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The “home office” became a full-time fixture for many people in 2020, but despite the novelty of working in pyjamas, the disruption to our daily routines, changes in how we communicate, and the encroachment of work into our (often ill-prepared) personal space could have numerous health consequences.
Employers remain responsible for the health and safety of staff who work remotely, and should ensure that their employees are suitably equipped and trained to do their job at home without risking their present or future health and wellbeing. And that includes keeping a close eye on their mental as well as physical health, without neglecting your own!
Here are a few tips to help both employers and employees adopt good working from home habits:
Lack of contact can make people feel disconnected and isolated. As an employer, you should keep in touch with all of your staff regularly. Arrange individual check-ups or weekly team meetings (ideally both, if you have the time!), both over the phone and via video call. Watch out for signs of stress, for example if an employee’s behaviour changes or they appear disinterested, nervous or more emotional than usual. At a time when many jobs are at risk, be sure to communicate any changes within your organisation to reduce uncertainty.
Consider what work each employee does, and whether it can be done safely at home. If they need specialist equipment, ensure they are properly trained to use it without supervision. Most people’s daily work will be computer based, and you must control the risks associated with using display screen equipment, such as fatigue, eye strain and backache. This means encouraging regular breaks, and asking them to carry out a workstation assessment. More on that below!
For many people, working from home predates the pandemic, but it’s never too late to correct bad habits. All employees must conduct a workstation assessment, which aims to emulate, as closely as possible, an actual work desk. Ideally this would include a separate screen, keyboard, and mouse, with the screen raised to eye level to avoid a stooped neck (nothing wrong with a box or pile of books here!), and the keyboard and mouse within reach while your arms are relaxed by your side.
Your sitting position is also crucial, and maintaining good posture will reduce the risk of back pain. Your lower back should be supported, your thighs parallel to the ground and your feet flat on the floor. If you can’t invest in an ergonomic chair just yet, support your back with a cushion.