In just a few years, the COVID pandemic fundamentally changed the way we work. During the time of lockdowns, employers and employees globally discovered that many jobs do not require an office setting. Tasks that were once almost exclusively performed in workplace cubicles were now being accomplished just as efficiently at home using the technology that has become available over the last two decades. So, even though, workplaces have now reopened, workers are slow to return to the office with many choosing to work from home at least part of the week.
Between 2019 and 2021, the number of people primarily working from home tripled from 5.7% (roughly 9 million people) to 17.9% (27.6 million people), according to a U.S. Census Bureau survey released last month. Nearly half (48.3%) of workers in the District of Columbia worked from home, the highest percentage of home-based workers among states. Human Resource experts project that the number of professionals working from home or in a hybrid environment will continue to increase in 2023.
Employees have embraced the many benefits that go along with working remotely including increased schedule flexibility, reduced costs and time associated with a commute or dressing for work, improved family time because of a better work-life balance, less pollution and traffic and fewer opportunities to spread viruses like COVID or the flu.
Despite these advantages, opinions about the work-from-home revolution remain mixed. Certainly, there are types of jobs in some industries that simply can’t be done remotely. And, business leaders argue, that there is work that can be done remotely but probably shouldn’t be. They question whether increased opportunities for miscommunication and decreased customer service hurts business. Others worry that a lack of in-person contact among colleagues is increasing worker isolation.
Interestingly, employees are reporting that they are getting more done more at home, experiencing a 13% increase in productivity on average, according to one survey. At the same time, only about 66% of employers trust that their remote employees are being productive.
Health and Safety Tips
Whatever you as the employer think about the new work structures, it is still your responsibility by law to support the health and safety of your employees. So far, Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) policy in this area is limited, but here are some general health and safety recommendations to consider:
- Communication is key – Out of sight should not mean out of mind. Staying in touch with remote workers is an essential way to manage their health and safety. Even if it’s just short messages, constant communication ensures that everyone stays in the loop with what’s happening during the day. Lack of face-to-face interaction can make remote workers feel isolated and out of touch, so encourage colleagues to touch base via video conferences or chats.
- Encourage work area risk assessment – Encourage employees to have a dedicated work area and help them identify potential hazards or causes for concern in their area. Ask them to check whether they have sufficient lighting, proper heating and air, and safe, properly functioning electrical cords and outlets. Challenge them to keep their work areas uncluttered and eliminate fall hazards. Even if it is uncomfortable, check in with employees about whether they generally feel safe in their home environment.
- Promote workplace ergonomics – Have employees make sure that chairs, desks, monitors, keyboards, and other items are set up to provide optimal posture, comfort, and performance. Encourage them to step away from the computer periodically and take a break.
- Keep remote workers connected – Establish a check-in schedule, use team-building exercises that include your remote employees, and encourage social interaction through social media challenges or by hosting social get-togethers for all employees.
- Support “health and wellness without walls” programming – Employers can support remote employees by reimbursing all or part of their fitness center memberships, at-home exercise equipment, fitness trackers, or healthy food delivery services. Include a wellness event when employees come together for annual or quarterly meetings. Consider sponsoring a health screening, a walk/run to raise funds for charity or an outdoor social event.
- Make workplace resources available to remote workers – If your company provides resources like an Employee Assistance Program, make sure these are easily accessible for your remote workers too.
For more health and safety tips for your work-from-home staff, contact us at email@example.com