As the world comes to terms with a “new normal” and more people getting back to work, we invite a variety of professionals to share their insight into what office life will be like now, and into the future.
In the second of four articles examining their experiences, we ask about the role both employers and employees play when it comes to health and wellbeing when working from home.
As previously discussed, working from home has emerged as a viable way of working for industries adapting to the various lockdown and social distancing measures put in place, but what are the health implications of this format, and whose responsibility is it to ensure that workers are happy?
Our respondents highlighted that responsibility was intrinsically linked to the extent working from home was being imposed by employers.
Helen Parton, Workplace design journalist and Co author of Total Office Design: “If staff are expected to work the same hours they do at home as they do in the office, then employers definitely have a duty of care to make sure they are in a physical space where they are not going to come to harm.”
This will become even more important if the workplace itself adapts to the growing trend of working from home, with offices becoming a place for more collaborative work.
Niklas Madsen, Founder, Superlab: “If the company encourages people to work at home part-time or full-time, and the number of workplaces in the office is shrinking, the company should then assume its responsibility to provide good working conditions for those who choose to work at home.”
However, many employers are having to play catch-up. Rapidly deployment as a reaction to the global pandemic, there is a lack of serious consideration to the long-term health implications, with no frameworks put in place to ensure workers wellbeing. It is understandable in most instances though, as many companies are fighting for survival, but in the long run it cannot be ignored.
Kirsty Angerer, Ergonomist: “Very few businesses will have had a home working policy in place prior to Covid-19. The office has remained a solid component of most businesses. It is embedded in the culture of a business.”
There is a lot of ground to be made up, and for some, the health effects, both physically and mentally, are already manifesting themselves. It’s also important to understand that the experiences are not equal and that for some, working from home is a less than ideal environment.
Kirsty: “Many people are suffering whilst working from home whether that’s from a musculoskeletal perspective due to not having the right equipment, a lack of space, reduced movement whilst working or having to deal with the nuances of working from home alongside family life.”
Maja Domeji Ergonomist, Previa: “We are seeing issues as a result of increased use of laptops, such as neck and shoulder problems.”
Helen: “CEOs who have large homes and gardens, who are relishing their homeworking status with their families should definitely spare a thought for their colleagues for whom the workplace is a respite from living alone or in a noisy, cramped flatshare.”
So what can employers do to bridge the divide between expectations and reality when it comes to workplace wellbeing?
Karin Ståhl, CEO & Workplace Strategist, GoToWork: “Employers have to find ways of providing employees with furniture and equipment to enhance the performance of the home office workplace, but money is an issue…”
Kirsty: “At a very basic level supporting employees with a laptop kit is essential and that includes a laptop stand, separate keyboard and mouse. The ability to separate the screen from the keyboard is the first step in encouraging a more neutral posture and this is outlined as a minimum requirement according to the DSE regulations 1992. The chair must be stable and adjustable.”
Our respondents were keen to point out that it’s not just equipment that was needed, but professional advice on how best to set up a healthy workspace, something most offices provide internally, but home workers are often without.
Jane Ahlin, Ergonomist: “Hire competent people to give good advice. It is easy to have a digital webinar for groups either working from home or in the office so they get good advice.”
Tiril Bamberg, Physiotherapist, Avonova: “We have had digital workplace visits “at home” with people with discomfort, where they have shown their workplace in the home and we have been able to come up with action suggestions.”
Helen: “Manufacturers of office furniture can do their bit too by offering free consultations about what will work for people’s individual spaces. It is no good having a fancy sit-stand desk or ergonomic chair with all the bells and widgets if you do not know how to use it properly!”
However, as with many things, it often comes down to money. The long-term financial benefits of a healthy workforce often outweigh the short-term costs of the correct setup, but it is not always possible. The answer for a lot of workplaces will be to settle somewhere in between.
Maja: “Companies can encourage employees to retrieve equipment (chair, computer) from the office.”
Kirsty: “There are various options to support employees with good seating; the first is obviously to provide them with proper ergonomic chairs, but other options include setting up a funding scheme such as a loan or provide information on how to make the best out of their current chair.”
It’s clear that employers have their work cut out if working from home is to continue. Defining a clear strategy will be crucial in maintaining a healthy workforce, and the various perks offered by companies in terms of setting up a home office will likely be a key factor individuals will consider when looking for a new role.
Kirsty Angerer A.K.A the Travelling Ergonomist recently reviewed the HÅG Capisco as part of her series examining viable working from home solutions.
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