The world is an increasingly accessible place, and for many reasons, telecommuting is on the rise. More businesses and organizations are seeing the benefits of letting employees work in their own spaces for many reasons, including attempting to keep them safe during this pandemic, saving time on commuting, and better work/life balance, plus many employees simply prefer it. However, telecommuting can be challenging for workers and employers alike. Some workers may face distractions, and employers can’t monitor projects or people as closely. This can be a concern when it comes to safety because there are usually more safety precautions that don’t exist at an employee’s home as opposed to an office. Here are six ways employers can keep their telecommuting workforce safe:
1. Put Your Policies in Writing
Make your expectations for telecommuting clear from the start. Knowing what’s expected will help morale, productivity, and safety in the office or at home. Onsite teams can develop a safety program and work in an environment monitored for hazards. Remote work is trickier, but it is not impossible to accomplish something similar. Make sure your policy is thorough so you can avoid liability and Worker’s Compensation claims. Remind your team that working from home is a privilege and that adhering to work policies means they get to keep that privilege. Create an agreement that must be signed. List your requirements and expectations for hours, availability, productivity, health and safety concerns, cleanliness, organization, and reporting processes.
2. Check on Your Insurance—and Theirs, Too
What does your Worker’s Compensation insurance policy say about remote work? It’s a good idea to look into that before serious telecommuting happens. Check specifically for whether your policy covers remote employees and business travel incidents. According to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), for a worker’s injury or illness to be considered work-related and recordable, the injury or illness needs to be related to the work itself rather than the setting in which it’s performed. If an employee can show that they were performing work tasks when injured, they might be able to claim benefits.
3. Use Technology to Your Advantage
The technology for remote working is better than ever, and many different needs can be filled with tech. Some employers might use wearable safety technology that lets them track or report on a worker’s location and physical safety. These devices can even act as panic buttons or automatically be triggered in the event of unconsciousness to call for help in an emergency. Some are used as two-way radios so workers can stay in touch while working.
Laptops also can be optimized for telecommuting if your IT team is top-notch. Computer security issues can be monitored remotely, and computers can be equipped with monitoring devices and programs to keep workers on task. Ensure that employees are aware of the monitoring and that they follow your cybersecurity guidelines, even if they’re on their own devices.
4. Encourage a Healthy Work-Life Balance
One big advantage of working from home is that it’s convenient. One of the most significant disadvantages is that it can be bad for your work-life balance. Encourage employees with the space at home to set up a dedicated work area, if possible, to use while they’re on the clock. This area should be set up according to your health and safety guidelines and follow all other requirements in your policy. Encourage the use of equipment such as ergonomic office chairs, keyboards, mice, adjustable computer monitors, laptop mounts, and standing desks or converters to prevent chronic injuries and pain. Ask about lighting and ventilation, too—being healthy, comfortable, and happy in your workspace is great for productivity.
5. Emphasize Wellness and Safety
Working from home also can lead to hours of sitting, which isn’t healthy for anyone. In addition, living and working in the same space day in and day out can wear on your mental health. Encourage employees to exercise their minds and bodies through light cardio, mindfulness activities, and stress management. You could even provide virtual resources that can double as teambuilding exercises—think along the lines of online safety and hazard classes, mental health counseling, health coaching, or virtual workout classes.
6. Communicate Often
Communication is arguably more critical when you’re not constantly seeing each other in the office. It’s crucial to keep communication open to ensure everyone is on the same page about remote work, and staying in touch can help improve morale and mental health. Maintaining an open dialogue about safety will help get employees more involved in developing telework policies that work for them and you. They’ll also be more inclined to follow the practices they’ve helped create. This dialogue must involve following up with workers about remote office safety frequently and consistently. You can do this with self-assessment programs, photos, or check-ins.
Above all else, be transparent in your communications. Make it clear why you’re requiring what you are and how important feedback and discussion are. You care about their safety, but employees also want to feel comfortable that you’re taking their concerns into account.