The advice for working from home vs. office has changed again due to the COVID-19 pandemic (‘Work from home if you can’: Government changes advice to curb spread of Covid-19 in the UK). The government announced on Tues 22 September that “those who can work “safely” in a “Covid-secure” workplace, and who are required to be in the office or work environment to do their jobs, should continue to do so. But anyone able to work from home should not go into work.”
If you’re an employer thinking about who should/could work from home or an employee who may have to start working from home there are a number of websites which provide information on employers and employees responsibilities, security, and health and well-being. This article provides advice for employers and employees on working from home.
Office Working vs. Home Working
Most of us are used to our office work space and having everything to hand whenever we need it. It’s comfortable and familiar. From our desk and chair to our computer to the office break out area or meeting room. We may miss our work colleagues and the ability to simply walk over and chat to another member of staff or to brainstorm ideas with a group, in fact there are many great aspects to office working but there are also advantages to working from home. Home working means there is no need to travel to work. This in turn frees up more time. In some cases home working can allow more flexibility in when you start and stop work as long as you aren’t working (remotely) with others who all need to start, or be available to each other, at the same time.
During the coronavirus outbreak having staff work from home and being able to avoid the use of public transport, puts them at a decreased risk of getting the virus and of bringing the virus into the workspace. It also frees up office space which in turn enables those staff that need to work in the office to socially distance.
Home working, depending on the circumstance, can provide a quieter working environment which many people prefer, allowing them to be more productive and focussed.
For Employers Considering Which Employees Should Work From Home
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) website explains that as an employer your duty of care to the health, well-being and safety of your staff extends to staff working from home as for other workers. When someone is working from home whether permanently or temporarily, as an employer you need to consider:
- Who can work from home?
- What work will they be doing (and for how long)?
- Is their home office environment safe? Can work be done safely?
- After assessing any risk do you need to put control measures in place to protect them?
- What equipment will they need?
- How will you keep in touch with them?
Who can work from home? As an employer it’s your responsibility as to who can work from home. During the coronavirus pandemic your decision should be based on safety of your staff, eligibility, accessibility and the needs of your business and employees.
What is the feasibility of working from home? You’ll need to think about the feasibility of staff working from home. Consider which of your employee’s jobs can be done from home and which need access to company workspace or resources that are not easily accessible from home. You may also need to consider security and what processes would need to be put in place in a home office to ensure access to and security of business data.
Is their home office suitable? You’ll need to be sure that your employee’s home workspace is suitable. All employees who are allowed to work from home should also be reminded of the company’s health and safety policies. You should carry out a “risk” assessment or as a minimum, ask your employee to assess the suitability of the space they’ll be using to work from home. This should include the following:
- A display screen equipment assessment (PDF) to ensure compliance with the Schedule to the Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992 as amended by the Health and Safety (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2002.
- A lighting assessment to ensure there is an adequate/appropriate amount of lighting in the home work area e.g. is there enough natural light or is additional lighting such as a desk lamp required.
- Checking that the temperature, humidity and ventilation of the home work area is comfortable.
- Ensuring there are no hazards including: trailing electrical cables, mats, uneven work surfaces, steps etc. and electricity supply and any electrical appliances used should be maintained and regularly checked and should not place them at any undue risk that they would otherwise not have come into contact with had they stayed in the usual workplace.
What equipment will be needed? You will need to assess what equipment the employee has available to them and what needs to be supplied to enable them to successfully work from home remotely.
How will you keep in contact? It’s important to maintain contact with employees. For lone workers there is always a greater risk to health and well-being. Keep in touch to make sure they are healthy and safe and to avoid workers feeling isolated which can cause work-related stress and affect mental health. The HSE provide information on what to look out for in terms of signs of stress.
Employees Working from Home
In order to successfully work from home you need to take some time to think about how to make the best use of your home office space. It’s worth thinking through what you’ll need for your home office. Consider putting together a schedule, establish how you will communicate and keep in touch with your work colleagues or team and how you’ll ensure a healthy work life balance.
Once the decision is made to work from home it’s vital to communicate with your household members so they and you know what to expect. You’ll need to set boundaries, especially with family members who may see you being at home as an opportunity to spend more time with you within work hours. If you don’t set expectations early on and make it clear that although you are at home you’re not available during certain hours then you may find it harder to enforce those rules later.
Have a discussion with your family and explain that you’ll be working from home, that you’ll have work to do and will need space and quiet time to complete your work tasks. Share your schedule (see below for Schedule section). Print it out and make it available to everyone so they know when you will be working and when you’ll be free.
In the same vein you’ll need to set boundaries with work. It’s all too easy to be constantly available 24/7 when you’re working from home after all you’re always near a computer or phone. However you need to set a stop time and stick to it. If you never switch off from work your health will start to suffer. You need downtime, time for relaxation and time with family just to unwind and distress.
Working from home can result in feelings of loneliness and detachment from work and work colleagues. It’s important to stay in touch with your work. Keep in touch via email but also schedule phone or video calls with your boss and work colleagues just like you would schedule meetings if you were at work in your company office. Also make some time to socialise– after all you would be taking breaks throughout the day – continue doing that when working from home by scheduling “virtual” coffee and lunch breaks.
Your Home Office Setup
If you share your home with your family or house mates you may want to setup your home office in an area where it’s quiet and allows you to have some privacy.
This will be especially important if part of your work requires you to take and make business calls. A spare room where you can shut the door and close out other household noise would be an ideal location, away from the numerous household distractions including TV, kitchen equipment and children playing etc. If your work involves paperwork, large scale design or architecture where you’ll be looking at blueprints etc. you may need a larger area to allow you to spread out a bit more.
Think about what you’ll need in your office space from your desk and chair to computer, laptop, tablet and mobile, laptop port replicator, monitor stand, monitor, webcam (if required to make video calls etc.), headset/headphones to lighting, power points and chargers, pens, paper, staple gun etc.
You will need to assess the amount of light in the room or area that has been allocated for your home office space. You want to setup your work area so that it has plenty of light, preferably natural light. We know from numerous studies that natural light can help with mental well-being, productivity and alertness.
If there is natural light it is a good idea to take full advantage of it when placing your desk and chair within the room. If there is no or very little natural light you will need to invest in some desk or floor lighting. Again the placement of your desk will be important in making sure that there are easily accessible power points for your lamps.
The next step is to setup your desk and chair correctly to ensure you don’t suffer from back and neck problems. Being comfortable is half the battle. The NHS website covers how to “sit at your desk correctly”. This includes information on how to adjust your chair so that it’s at the correct height, check your back position and tilt angle and use a foot rest. The height of your chair is also important in making sure you can use the keyboard with your wrists and forearms straight and level with the floor. Your screen should be placed directly in front of you at about an arm’s length away, with the top of the screen roughly at your eye level. In some cases you may require a monitor stand to achieve the ideal monitor height. If the screen is too high or too low, you’ll have to bend your neck, which may lead to neck and back problems.
Of course you may not have a foot rest or monitor stand and if that’s the case you should improvise to get the best setup e.g. if you do not have an adjustable chair you could try using cushions to support you in your chair, or a box as a footrest.
Now that your room is setup and ready to go set about scheduling your work day. This may not seem important at first but research has shown that people working from home tend to “overwork” when compared to working at the company office. It’s easy to lose track of time and become so focussed on the task that time gets away from you and you find you’ve worked through from early morning to late at night.
A schedule will enable you to set “work times”, “break times” and build in times to move around rather than sitting at your desk all day. It‘s important not to sit at your desk in the same position for too long. Try to change the way you are sitting as often as is practicable. You’ll be more productive and able to focus if you take breaks and keep active throughout the day. Frequent short breaks are better than fewer long ones.
Put in place some way to keep track of time e.g. a wall clock, alarm or even just use your mobile phone. Keeping to your schedule (with some built in flexibility) will help you to maintain your regular work hours and a healthy work-life balance.
Work Life Balance
As previously mentioned it’s all too easy to end up spending far more hours working at home than you would normally if you were working at the company office. Working at home can make us feel that we should always be available. If you don’t have a predefined schedule the lines between “home time” and “work time” can become blurred. It’s vital not to fall into this trap as it will lead to ill health.
Try to follow your work routine as closely as you can. Get up at the same time as you would normally, shower and have breakfast. Get dressed; don’t stay in your PJs. You can use your commute time for reading, listening to a podcast or music or exercising to get your day off to an energetic start.
Once your schedule says its time to end your work day, stop working, and close down your email software and computer. Switch off any devices that you don’t need along with your office lights, leave your home office and shut your office door. Leave behind your work and focus on your home life.
JBH Refurbishments have been in business for 25 years delivering turnkey interior design, commercial office refurbishments and office fit out solutions for businesses and organisations throughout London, Kent, Surrey, Sussex and the wider South East. You can get in touch via our contact form or calling us on 0333 207 0339.