Ensuring remote workers’ safety and welfare

Remote working benefits both employers and employees. With no need for commuting, savings on travel costs, more choice of where to live, and more opportunities for flexible working arrangements, it’s easy to see why an estimated 60% of UK employees are still currently working from home

This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on Management Today

Despite the many upsides of home-working, remote working means that employees can become isolated from colleagues and employers. Another common challenge employers need to tackle regarding remote working employees is how to ensure their health, safety, and welfare. 

Health and safety responsibilities

Just because your employees work remotely does not mean you aren’t responsible for their professional health, safety and welfare. Although the Workplace Regulations 1992 do not apply to domestic premises, this does not mean you can relinquish your responsibility for your employees. As Greg Clark, employment solicitor at B P Collins explains, “If an employee is working from home, employers still have a duty to do whatever is reasonably practicable to protect the health and safety of their employees.”

Despite working from home, employees can still fall victim to injury – for example, using computers for extended periods of time can cause eye strain, repetitive strain injury and back pain. In addition, the isolation caused by remote working will be harder on some of your employees than others; this can create a risk to employees’ mental health and overall wellbeing and must be addressed as a priority when considering the welfare of a remote working employee.

If you do not address the health and safety of your remote working employees you can make yourself vulnerable to legal action in the form of an accident at work claim. This can not only be damaging to your business reputation, but financially damaging as well – so it’s important to prioritise the health and safety of remote workers just as highly as those working on site.  

Conduct a thorough risk assessment

The first step you need to take involves conducting a thorough risk assessment; if your employees wish to work remotely it is essential you do everything you can to ensure their remote working setup meets your company health and safety regulations. This will ensure their working environment is safe, and that any potential risks are reduced.

The best, and most thorough, way to conduct a risk assessment is to hire a health and safety officer to visit the employee’s property. A risk assessment can then be carried out before the employee’s remote working environment is approved as safe. This risk assessment will analyse the following points:

  • Workstation set-up.
  • Natural light.
  • Ventilation.
  • Desk and chair quality.
  • Desktop, laptop, and tablet suitability.
  • Electrical equipment storage and maintenance.
  • Data security.
  • Insurance, if applicable.
  • Electrical installations.

This risk assessment will allow any health, safety and welfare concerns to be addressed; any issues uncovered can then be addressed and resolved.

Inform and train remote workers on health and safety

Once any potential risks have been identified, it is your responsibility as the employer to inform and train your remote workers on health and safety. The risk assessment report will provide both you and your employees with the information required to make the appropriate changes. This will involve:

  • Identifying hazards and identifying risks.
  • Training to perform remote working tasks safely and effectively.
  • Providing counselling services, and alerting employees of HR details.
  • Planning ahead to manage emergency situations that may occur.

Just as you would take the time to ensure your on-site employees have a safe and conducive workspace, it is important to do the same for your remote employees.

Keep remote workers connected

Managing remote workers can be a challenge; however, in order to ensure the mental wellbeing of remote workers – particularly those feeling isolated – it’s important to keep remote workers connected with their colleagues and part of team decisions or company happenings. 

According to mind mapping app Ayoa, “There’s no denying that remote working (which has long been one of the most sought-after employee perks) brings many benefits […] however, without the right tools and procedures in place, one thing that can easily be lost when businesses work remotely is communication.” 

Take the time to establish social tools and practices that will help to foster relationships, allow employees the opportunity to get to know each other better, and help remote workers stay connected on a daily basis. Technology provides great opportunities for this; tools such as FaceTime, Slack, and Zoom make it easier than ever to ask a quick question, schedule a face-to-face meeting, or just check-in to find out how things are progressing.

Communication is key to maintaining the mental health of remote workers. Keeping them connected through the tools mentioned above is a great way to ensure they don’t miss out on the social elements of your company. In addition, it can be helpful to provide counselling services through your business that provide a safe space for struggling employees to ask for help. Even for remote workers, there are steps you can take to ensure they stay connected and mentally strong.

Take action to reduce burnout

Burnout is a common complaint among remote workers (especially pandemic-induced burnout). With no real separation between the office and the home, remote workers often find themselves feeling overwhelmed, stressed, or like they can’t ‘switch off’ after a long day at work. This can make burnout more likely. However, it can be hard for an employer of remote workers tell whether employees are struggling with burnout or not. Here are some of the most common signs:

  • A constant state of exhaustion.
  • An increase in the number of sick days taken.
  • Making a lot of mistakes.
  • Finding it difficult to concentrate.
  • Signs of fatigue (this can often point to depression).

If you notice any of these symptoms in your remote workers it’s possible they are struggling with burnout – before they burn out completely, it is important to take action.

Take the time to meet with them and discuss steps you could take to ease some of their stress. Reduce their work commitments by taking over some of their tasks, discuss flexible working possibilities, and ask if there are any ways they would like to be supported. All these things can help manage burnout in your team and maintain a healthy, happy team of remote workers who have the mental capacity to produce a high standard of work, consistently.

There are many ways you can support remote workers and ensure that their health, safety and welfare is maintained. We hope this article has highlighted some of the most essential changes you can make to ensure the health and safety of your employees, whether they are working from the office or from home.

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