US organizations have been required to ask their employees to work from home, if possible, to comply with social distancing and to slow the spread of COVID-19 (Coronavirus).
Technology has made a move to home working possible, but this exposes those working from home to new risks that need to be considered, assessed and managed.
Working from Home
Many employers are concerned about the repercussions of asking their employees to work from home. From a risk assessment/management perspective, ASSP President-Elect Deborah Roy, President of SafeTech Consultants Inc. and former corporate director of health, safety and wellness at L.L.Bean, says ‘many organizations should already have a pandemic plan as part of their business continuity plans’.
As a checklist for those organizations that have a plan and as a starting point for those that do not, Roy recommends the following set of actions:
- Develop a plan for employee absences and a process for monitoring and tracking COVID-19 worker absences
- Identify critical employee positions and create a plan for coverage in the case of absences which considers training
- Plan for social distancing and how to create space between people of at least 3 feet
- Consider how employee support services, such as healthcare, can be provided using video or phone conferencing
- Review workplace event planning and determine if events need to be postponed or canceled
- Review local pandemic plans and how they might affect employees and workplaces – i.e. schools closing may require employees who are parents to stay at home to care for children
- Review company travel plans for essential and nonessential business travel
- Establish communication protocols which employers can use to reach employees to provide information about closures, new processes or workplace conditions
- Create a telework policy so your organization can operate and employees can stay in touch with teams
- Employers develop a checklist for employees to use to properly set up their home workspace and to identify safety risks
- Develop a checklist for employees to use so they can create at home workstations and identify safety risks
- Ensure employees know they are covered by workers’ compensation while telecommunication the need to be aware of new injury reporting procedures
- Communicate guidance on effective prevention measures (concerning Coronavirus) to all employees
Home Working Wellbeing Risks
Working alone can increase the risk to an employee’s mental health, wellbeing and ability to respond to emergencies. Organizations are likely to find that more of their employees who are teleworking are now classed as lone workers as they are now working at home, in isolation, to comply with stay-at-home measures.
This period of home working is likely to be seen as a temporary measure and therefore organizations need to provide employees with support and guidance.
Line managers should be encouraged to maintain regular communication with remote workers and to establish the environment and circumstances an employee finds themselves in. Once lone workers have been identified employers can then work on providing these employees with support, guidance and resources to combat the increase in risks to their physical and mental health.
For instance, if an employee lives alone – an employer can look to implement daily check-ins to ensure that a person is safe and well.
The news which surrounds and the measures put in place to combat the COVID-19 virus will influence an employee’s mental health and wellbeing. Communicating regularly with employees about the steps being taken to combat Coronavirus can help to elevate anxieties.
In addition to this, communication between teams can also help to prevent feelings of isolation. Employers should consider asking teams to stay in contact using video communication software such as Skype or Zoom to encourage video calling between employees.
To identify employees at particular risk of mental health issues, employers may also consider providing employees with access to mental health clinicians via online, video calling services.
In these unprecedented times, its important employers show leadership and approach challenges pragmatically. Leadership in times of uncertainty is important in building morale and relieving anxieties among employees, stakeholders and customers.
Here at Cardinus we offer a wide range of resources and e-learning courses specifically designed for home workers. We also provide a wide range of employer online resources, the majority of which are free.