Remote work is now a part of most businesses. The pandemic has escalated the urgent need for remote work across the globe. Coupled with technological advancement, many find that remote work is practical and workable by communicating and collaborating with your team members while defying geo-restrictions.
What is Remote Work?
Caption: Employees’ response to remote work worldwide in 2020 (Source: Statista)
Aka Work from Home (WFH), remote work refers to a working arrangement that allows an employee to work outside the office, usually at home. However, this can extend to other locations beyond your living area. Some work while traveling full-time.
Whatever it is, such a flexible working style allows employees to enjoy a better work-life balance. Many find remote work highly beneficial as it gives flexibility and increases productivity. Time spent commuting is wiser spent at work. Hence, the remote workers’ output ratio is higher. Employees are happier and healthier. As such, the company enjoys higher employee retention.
You are empowered to set your daily schedule and plan your work accordingly as long as the deadlines are met so that both your professional and personal lives can be optimized and balanced well.
Major Health & Safety Risks for Remote Workers
Remote work brings many benefits to the company and its workers; this happens only if the remote work teams work successfully together. They require much dedication, discipline, and adherence to the relevant policies that govern work, security, equipment use, performance tracking, and managing expectations.
Aside from managing all these, which include security and privacy concerns as well you need to ensure that the health and safety of remote workers are looked after and intact.
You cannot ignore the importance of safeguarding the health and safety of your remote workers. Out of sight, out of mind is dangerous. If left unguarded, problems can creep, grow, and explode, posing repercussions to your remote workers and company.
Here are several significant health and safety risks for remote workers (working from home) you cannot ignore:
1. No Proper Working Furniture and Supplies
Your staff sits at their work desk for the whole day working at the computer. Ensure that all supplies and furniture are ergonomic and friendly to the human body. As a responsible employer, you would have furnished your office with the necessary ergonomic furniture and equipment so that your workers work comfortably in a healthy environment.
However, remote working is a different matter altogether. For all you know, your employees could be working at the dining table, and there is no proper desk and chair at the optimum height to prevent neck pain, backaches, and joint problems. Soon, they will be developing wrist and hand problems, strains, and sprains. Musculoskeletal pain is a common issue when remote workers do not have the right ergonomic furniture.
How to Address
To avoid such a predicament, ensure your employees address the poor ergonomics issue by reimbursing them for ergonomic furniture and items for working at home. You can set a limit or provide them with the same ergonomic furniture from the office to use at home.
In your remote work health and safety policy, specify that the computer monitor should be about an arm’s length away while keeping your hips and knees at a 90-degree angle; this allows for a healthy sitting posture.
2. No Conducive Working Environment
Even though your remote worker has a proper desk and chair with the necessary supplies, you must realize that the working environment extends to more than the desk and chair.
Poor lighting can lead to eye strain and worsening eye conditions. Headaches can also develop in time. The lack of clear and comfortable lighting can cause your remote workers to squint their eyes for higher clarity. Prolonged hours of doing such bring about tiring eye strain, which many refer to as computer vision syndrome.
How to Address
Ensure that your remote employees adhere to the safety guidelines on the lighting in their work areas at home (safety guidelines drafted in your remote work health and safety policy). It is best to adjust the computer screen’s angle to be around 15 to 20 degrees below the horizontal eye level.
Prolonged hours on the screen are bad for the eyes. The blue light from the screen disrupts vision and is unhealthy for the eyes. What happens is that the blue light hits the front of the eye retina, therefore causing the eyes to work harder to focus better on the screen. Your eyes become more strained and tired.
How to Address
Have your employees claim from the company for such computer spectacles. Encourage your remote workers to take a break now and then, to rest their eyes and look outside.
“Some spectacles filter out the blue light; this helps make the eyes more comfortable. You can easily find such spectacles in the market. Just make sure they are verified by eye experts.” says Dr. Jordan Marr, Master of Optometry from Mouqy.
Air Quality and Ambience
Bad air quality and ventilation cause headaches and breathing problems. Your remote workers will suffer. A noisy and chaotic surrounding goes without saying. All these lead to poor performance and low productivity.
How to Address
Draft a remote work health and safety policy that ascertains remote workspace requirements, covering air ventilation and ambiance quality. Make sure that you enforce this policy by conducting spot checks.
Having set up a working space, your staff has to be vigilant. Cables that are haphazard and not properly coiled and kept can lead to accidents. Heavy equipment, especially for hardware testers, if not placed well, can cause unwanted injuries.
Network equipment or any tools, for that matter, need to be set up and configured correctly. You would not want any fires or electrical accidents to occur.
How to Address
Your remote work health and safety policy should cover personalized emergency Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) based on your workers’ respective homes. Evacuation for condominiums will require a different approach as compared to terrace houses. Best safe practices such as having a surge protector and properly-grounded outlets with an emergency supply kit must be in place.
3. Less Mobility
It is common to have workers move around throughout the day at the office to catch up with colleagues and attend meetings or training classes. However, remote workers are different. They are at home working, and they tend to be glued to their desks the whole day, causing a higher risk for sitting-related health complications.
Obesity is the number one health problem that is prevalent among many. Working remotely only aggravates the situation by promoting a sedentary lifestyle, not forgetting other health issues, including diabetes and heart problems.
How to Address
You have to encourage a physical fitness regime. Specify a set time in a day for each employee to log in to a virtual exercise class. Keep track of attendance and make sure the cameras are on. Your managers must remind their team members to take breaks and walkabout.
4. Mental Health Issues – Isolation from Others
Caption: Challenges with remote working 2020-2022 (Source: Statista)
You believe that having the flexibility to work from home and enjoy a work-life balance is a great idea; you are correct. However, some may react differently. Instead of clocking at set times daily, some would work even longer without stopping. The lack of office time boundaries can cause a remote worker to keep chugging on.
The line between work and personal life of your remote workers becomes so fine that they eventually burn out. Also, working alone at home all day and every day, Mondays to Fridays can take a toll on the person’s mental health. They look around and see no usual office setting and colleagues. As such, they feel lonely and isolated even.
No personal interaction and bonding can make them feel apart and not belong to the team. Hence, low morale; your remote workers will sink further into a deeper cocoon of despair.
How to Address
Managers must make it a point to focus on the psychological aspects of their team members. It is not always all about work deliverables only. As such, arrange weekly sessions of bonding time or happy hours where your team members can bond.
You can consider scheduling one-to-one sessions with each remote employee to keep in touch with them. Find out what troubles them and help resolve it for them. Give appreciation and reward your employees for any job well done; boost their morale.
As much as remote work carries many advantages, so does it brings along the baggage of health and safety risks. As a responsible and accountable employer, you must ensure that your remote workers’ overall safety and well-being are looked after during work. Such risk management becomes more complicated when your employee’s home is also their office.
Several health and safety risks plague your remote workers. Aside from physical well-being and safety, you have to pay attention to the emotional part. Peruse through the above and make the necessary changes so that your remote workers are healthier and happier, giving you the higher productivity and performance your business needs.