21 Jul 2021

Due to recent economic changes, many companies have learnt to adapt to alternative work methods. Remote working has proven to have positive influences for businesses on a global scale.


Remote workers attain comfort from flexible working conditions, zero-commuting strains, and a near perfect work-life balance. Which in turn, increases business productivity and performance – not to mention savings on infrastructure and maintenance costs.


But the concept of remote working does have its darker repercussions. Long-term isolation, hybrid office setups, and work-related health problems can all have lasting effects on workers’ wellbeing.


Whether on-site or off-site, employers hold legal responsibility for safeguarding staff wellbeing. Through proper support and monitoring risks, remote workers can feel engaged, encouraged, and motivated to work through these uncertain times.


What is a remote worker?


A remote worker is an employee who works outside of the standard workspace. The basis of their work conditions causes them to complete tasks without direct supervision or workplace necessities.


In 2020, almost 46.6% of UK employees worked remotely or from home. But it should be known that employers hold the same health and safety responsibilities for remote workers, as one would do for any other worker.


As we arise from nationwide lockdowns, more businesses have chosen to permanently implement a hybrid model for working. So parallel to this, employers must concentrate on employee physical and mental wellbeing now more than ever.


Legal responsibilities


Despite remote workers largely benefiting from new working environments, they aren’t without their own dangers.


Remote workers are more likely to face work-related problems, as a lack of control over risks deems unavoidable.


Two pieces of UK legislation that outline duty of care for remote workers are:


- The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974

- The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999


Legal compliance with the legislation guarantees employers are subsequently protecting employee wellbeing and minimising workplace hazards.


The negative effects of remote working can form unforeseen consequences. Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that 828,000 workers suffered from work-related stress and anxiety – estimating a loss of 17.9 million working days. Some of the most common consequences can range from:


  • Loneliness and isolation
  • Detachment from colleagues and the workplace
  • Mental stress and burnout
  • Physical afflictions caused by badly arranged workstations


How do I look after the wellbeing of remote workers?


We could class remote workers as lone workers, even vulnerable in some situations. But there are several wellbeing support methods you can apply. For example:


Set boundaries between work and personal time


As most remote employees work under flexible conditions, it’s increasingly evident that separation between work and personal life is often blurred.


As technological innovations become more commonplace, the demand to stay ‘logged on’ breeds detachment issues. Remote workers should not feel guilty for taking breaks or recharging at the end of a workday.


Employers should set agendas, where tasks are completed within appropriate timeframes. And ensure that workers take regular breaks away from workstations. Through daily communication, you can minimise any signs of overworking and triggers for work-related stress.


Have regular one-to-one time


All work-relationships should show levels of comfortability and empathy between employer and employees. Accessible advice and support when needed stand as great lifelines for remote workers. 


Have regular one-to-one meetings and listen to their queries and problems – whether it’s work related or not.


Through these conversations, you’ll be able to read workers on emotional levels. Allowing you to notice any signs of anxiety or work-related pressure and make them feel like valuable team members.


Provide physical and emotional support


Employers can provide direct physical support through ergonomic equipment. Supply remote workers with equipment like keyboards rests, support cushions, risers, and ergonomic chairs to help aid physical health.


For some remote workers, long periods of detachment and isolation can have direct impacts on one’s mental health and mindset.


By normalising a culture of open communication, you can easily combat signs of work-related stress, social anxiety, and burnout.


Lead by example 


Workers can unconsciously pick up bad habits from people they work around. So, encourage a shared attitude of prioritising wellbeing over deadlines and targets. Lead by example, and workers will follow in your footsteps.


Minor changes like, ‘not skipping lunch breaks‘ or ‘not replying to emails outside of work hours’, can really help enhance employee wellbeing – and in return, business productivity. 


Create a support network


Some workers will always be at an automatic disadvantage when asked to work from home. It could be their first time working remotely. Maybe they’re a new starter in the business and require extra support. Or maybe they just aren’t that tech-savvy.


Try to have additional IT and communication support, providing workers with information, training, and support available. Employers could even invest in Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP), which provides workers with physical health advice and mental wellbeing support. 


By meeting these requirements and safeguarding staff wellbeing, workers will convey their appreciation back into the business. 


Just like the unwritten rules of bringing work home, the fundamental structure of a business has changed forever.


You may have to accept current business norms, like remote working, hybrid offices, and virtual communication sooner than you think. Thereby, allowing the economy can carry on running, with its “business as usual” attitude.

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