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Working from home: How employers can protect the well-being of their staff and their business  

Posted: 26th March 2020

The rush-hour commute, water cooler catch-ups and grabbing an after-work drink with colleagues will temporarily be a thing of the past for the majority of UK workers. Businesses up and down the country are adhering to government advice and imposing working from home measures amidst the coronavirus pandemic. As a result, a lot of people are having to adapt and adapt fast to make sure businesses don’t suffer even more.

It’s true that many modern day businesses may already employ flexible working policies to allow working from home on a short-term or temporary basis. However, few companies could have foreseen or planned sufficiently for the blanket measures put in place by the UK government earlier this month.

It’s an unprecedented situation that is affecting the lion’s share of the UK workforce. Business practices are undergoing seismic changes in little time to mitigate the negative impact months of remote working could have. Employees are also in unfamiliar territory, as they get to grips with the challenges remote working involves.

In typical circumstances, the majority of research points to homeworking being a positive step towards striking a balance between work and life commitments and boosting staff morale. However, when the decision is forced upon you, and the individual is ill-prepared, businesses may face unexpected challenges.

Ensuring the productivity of staff remains at the same level is a key priority for businesses right now. Adapting standard working from home policies on a company-wide scale will become common-practice as employers tackle the challenge of continuing with ‘business as usual’.

What’s more, workers are already feeling an extraordinary pressure to meet their contractual work obligations and with school closure now in effect across the country, it is unlikely to ease any time soon. There must therefore be an acceptance from employers that working parents will struggle to be as productive as normal.

Employee well-being and mental health will also be a major consideration and employers must prepare to provide additional help to their staff as working from home becomes the long-term norm.

Many of these challenges can be minimised but it is vital that businesses take a proactive approach to employee welfare in order to make the transition from office-based work to home-based work as seamless as possible.

A 2017 United Nations report found that 41% of remote workers reported high stress levels, compared to just 25% of office workers.[1] Increased isolation and an inability to ‘switch-off’ from work responsibilities are cited as being key contributors to this.

A priority for business must be maintaining communication channels during a period of increased solitude for workers. Promoting them as a method of replacing workplace camaraderie and mitigating any negative side-effects that come with an inevitable decrease in social interaction is extremely important.

Without the face-to-face contact an office environment promotes, regular catch-ups via phone and video call will replace meetings and will be the basis of supervising and measuring the performance of staff throughout this period.

HR departments also have a key role to play in developing advice and guidance for staff to ensure communication networks are maintained and vulnerable workers receive suitable support.

Employees must also be as proactive as possible in terms of looking after their own well-being. For example defining boundaries between work and home life in the new working environment is vital. Allocating time for regular exercise, hobbies and socialising (primarily via remote methods during this period) with people other than your colleagues are also important steps towards maintaining good physical and mental health.

As social distancing measures look set to remain in place for the next few weeks at least, working from home will remain a reality for the majority of UK employees. Overcoming the many unique challenges that this presents, including protecting the well-being of workers, will be paramount for businesses as they try to mitigate the impact of coronavirus and stay on a steady footing.

Law At Work will continue to monitor the situation and is available to answer queries that businesses may have. For more information please visit www.lawatwork.co.uk

Roz Wood

Head of HR consultancy at Law at Work

Business Comment

Business Comment is the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce’s bi-monthly magazine. It provides insight on Edinburgh’s vibrant business community, with features on the city’s key sectors, interviews with leading figures and news on new business developments in the capital.
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