The hidden challenges of working from home
Working from home is here to stay – for the next six months at least.
The latest restrictions announced by the Government mean that anyone who can effectively work from home should do so.
That’s a big change in emphasis from the position just a few weeks ago, when we were being urged to return to the office to help the economy recover from the impact of the March lockdown.
And for many employers, it’s a move which comes with a series of hidden costs.
During the initial lockdown, some of the challenges of staff working from home were not always apparent. We simply got on with making the transformation from office to kitchen table as quickly and efficiently as we could.
But six months on – and with another six months to come – that pragmatism among employees could be starting to wear a little thin.
Being away from the office – and the team – for such a long period has already started to loosen some of the bonds on which great teamwork is built. Staff are starting to feel more isolated, less a part of a communal effort and more as if they are fighting a one-man or woman campaign to keep on top of everything.
This isolation can also breed suspicion. Is my colleague working as hard as I am? Why hasn’t my boss told me what a good job I’m doing lately? Why do I get all the worst tasks? This can be corrosive to not only the individual worker, but the team as a whole.
Maintaining relationships over distance is tough. When people are out of sight, they are all too often out of an employer’s mind, and the work to keep everyone pulling in the same direction and morale at its highest can slip down the priority list.
And mental health and wellbeing can also be hard to maintain when your team is not right in front of you. As a model employer, you may well have a sound set of policies and programmes to help ensure your staff’s mental health is well looked after, but without the daily physical contact that working in an office or factory brings, it can be difficult to maintain – at just the time it is needed the most.
There is now plenty of evidence to suggest that our overall wellbeing is starting to be impacted by long periods of isolation, so there has never been a more important time to put it at the top of your agenda.
On top of all this, there are plenty of legal responsibilities you have for employees who are working from home.
You are still, for example, responsible for the health and safety of any staff working from home. Your staff must be able to carry out their work safely and have the right equipment to do so, with reasonable adjustments being made for anyone with a disability. If changes are needed, it’s your responsibility to make them happen.
So even if you haven’t done it in the first months of lockdown, you should discuss what equipment and technology each of your employees needs to work from home and ensure they have access to it and to any support needed to set it up.
For office workers, this includes making sure they have the correct chair, desk and computer monitors set up, so you are not exposing them to unnecessary risk from repetitive strain injuries.
This responsibility does not stop once your employee is set up for working from home. You should keep the situation under regular scrutiny and make improvements where necessary. For example, if an employee requires a headset to work from home, this should be provided when appropriate.
By law, employees who are working from home must get the same pay, if they are working their usual hours. Their usual terms and conditions will still apply and you need to ensure staff working from home follow the law on working hours.
And you should check the details of your insurance to make sure it covers you for staff working from home – and ask your staff to make sure they have checked there is nothing in their own mortgage or rental agreements which prevents them from doing so.
It’s a complicated business - and staying on top of everything in the middle of a global crisis is far from easy. But we are here to help. If you need support on any of these issues just click the button for a free consultation and expert advice from people who care.