As restrictions of the pandemic are gradually lifted in 2023, employees across all industries will start to return to work. However, due to the still-present risk of infection, workplaces are unlikely to revert to pre-pandemic conditions for some time. Returning to work is just the first step on a long road to recovery before we begin to see or experience workplace normality.
Employers will need to adapt to the shifting work environment, conditions, and new expectations of workers that arose in 2023 in order to keep employees safe.
The Rise of Remote Work
The pandemic has ushered in a new age of remote work. Approximately 5.1% of the British workforce worked mainly from home in 2019 according to the Office for National Statistics. By October of 2023, that number had jumped to 24%. While remote work had been rising in popularity before 2023, the pandemic forced entire businesses into becoming remote and digital.
The Advantages of Homeworking
From a health standpoint, this reduced instances of workers coming into contact with each other and dramatically lowered the risk of contracting an infection.
There have also been numerous advantages from an employee satisfaction perspective. Elimination of commutes, flexible working schedules, and being able to spend more time with family are just some of the benefits that remote work has provided employees.
Employers have also discovered that it is possible to have some workers work from home efficiently and not have it affect overall productivity. At the same time, it reduces the cost of maintaining and operating a full office.
Because of these reasons, we will likely still be in an arrangement where many will still work remotely for some time.
Health and Safety Concerns in the Home
However, this switch to remote working also raises a number of health and safety issues. For instance, hose working from home likely don’t enjoy access to the same range of ergonomic equipment that they would in an office. Not having this type of support can lead to a number of health issues, chiefly musculoskeletal problems such as carpal tunnel syndrome or tendonitis.
Research reflects this, demonstrating that remote workers have experienced an increased number of aches and pains during the pandemic. Homework environments, with regards to lighting, ventilation, flooring, and workstation setup, may also not be adequately tailored to optimal health and safety.
To ensure the health and safety of all workers, employers are required to conduct workstation risk assessments to address any health and safety concerns for those working at home. The risk assessment could include the following questions:
- Is there adequate ventilation in the work area?
- Does the workstation have sufficient lighting and heating?
- How is the employee’s posture while working?
- Is there any visual fatigue from prolonged use of a screen?
- Is the current workstation setup causing unnecessary stress of any kind?
- Does the workstation have enough space for all necessary equipment?
Human Focus, the online health and safety provider, offers a range of courses to help those who work from home or who spend any meaningful amount of time using a screen. Their online health and safety courses are designed to improve performance and reduce work-related injuries, in the workplace but also at home.
Their Home Working Training courses are designed to offer insight into how to work from home safely, especially during the pandemic. They also offer Display Screen Equipment (DSE) training to raise awareness of the numerous health hazards associated with using DSE in various workplace environments, and how to minimize DSE risks.
Mental Health Concerns
The mental health of homeworkers is also something that companies should be thinking about. Research shows that there has been an explosion of mental health issues since the lockdown started. For many people, the routine of going to work provided essential structure to their lives.
With this structure removed, coupled with concerns about the future, job security, and family wellbeing, depression and anxiety have increased at an alarming rate.
It’s up to companies and employers to put the mental health of their employees higher up on their agenda, and ensure that when returning to work these concerns are addressed.
Many employees working from home feel a sense of isolation, having been cut off from their friends, family, and colleagues. This feeling of loneliness can decrease work motivation and increase anxiety.
One thing companies can do to combat feelings of depression, anxiety, and loneliness is reach out to their remote workers. This makes it clear that they can ask for help, and let them know that they’re not alone.
In addition, organisations can offer mental health support and resources to their employees. Managers should touch base with their teams often and mental health specialists should be enlisted where necessary.
Companies can also provide their staff with Mental Health Awareness training. The courses are designed to help understand mental health and how to maintain its well-being. They can be completed by employees remotely and help those suffering from mental health issues.
Returning to Work Safely
Once restrictions ease, another point of concern is returning to work. A lot of thought needs to be given to exactly when to have employees return, and how to do it safely. It is likely that infection control will remain a high priority for some considerable time – this means things like maintaining social distancing, increased workplace cleaning, and hygiene routines.
In order to ensure that employees implement these types of work measures, it is important that they receive training.
The online training courses ranging from coronavirus training and infection control programs to infection control in offices, construction sites, and industry to daily cleaning for coronavirus infection control and first aid can be used to educate and inform employees across a wide range of industries about the most current coronavirus prevention techniques. These courses provide a detailed understanding of how to implement effective infection control measures in the workplace. Employers returning to the workplace may consider offering OSHA 10 online training via providers like 360 Training to returning employees to provide them with the skills they need to identify and mitigate potential hazards.
The shadow of the pandemic is likely to stay with us for some time even after vaccines have been rolled out and the virus has been eradicated. For that reason, it’s important that companies adapt to the various challenges and new circumstances that operating in the midst of a pandemic brings.
Facilitating a larger remote workforce, prioritizing employee physical and mental wellbeing, and implementing safe back-to-work procedures are just a few of the tasks at hand. But with the right training, it’s possible to get back to business efficiently, effectively, and most of all, safely.