A Year of Remote Working
GEMMA COLLINS DOYLE
Here we are, nearly a year later, in the same situation as we were last year. Hard to believe we are still in this predicament. Hard to believe that working from home has now become the “norm”. Working from home, a mode traditionally viewed with suspicion by bosses and envy by commuting highflyers, has now become the “norm” for those whose livings are dominated by computer screens. While some employees may have had some reprieve and went back to the office for a period, most employees continued to work from home at the request of their employers and now everyone has once again, been asked to work from home if possible.
From speaking to different employees, it seems that many have not received the support they require, especially when it comes to the setup of their workstation. On the other hand some companies have been exceptional in the support (financial and emotional) that they have given their employees. In the early days of this health emergency, everyone just got on with it and put up with working at the kitchen table or working on their lap! However, ten months later, this just isn’t acceptable.
Whilst working from home has many, many benefits, there are of course some negative sides too, including the social side, that many employees are struggling with, nearly a year on.
Personal circumstances have a huge impact on whether working from home is beneficial for every employee. So many factors that have an impact:
- Age – depending on your age bracket, working from home can be a lot more isolating. For example a young person who’s social outlet is meeting up with colleagues in work and making new friends.
- Home life – depending whether you have children or not and if they are actually in school or not, has a huge impact on how you work from home.
- Home set up – not everyone has the luxury of a home office or even the right equipment to make working from home comfortable and safe.
- Accommodation – Depending on how many people you share your home with, there may be more than one of you working from home. This puts a strain on space and privacy.
- Broadband – A huge issue for those employees who live in the countryside or who just don’t have a good connection.
Whilst the above factors will not be able to be altered by your employers, there are some important contributions that an employer can help you with is:
- The set up of your home workstation.
- Emotional health and wellbeing
- Job satisfaction
As an employee working from home, how should my employer ensure I have a suitable workstation?
In an ideal situation, a physical assessment of your workstation must be carried out by a trained individual. This assessment would give the employer the required information to improve the workstation set up.
Obviously, these assessments cannot be done in person in this situation. However, as a temporary measure, the workstation should be assessed remotely. Photos or videos can be sent to the VDU assessors, along with a questionnaire that the employee can fill out, and a live call can be arranged with the assessor and employee.
In addition to an assessment, it is helpful for employees to do a refresher course online, about the importance of a healthy and safe workstation.
In relation to office equipment, most employers have a working from home allowance. Check with your employer to see what you are entitled to. It should include a budget for a chair, a desk and accessories that will make working at your computer better. Remember, laptops were never meant to be worked on for eight hours! A separate keyboard, mouse and monitor are essential.
Also, check out revenue.ie for information on claiming expenses for “eWorking and home workers” where you can find out how much you are entitled to and how to go about claiming it.
How your employer can help look after your emotional health and wellbeing, while you work remotely
You may think that your employer cannot support you, now that you are working from home. However, that is not true. Just like when you are in the workplace, as an employee, your employer still has a duty of care to you.
When an employer invests in the wellbeing of its employees, it can help with the following:
- Boost morale
- Improve connection.
- Improve motivation.
- Help with job satisfaction.
The biggest challenge working from home during these strange times, is the lack of human interaction. It’s not normal to do all your work on a screen, including seeing your colleagues on screen time only. While we have a lot to be grateful for in regard to the connection that technology gives us, it can never replace the presence and connection with our fellow human beings. Many friends and family I speak with are missing the casual chats at the coffee machine, the lunch dates and all the little things that help break up the normal working day. The concept of burnout is real, employees are overwhelmed with video call after video call, with no end in sight.
Now more than ever, employers must find a way to help manage the mental health of their employees. An employee needs to know they are valued and investing in some of the following, will show them that:
- Create regular wellness moments – these can be weekly and can include different topics related to wellbeing and health. They don’t need to be long or complicated, a ten minute video could make all the difference.
- Consider having monthly mindful events, maybe at the end of the month on a Friday morning or afternoon.
- Live or recorded exercise classes like yoga or stretching.
- A little thank you gift or wellness hamper to let them know you appreciate them.
- An Employee Assistance Programme (EAP).
- Have mental health advocates on board to host workshops.
- Fun cooking classes that can be done live with colleagues.
The above are some ideas that other employers are finding good at supporting their employees during this time. Regardless of which ones you decide to go for, its important you have some plan in place, at this stage employees need all the help and support that they can get.