with us today if you need guidance on what employers should do for staff working at home.

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