Many companies have shifted as many of their workers to a remote status to help keep their employees, patients, and partners safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. And while this is certainly the safest option, it’s important to also be mindful of the potential health and safety concerns your employees might face while working from home. While OSHA does not require inspections of home work spaces, employers are still ultimately responsible for their workers’ health and safety as it pertains to work. Here are some of the things to consider:
We have seen pictures circulating of employees using bathrooms as their home office space because it’s the only area they can lock family members out of, hunching over a laptop on their kitchen table or couch, cramming into a small or awkward workspace that they’ve hastily put together. But there have also been some great, innovative ideas that people have developed to help make their work more comfortable and to help avoid common potential work-place injuries like Carpal Tunnel or musculoskeletal issues.
While purchasing each remote employee the proper ergonomic equipment for temporary use isn’t really feasible, make sure that your employees are informed of proper techniques and are doing their best to follow them. Here are some ideas that you (or your employees) may consider:
- Allow your employees to take some of their office gear home. Having a supportive desk chair or ergonomic mouse, keyboard, or wrist support may be the difference between comfortable working from home or a Worker’s Comp claim. To avoid having too many people in the office grabbing their equipment at once, set up a schedule of times for each employee to come in and load up.
- Get creative! Proper chair, desk, and monitor height is extremely important to ergonomics, so if employees find that they’re having to hunch over their desk or their feet aren’t touching the ground in their chair, think of things they might have around the house that could help alleviate these pain points. An old shipping box or a portion of a TP stash could become a foot rest or monitor riser. A small ironing board can be used to create a sit-to-stand desk (as long as everything is securely attached). A tightly rolled towel is now a lumbar support pillow.
- Continue to check in. Some issues take a few days, or even weeks, to start becoming noticeable. Or the irritation may get worse and worse the longer they are working from home. Just because they were alright when they first started working from home does not mean that the novelty hasn’t worn off and they’re starting to notice problems now that they’ve adjusted.
- Encourage your employees to take their breaks as specified by your company’s policy. When working from home, it’s common for employees to get focused and forget to take their breaks. But getting up and moving around is important for them to get up and move around, not just to prevent physical ailments but for their mental health as well.
- Make sure that your workplace injury policy has been updated and your employees know how to report any issues which are work-related.
It’s also extremely important to consider your employees’ mental health as well during this time. Remember that even though you may not see it because you’re not seeing them face-to-face, many people are struggling with the isolation and stress of this pandemic. It may not be severe enough to pose a danger to your employees, but it can affect their work efficiency and productivity. Here are some tips to help keep everyone sane while working from home:
- Stay connected. Utilize whatever technology you can to help check in with your employees. Using video or audio tools will help provide a more personal form of communication while avoiding the potential minefield of text-based communication. Implement some non-work-related communication to help alleviate stress:
- Start a weekly group video-conference lunch or coffee happy-hour where employees can catch up with each other
- Initiate a group game. Play something like 2 Truths and a Lie, Emoji Translation, or Show and Tell(work appropriate, of course). These games can be something quick and simple, but really help your employees feel connected.
- Get up and move around. If your company has access to a mobile video-conferencing service, have anyone who wants to dial in and go on a walk together. Send out a daily exercise routine or TikTok dance for employees to do, and feel free to entertain each other with the best (and worst) attempts.
- Add some flair to your internal video-conference calls. Encourage employees to show their work-from-home helpers (whether they’re human- or fur-kids). Or consider inviting a guest from your local zoo or nature center, if they are offering special virtual-meeting attendees.
- If you provide healthcare benefits, check what is available for mental health and make sure your employees are aware of the resources they can use, if needed. Many payers are now covering mental health checks via telehealth. Some states are also offering free options for individuals who just need to chat. See what is available and let employees know.
- Consider providing tools which might help your employees. You can purchase a group-license for apps like Calm, Happify, or Talkspace
- Stress the importance of time management. It’s easy for the line between work and home life to blur when everything is done in the same place. Things like having a designated schedule or workstation may help with this.
- Make sure you are continuing to acknowledge employees’ contributions and accomplishments. Many people can feel depressed or anxious if they’re not getting the positive feedback from supervisors that they’re used to. Find a way to let them know that you’re still thinking of them and that you appreciate them continuing to work through this stressful time. Whether that means sending them a card, or just an email recognizing that they’re doing a good job. A small gesture can go a long way for their well-being.
TLDR; make sure you’re taking care of your employees that are working remote in addition to the ones who are onsite. If you’ve developed any other creative solutions, we’d love to hear about them! email: firstname.lastname@example.org
-by Jillian Miller