Advice for employers with staff working from home

As the Coronavirus crisis develops and employers are having to make urgent decisions regarding how they will manage their business over the forthcoming ones, one area that has definitely emerged as a short term solution is the huge move to remote and homeworking. Many employers had already taken their first steps into remote working. For others, remote working has been firmly embedded for a while. At the very least, remote working had already moved up the corporate agenda in order to be consider offer more flexible working options to employees. Particularly as the availability of flexible working has fast become an attractive recruitment offering for employers.

However, it is now the speed at which arrangements need to be put in place which has presented challenges as IT systems needed to be tested and additional equipment needed to be purchased.

Young man relaxing at home infront of PC with headphones on

From an HR perspective, it throws a whole new challenge in the area of staff welfare and engagement. Whilst some people will embrace the new remote working culture there will be some who may find it difficult and who will struggle with feelings of isolation and loneliness. For many, the routine of going to work and interacting with colleagues is essential to their overall wellbeing. There will be added anxieties not only in respect of general health but about future job security.

Maintaining a positive working culture during these challenging times will be difficult but there are some simple steps to take which can help. For many, working at home will require a whole new mindset and some self-discipline will be required!

However, there are some immediate steps which may be taken to help prepare our new homeworkers. The following advice from Mental Health First Aid – My Whole Self, provides some useful hints and tips:

Although you may have some extra time in bed without a commute, aim to wake up around the same time every day. This helps stabilise your internal clock and improve your sleep overall. You’ll feel less tired, more refreshed, and find it easier to concentrate throughout the day.
Getting ready Keep to your established morning routine if you can – get ready, washed, and dressed as if you are going to the office. This will help you get into the mindset that you are at work.
Setting up your workspace Try to set aside a work area separate from your sleeping area, as this will help to prepare you for work mode and make it easier to switch off at the end of the day. You don’t need a home office to do this – a small desk set up in a corner of your room, or a laptop at the end of the kitchen table can do the trick.
If you’re working with a small space, you could try setting up temporary ‘zones’ by hanging blankets or screens to visually separate your work area from your bed or living area.
Managing Virtual Teams

Of course, it’s not only the actual homeworking arrangements that will require some adjustment to the way we normally work. Line managers are now finding that they need to manage their teams in a completely different way, many for the first time and without any preparation or planning! So, the following may help with the transition to managing your virtual team:

Regular communication is key. Line managers should ensure and make time to maintain regular contact with their team members. This is not only from a task perspective but to ensure employee welfare. Some individuals may be struggling with feelings of isolation resulting from loss of social contact which will impact on their mental health and it’s important that they feel supported by their manager.
Some virtual “social” events would be a good idea to maintain the comarderie of the team. Whether it’s a daily competition, a quiz, a short workout or a group chat with tea and biscuits – all of this can help general wellbeing, which in turn increases productivity!
Be extra clear on your expectations and what the priorities should be. The current crisis may mean that work priorities have changed and it’s important that these are communicated. There may be tasks which you are happy to be “parked” so that people’s time may be better utilised over the next few weeks and used for other projects. It’s important to keep your teams up-to-date so that they are focusing on what is important.
Remember that people will be feeling anxious and it’s important to keep regular channels of communication open to update your teams. Even if there is no update, it’s important to let the team know this rather than no communication at all
Looking after your mental health

It’s more important than ever for everyone to take care of their own mental health and wellbeing.

The Mental Health Foundation is part of the national mental health response providing support to address the mental health and psychosocial aspects of the Coronavirus outbreak, alongside Public Health England and the Department of Health and Social Care. They have provided the following guidance around looking after your mental health during the outbreak. More information can be found on their website here.

Rumour and speculation can fuel anxiety. Having access to good quality information about the virus can help you feel more in control.
At times of stress, we work better in company and with support. Try and keep in touch with your friends and family, by telephone, email or social media, or contact a helpline for emotional support.
There is extensive news coverage about the outbreak. If you find that the news is causing you huge stress, it’s important to find a balance. It’s best that you don’t avoid all news and that you keep informing and educating yourself, but limit your news intake if it is bothering you.
Health and Safety

Of course, our health and safety obligations do not go away during this time and employers continue to have a duty of care to employees. The majority of homeworkers will be using Display Screen Equipment (DSE). Remember that it’s a legal requirement to provide health and safety information to users of DSE regarding the setting up of workstations. Where possible, perhaps employees could be loaned the equipment they would be using whilst working in the office, or provide separate keyboards and mouse to use with a laptop.

General advice and guidance about the importance of maintaining good posture and taking sufficient breaks would be a good first step. More information can be found here.

For more information on using IT at home, contact a member of our helpful team.

Information courtesy of Herefordshire and Worcestershire Chamber of Commerce