Many businesses have begun to embrace the idea of flexible working and working from home and, in the current climate, more and more of us may find ourselves plunged into doing so for longer than the one to two days a week, which employers and employees adapt to fairly easily.
It is predicted that half of UK’s workforce work from home, but for those that don’t, this has meant adapting. This hub has been put together by SHP, Barbour EHS and The Healthy Work Company to provide research, case studies, videos and resources to enable you to lead this transition in a way which safeguards the wellbeing of your teams and maximises the opportunity to embrace new ways of working for the future.
In an age where work and life need to integrate much more successfully, remote working can be a wonderful thing. But it is also full of pitfalls for both managers and employees. Our hub will help your organisation to navigate those.
Half of UK employees worked from home in April
Almost half (46.4%) of employees did some of their work from home during April, with the vast majority (86%) stating this was because of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to figures published by the Office for National Statistics.
The report highlighted that only 35.2% worked the same number of hours as usual. 34.4% of people said they worked fewer hours and 30.3% worked more hours than they would normally.
The date revealed how women were slightly more likely than men to do some work from home (47.5% compared with 45.7%), while workers aged 16-24 were the least likely to be able to work from home during April (30.2%). This is compared with 54.3% of people aged 25-34 and 51.3% of people in the 35-49 age bracket.
London residents were more likely to so some work from home than people in other regions of the UK. Some 57.2% London residents worked from home during April, compared with 35.3% of people in the West Midlands, which had the lowest rate of home workers during that month.
People in jobs requiring higher qualifications and levels of experience did more work from home than those in manual roles or skilled trade occupations. Some 69.6% of professionals did some of their role from home, whereas only 5.4% of process plant and machine operatives and 14.9% of people in caring, leisure and other service occupations could work remotely.
Home worker or lone worker?
Writing for SHP in 2018, Worthwhile Training’s Nicole Vazquez suggested employers need to be aware that their home workers are lone workers and should be treated as such, particularly when it comes to mental health and wellbeing.
The rise in home working has mirrored the rise in technology. Robust broadband means employees can now check-in with the office from the spare room, coffee shop or just about anywhere with an internet connection.
Benefits to employers are obvious; finances improve as overheads like office space and other facilities are offset as employers provide their own workspace. Workers often report increased motivation from the flexibility that remote working offers, increasing productivity and staff retention.
However, like the railway engineer and security guard the home worker is still classified as a lone worker; something often overlooked by employers.
Heather Beach, Founder of the Healthy Work Company, has been a home worker and has managed home workers for the last three years. She is ready to admit she made lots of mistakes and as a result had to research the topic thoroughly. She has started a Facebook group for those new homeworkers needing support with looking after themselves.
Why are video chats so exhausting?
Video chat is helping us stay employed and connected. But what makes it so tiring – and how can we reduce ‘Zoom fatigue’?
- Is video chat harder? What’s different compared to face-to-face communication?
- How are the current circumstances contributing?
- When I’m Zooming my friends, shouldn’t that relax me?
- How can we alleviate Zoom fatigue?
Home worker wellbeing webinar
Catch up with our health & wellbeing in the workplace webinar. With many employers advising staff work from home during the coronavirus outbreak, it also look at how period of self-isolation or prolonged time working from home can affect health & wellbeing and require a different approach from managers. The session featured Faye McGuinness, Head of Workplace Wellbeing Programmes at Mind, Heather Beach, Founder and Managing Director at The Healthy Work Company and Teresa Higgins, Brand Director at Barbour EHS.
- Mental Health at Work – the current picture across the UK;
- Insights from Mind’s 2018/19 Workplace Wellbeing Index;
- ROI: The ‘low hanging fruit’ versus organisation culture change;
- Practical steps employers can take: The Mental Health at Work Commitment;
- Wellbeing of remote workers: A period of self-isolation or prolonged time working from home can affect health & wellbeing and require a different approach from managers. Here are some considerations for both individuals and their managers.
Tips for working from home
There is no doubt that as well as the anxiety provoked by a potentially deadly virus and no toilet roll or pasta in the supermarket, we are also facing the very likely fact that many workers will be being plunged into home working for the first time, to speak nothing of the potential requirements for isolation.
Some of those workers may already have experience of a day or so a week, but few of them will have worked full time from home and few of their managers will have managed large teams in such a situation either.
A report from the World Economic Forum in 2019 pointed to the fact that a 2017 United Nations report found that 41% of remote workers reported high stress levels, compared to just 25% of office workers. The WEF believed that being ‘out of sight, out of mind’ and the tendency for managers to become increasingly task focused and actually attempt to micromanage more than before was partly to blame.
Conversely, Charalampous et al. in 2018 found that remote working was associated with higher workplace wellbeing with the benefit of flexibility and autonomy.
What we do know though, according to ACAS guidance is that “only suitable people should be offered the choice of regular remote working” (with suitability not just about them as people but also about their home set up). And here we are about to put everyone, suitable or not, into that boat, in an environment which is already highly charged.
The research on how to be a good home worker is mostly focused around entrepreneurs who are accountable just to themselves. The research on how to be a good manager of remote teams is sparse.
Occupational health and safety in the home
- Create good work spaces;
- Create routines;
- Keep in contact.
Home working laptop ergonomics: Basic tips
Here are some top tips for home working in imperfect circumstances (click to enlarge the image)…
Roshni Patel, BSc (Hons) MCOptom, Professional Services Manager at Lenstore, shares three top tips on how you can protect yourself against eye strain and fatigue whilst working from home.
Positioning your technology devices
In an office, you’re likely to have a good quality desk and chair that make it easy to position your devices at a healthy distance from your eyes. It’s just as important to ensure you do the same at home. A few things to pay attention to include:
- Lighting and glare;
- Distance from screen;
- Blue light software;
- Blue light lenses;
- Screen brightness;
- Text size and contrast.
Combating dry eye symptoms
Dry eyes can cause your eyes to feel heavy and disrupt the quality of your vision which can lead to symptoms of eye fatigue. As well as ensuring a healthy work space for your vision, there are methods to help reduce dry eye whilst working from home:
- Blink regularly;
- Take breaks;
- Eye drops;
- Drinking lots of water and keeping hydrated.
Looking after eye hygiene
Eye hygiene is an important consideration at all times, but especially while coronavirus is in effect. You should wash your hands regularly, and it is recommended that you wash your hands for at least 20 seconds, scrubbing the backs, thumbs, and fingertips as well as your palms. This will help prevent infections both generally and in your eyes.
For those who wear contact lenses or spectacles, there are other considerations. Follow the guidelines below to prevent any irritation in your eye and protect your vision:
- Keep glasses clean;
- Use only solutions recommended by your optician on your lenses;
- Throw away disposable lenses;
- Clean your case.
In addition to the above, it is important to be aware it is still perfectly safe to wear contact lenses in the current circumstances.
Working at home with kids
If you work from home, your employer must make sure there is a risk assessment of your work activities. With the current government guidelines in place, HSE says it is not necessary for someone to visit you, but you should complete a questionnaire and provide appropriate evidence e.g. photographs. This will help decide if sufficient steps have been taken to prevent harm to you or anyone else who may be affected by your work. HSE has also said that a DSE risk assessment is not required for this period.
Work-Life Balance Campaign
Work-life balance has been on the political agenda since 2000 when the Government launched its Work-Life Balance Campaign. Home working comes under the category of flexible working arrangements, a concept which is actively promoted under the Employment Rights Act 1996, as amended by the Children and Families Act 2014. The Children and Families Act 2014 means that any employee with more than 26 weeks service can request flexible working, regardless of whether they are carers or parents. This legislation does not create a right to flexible working, but the employer has to consider a request seriously and there are set procedures for the employer to follow and the reasons for refusal have to be provided to the employee in writing.
This guide includes:
- Legal requirements;
- Benefits of working from home;
- Successful working from home;
- Pitfalls of working from home;
- Managing home workers;
- Arrangements for securing health & safety at home;
BBC & ITV amend television outpur to assist with information, wellbeing and schooling for home workers
The BBC has announced it will focus more of its programmes, including The One Show, on the coronavirus outbreak, while ITV will broadcast a series of news specials. Schedule changes include:
- A weekly prime-time coronavirus special will be broadcast on Wednesdays on BBC One;
- The One Show will be used as a consumer programme for all aspects of the crisis, including health and wellbeing advice;
- Newsround bulletins for children will remain on air throughout the day on CBBC, and there will be a new iPlayer experience for children;
- Educational programming for school children will be increased across iPlayer and the red button, with a daily educational programme for different key stages or year groups. BBC Bitesize will also be expanded;
- A virtual church service on Sunday mornings will be launched across local radio in England, led initially by the Archbishop of Canterbury, while the corporation aims to explore ways to reflect other religions, including in the run-up to Ramadan
Coronavirus: How to protect your mental health
Coronavirus has plunged the world into uncertainty and the constant news about the pandemic can feel relentless. All of this is taking its toll on people’s mental health, particularly those already living with conditions like anxiety and OCD.
In May 2020, the Healthy Work Company set out to understand levels of wellbeing and mental health during these uncertain times. With the aid of an online questionnaire, the opinions of 648 people collected. The sample covers a balance of genders and a wide range of ages and geographies.
The report shows a strong swing to extremes in the nation’s mental health with one in four (24%) seeing an improvement to mental health and 8% “flourishing”. Of those questioned, 41% feel ‘about the same’ as usual and a further one in three (32%) reported a decline or negative movement in their mental health.
A recent seminar, held in 2019 by law firm, Clyde & Co, titled Effective Safety Leadership in the Workplace, suggested that employers must provide extra care for employees that work from home, or there will be an increase number of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).
Clyde & Co Partner, David Tait, emphasised that “the modern workplace includes working from home. Indeed, it’s a practice that’s encouraged by many employers. Employees have to work in an agile manner, which includes using laptops in locations like train stations and coffee shops”.
Government launches plan to tackle loneliness during coronavirus lockdown
The Government has launched a major effort to tackle loneliness and social isolation during the coronavirus outbreak and period of social distancing. Led by Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, the plan will aim to ensure that, for people of all ages and backgrounds, staying at home does not need to lead to loneliness.
The latest #Let’sTalkLoneliness public campaign has been rolled out to get people talking openly about loneliness, which includes new public guidance offering useful tips and advice on what to do to look after yourself and others safely.
Three tangible actions for anyone feeling lonely and three actions for people wanting to help If you are lonely you can:
- Keep in touch with friends, family and neighbours;
- Ask for help if you need shopping, medicine or are feeling lonely;
- Set a routine with online activities, regular tasks or by volunteering.
If you are worried about someone who is lonely:
- Phone a friend or family member you think may be lonely;
- Smile, wave or chat from a safe distance with a neighbour;
- Help out through volunteering by picking up food, medicine or by offering regular conversation to someone living alone.
8 tips to combat the negative health effects of social isolation
To help people limit the impact of loneliness on their health and wellbeing during this time, health service provider Cigna Europe has outlined its top eight tips:
- Avoid negative thoughts. Constantly thinking about the negatives associated with isolation can worsen emotional distress. Accepting the situation is the first step in controlling our emotions and minimising the chances of feeling lonely;
- Use technology to create emotional connections. Social relationships are essential for both our physical and mental health. Now it’s more important than ever to maintain regular contact with our social circle. This can be done via video calls, instant messaging or phone conversations. However, we must use these means in a healthy way – avoid placing COVID-19 at the centre of all conversations and try to talk about other things that will help distract us;
- Practice meditation techniques. Mindfulness or conscious breathing can become great allies to calm anxiety and reduce stress. Breathing and meditation exercises can even help delay the ageing of our brain, helping the immune system react more strongly in the production of antibodies;
- Maintain a certain level of physical activity. Physical exercise helps release endorphins in the brain, so if a certain level of activity is maintained during this period, the production levels of these hormones will remain high. There are many online resources available to help you exercise safely at home, whatever your fitness level;
- Watch your diet – it’s essential to improve our mood. Since approximately 95% of serotonin – the hormone that works as a neurotransmitter and regulates sleep, appetite, and mood – is produced in the gastrointestinal tract, a balanced diet will be essential to cope with loneliness, as indicated by Harvard University. In this way, eating more foods such as white meat, eggs, pulses, whole grains, nuts, seeds, bananas or dark chocolate, always within the limits of a balanced diet, will contribute to improving our mood;
- Communicate regularly with colleagues. Adjusting to working from home can impact people’s emotional well-being as the work environment is often a place for social interaction. For this reason, it’s important to continue maintaining regular communication with colleagues, either by phone, email or videoconference;
- Get some sun, if possible. Sunlight strengthens our immune system and improves our mood, as it stimulates the synthesis of vitamin D, a key substance for the central nervous system that helps control depressive symptoms. Sun exposure should last between 10 and 20 minutes a day;
- Establish a routine with regular sleep schedules. It’s important to set schedules and maintain routines, especially regarding hours of sleep, eating and physical exercise. The longer we are busy, the lesser room for loneliness.
As more businesses search for solutions, guidance and expertise surrounding the increasing challenges of workplace wellbeing and mental health, HR and wellbeing professionals will come together at the Workplace Wellbeing Show 2021, which takes place from 18-20 May 2021 at ExCeL, London.
Alongside official charity parter Mind, the Workplace Wellbeing show will being a wide-range of live content and interactive sessions on stress, mental ill-health and wellbeing.
Training for home workers
The British Safety Council is offering free online training courses for home workers as the nation changes its working habits to meet the threat of coronavirus. As millions of workers in Britain set themselves up to work from home, they will be adjusting to a whole new way of working and preparing to miss the social contact of their workplace. To support them the British Safety Council is offering courses for free until the middle of April:
- Remote Workers’ Health Safety and Welfare;
- Mental Health: Start the Conversation are aimed at all employees.
There is also a course on Managing Stress Within Your Team – helpful to managers looking after teams working from different locations at a time of major national crisis.
Employers are required to protect the health, safety and welfare of all employees, including those who are working away from the office.
Mike Robinson, British Safety Council, Chief Executive said: “Across Britain people are making big changes to their work routine and millions of people are working from home for the first time. This will mean quite an adjustment for lots of people. Working away from the office has implications for workers and managers.
“Even in normal times it’s important for peoples’ wellbeing to make sure they are connected to their colleagues and their work if they are not coming into the workplace – at a time of serious anxiety in the life of our country keeping an eye on your wellbeing and your colleagues’ wellbeing will be really important.”
“It is our founding mission at the British Safety Council to ensure that nobody is injured or made ill through their work – and that includes people working from home in a national crisis. I hope by offering out our expertise for free with some accessible online courses people will see some real value.”
Home working essentials for managers
The fear pandemic is something that each of us has to manage – anxiety loves the words ‘what if’ – so how can you manage your head and overcome your feelings when they are overwhelming and how can you help others who may be struggling too? Click here for some top tips.
Barbour EHS has put together this handy guide, which details what managers should consider while employees are temporarily working from home.
While employees are temporarily working from home you should consider:
- The best way to keep in touch with them
- What work will they be doing?
- Is the planned work able to be completed safely?
- Are control measures needed?
What are your rights if working from home?
The BBC has provided the following home working advice page, looking at who provides the equipment when working from home and who is responsible for workers while they work at home.
While the world battles COVID-19, everyone who can is now having to work from home. For young workers and their managers this may present additional considerations and challenges to be overcome…