Chief Commercial Officer BHSF
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Remote working: five top tips for keeping home workers healthy

28th Mar 2019
remote working
iStock/Dean Mitchell

Home working is the new norm, but how do you ensure your home workers are fully supported?

Think back to archive images of men in grey suits, bowler hats and rolled up umbrellas, marching together like a colony of penguins, all heading in the same direction to offices that were as uniform as their appearance.

Communication was limited to meetings, phones and letters. Most people worked their way up in one organisation, methodically climbing each rung of the corporate ladder at the appropriate age.

Fast forward to the 21st century, and work is virtually unrecognisable.

Drab grey attire and surroundings have been replaced by a riot of colour. Smart devices mean it’s possible to work from virtually anywhere, so long as there is an internet connection.

Nine to five is dead; working patterns have become individual to each employee. ‘Diversity’ and ‘inclusion’ are the buzzwords of the moment, with businesses realising the benefits of employing a diverse workforce.

One of the biggest trends of the last decade has been the growth of home working, with almost a third of employees now working from home at least once a week.

Remote working brings a whole host of benefits for employees and employers – including more flexibility, which can increase employee productivity, improve staff retention rates and job satisfaction.

Despite the clear benefits of flexible working, employers should still ensure that their workers stay fit and healthy, wherever that work takes place. Here are my top tips for keeping home workers healthy.

1. Think posture and workstations

Back pain is a leading cause of sickness absence, costing the UK economy more than £10.7 billion every year.

While employers have invested in the latest ergonomic furniture for their in-house employees, home workers are often overlooked.

As smart devices become more compact and sophisticated, this can also encourage bad habits while working from home. Spending a prolonged period of time working on a laptop or a tablet with poor posture can be incredibly harmful to employees’ musculoskeletal health.

Employees working from home can spend hours in the same position, as they don’t have these natural interruptions to their day.

Our research showed that 58% had received no guidance from their employer on how to set up a workstation that supports healthy posture. It might come as no surprise that 37% reported new pain since working from home.

Action – find out about your employees’ home workstations and ensure they complete a Display Screen Equipment (DSE) assessment. Provide the necessary equipment and guidance on how to use this.

2. Encourage movement

The human body is not designed to sit for long periods of time. Even if you exercise regularly, spending a lot of time sitting down can be bad for your health, contributing to higher rates of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

In an office, employees are far more likely to move away from their desks - going to meetings, speaking to colleagues or heading out for lunch. Employees working from home can spend hours in the same position, as they don’t have these natural interruptions to their day.

Action - explore ways that you can encourage breaks among home workers - this could include wearable technology or wellbeing apps that utilise push notification reminders to take regular breaks, or adopting time management methods, such as the Pomodoro technique.

3. Communication is key

Looking after the physical health of employees working from home is only part of the story - it’s important to consider their mental health too.

Most home workers in our survey found working from home a positive experience, using phrases like ‘free’ and ‘in control’ to describe their situation.

There are some negative attitudes, however, with approximately a quarter using words like ‘isolated’, ‘remote’ and ‘lonely’.

While the improved productivity of home working has its advantages, humans are naturally social beings and employees need to feel part of a team.

Action - organise regular face-to-face meetings, or introduce new communication tools, such as Slack, to make collaboration easier, create a company culture across your team of remote workers and ensure home workers feel like part of the team.

4. Implement boundaries

For anyone based in an office, physically leaving the building at the end of the day provides a natural closure to their working day. Home workers don’t encounter this and find it particularly difficult to switch off.

Our research found that 82% accessed emails outside of their normal working hours on a weekly basis.

It’s important that employers regularly review their working arrangements to ensure they are providing the best possible support for home workers.

By failing to have proper breaks from work, home workers could be in danger of ‘burn out’.

Action - introduce guidelines on out of hours communications, clearly setting out the expectations for employees and management. An IT block on emails sent outside of working hours could also be implemented.

5. Keep looking to the future

Just as the way we work has changed dramatically over the past decade, it will keep evolving in the years to come.

It’s important that employers regularly review their working arrangements to ensure they are providing the best possible support for home workers.

Employees’ personal circumstances may also change too, so it’s crucial that communication plays an important part on both sides.

Action – regularly review home workers’ workstations and home working arrangements - evaluate their equipment and technology in order to take advantage of the latest innovations.

Just as the world of work has changed, thoughts around workplace wellbeing are beginning to shift too.

Want to learn more? Read Home worker wellbeing: how to manage it properly.

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