Many businesses have switched to remote work, at least temporarily, as a result of the current COVID-19 pandemic. This started in March 2020 and happened rather quickly.
As companies and workers try to adjust to the new normal, we need to tackle some of the issues that have gone unnoticed in the early stages of this transition.
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Although remote work has become very popular since it allows for better work-life balance, it is not without its problems.
For instance, even though their employees are no longer working on company premises, employers are nonetheless responsible for their health, safety, and welfare, but they have less control over the working environment.
We’ve been dealing with the pandemic for over a year, so most remote workers will have already set up their home offices with a comfy chair, a good desk, and a proper monitor.
Some received these items from their employers, while others bought them on their own.
Otherwise, they’d be increasing their risk of developing health problems like back pain, repetitive stress injuries and eye strain.
Other risks to consider include homeworkers getting injured on the job, damage or theft of company-supplied equipment and cyberattacks.
Because the boundaries between work and home are less clear, research shows that many remote workers are working longer hours, resulting in burnout and other health issues.
Seeing that remote work may become the norm even after social distancing restrictions are no longer necessary, it’s important to tackle these problems.
When the BBC polled 50 large companies last year, ranging from banks to retailers, 24 of them said they had no plans to bring their remote workers back to the office.
Employers can benefit from remote work in a variety of ways, such as reducing overhead by not having to provide as much working space for their employees.
Many employees also prefer to work from home and report higher motivation and greater job satisfaction.
This, in turn, benefits employers because it leads to higher productivity and lower turnover rates.
However, remote workers are lone workers with all the associated mental health risks.
A comprehensive homework policy would ensure that everyone is on the same page in regards to health and safety.
The remote workers will know how risk assessments are conducted, how to set up their home office, the equipment they’ll need and who will provide it, how their work-related activities will be managed and how to reduce the risk of data breaches.
Accidents and Injuries
Some jobs are inherently more dangerous, but even relatively safe jobs come with a set of risks.
Employees whose work mainly consists of using a computer and sitting at their desk can develop back pain, eye strain and repetitive strain injuries.
Other hazards include accidents involving work equipment like electric shock or fire.
Plus, there are mental health implications to working remotely and having less direct contact with coworkers and managers.
Research shows that the relationships people form with those they work with help them cope with work-related stress.
With the large-scale shift to remote work, employers need to keep in mind that according to UK law, they are still responsible for the health and safety of all their employees, and if they neglect this responsibility, it can result in litigation, sanction from the HSE and loss of reputation.
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Employers are advised to carry out risk assessments for all their employees, including the ones that work from home.
In case physical assessments are not possible, questionnaires can be used to perform them virtually, and homeworkers should be provided with instructions and training.
Employees with disabilities will require reasonable accommodations, and the requirements of employees with caring obligations should also be considered.
Insurance is another aspect that employers should take into account.
In the UK, employer liability insurance is obligatory, and remote employees must also be covered.
Because insurance policies vary, companies should double-check that their current policies provide adequate coverage or they risk getting sanctioned by the HSE or paying out of pocket for what could be considerable personal injury claims.
Remote workers must also take the proper precautions to protect their own health and safety, including maintaining regular contact with their management team and informing them of any potential threats.
When possible, businesses could send a safety consultant to the employee’s home to do the necessary risk assessments.
The office equipment and internet connection may also need to be checked by IT professionals to make sure company data is safe from potential cyberattacks.
The transition to remote work prompted by the pandemic also seems to have resulted in a significant increase in cybercrime.
In 2020 the number of companies targeted by cybercriminals rose from 38% to 43%, according to data provided by the Hiscox Cyber Readiness Report 2021, which looked at 6,000 businesses from Europe and the United States.
Almost a third of these businesses were victim to five or more cyberattacks, and 17% reported that the financial impact of these attacks jeopardized their future.
The financial impact of cyberattacks is greater for smaller companies, and 5% reported costs of $300,000 or more per attack.
We’ve seen an increase in all categories of cyberattacks, but the most significant is ransomware.
Businesses must continue to comply with data protection regulations, which means making sure that their remote employees who use their own computers also comply.
Managers may need to obtain consent from them to monitor work communications on these devices in order to detect security vulnerabilities that cybercriminals could exploit.
They’ll need to provide adequate data protection training to employees and establish explicit guidelines on what is allowed.
For example, no one other than the employee should be allowed to use the company computer or network.
It is also necessary to check all devices with access to the servers and networks of the company, such as laptops, smartphones and tablets.
Additionally, employees should avoid connecting to public Wi-Fi with devices linked to their company’s network.
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