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Agile Working – The New Normal – What Employers Need to Think About

man working from home

The past year has shown how quickly businesses and individuals can adapt when they have to.  It has been surprising just how many companies have been able to effectively carry on as normal with all employees working from home either fully or partially.

But what started as a necessary temporary measure has now become semi-permanent nearly a year on and looks set to continue for at least the next 3-6 months until Government restrictions change.

At the same time many workers and employers have decided that a more agile working arrangement going forward beyond COVID-19 has its benefits in terms of flexibility and cost and so the workplaces of the future are likely to be significantly different to what was the norm only a year ago.

Whilst agile-working presents both the employee and employer with multiple potential benefits, it does also present additional health and safety challenges for employers which they will have to overcome to meet their legal obligations.

Here’s a brief look at what employers need to consider if their workforce is going to work in an agile capacity going forward.

Added Responsibility for Employers

Being responsible for your employees’ health and safety whilst they work from home or when they are out and about can add a new level of management and complexity to the health and safety responsibilities for many employers who traditionally would have had all of their staff working in the same office or workplace every day.

We are already seeing the impact of poor seating and workstation set up in homes with an increase in back and neck issues created from people working on laptops from kitchen tables or sofas.

With an increased difficulty for employees of ensuring suitable workstation set-up in individual homes, education of teams around healthy working practices will be more important than ever.

DSE Training and Assessment

Having responsibility for employees as they work from home can be difficult.  They may prefer the relaxed way of working from the sofa or not have the space for a proper desk and office chair.  Equally, other factors such as natural light, fresh air and keeping working areas clear of clutter can cause problems with not only their physical health but their general wellbeing as a negative working environment can have a significant impact on mental health and stress levels.

So how do you ensure that you fulfil your health and safety duties when your people are working remotely?

The key piece here is around education.  Make sure that you provide training and guidance on the best way to set up their working environment and adopt other important healthy working practices.

This can be done easily through online courses specifically for DSE (Display Screen Equipment) training, helping workers to understand the importance of working at a table, having a suitable and supportive chair, their screen at the right height, access to good quality lighting and taking regular breaks.

Even if your employees have carried out this training before, it will be important for them to revisit it, particularly in the context of their home working setup.

In addition, courses such as the one we provide as part of our healthy working program, offer a DSE assessment tool enabling both you and your employees to identify and record any issues so that necessary action to address them can be taken.

correct sitting posture diagram

Looking Out for Lone Workers

In busy workplaces with large numbers of people coming and going, the concept of lone workers may not normally be a factor.  However, with agile working comes a reduction in the number of people working in the office at any one time, and the potential for differing working patterns, so ensuring the safety of those who may be in the building working alone could be a new consideration.

As an employer you need to ensure you have a lone working policy and procedure in place if your employees are either living and working on their own from home or working alone at the workplace.

Think about how you can keep in touch with these employees regularly to ensure they are okay and / or that they have got home safely.

Mental Health & Wellbeing Considerations

Whilst for some working from home gives the flexibility to take breaks and exercise at a time convenient to them, for others, the fact that the computer is at home, and without the obvious office distractions, means they are unintentionally sitting for longer at the desk, deep in concentration forgetting to take regular breaks or working considerably longer hours than normal.

This past year has really highlighted the importance of looking after our mental health and wellbeing and that for home-workers particularly it is important to specifically build in time to move away from the desk and do other non-work related things.

Zoom and Teams video calls have enabled teams to kept in touch and allowed most businesses to carry on as normal, but they don’t always enable managers to read someone’s body language and to really know if they are doing okay or struggling.

  • Sleep Courses

Stressed employees may be working many more hours and burning the candle at both ends – but it’s difficult for a manager to manage a person if they are working from home, they can’t encourage them to leave the office for the day or take a break!

That’s why we offer training on the importance of sleep – a topic that is not often talked about in the office, but one which is in an employer’s interest as a less tired employee is a more productive, healthier and happier one!

  • Mental Health First Aid Courses (MHFA)

There is also training available on becoming a Mental Health First Aider.  These courses take a deep dive into the complicated area of mental health and enable members of the organisation to become a trained mental health first aider.

These trained workers are then invaluable to a business, as they keep an eye out for colleagues and are able to spot the signs when someone might be experiencing mental health difficulties.  They are armed with information and knowledge to support the individual and point them in the direction of more help if appropriate and may be able to stop a person spiralling into deeper difficulty.

For more on this topic read our blog on the importance of mental health awareness in businesses.

A Healthy Working Program – Specifically for your Business

At Sureteam we are able to design a course of training to specifically meet the needs of your business and employees. We have partnered with Cardinus and their Healthy Working Program which has E-learning courses from mental health and wellbeing to lone working and DSE.

You can simply select an individual course or speak to a member of our team who will work to create a program of training tailored to your business.  For more information or read our blog about how one of our clients, All Things Web® used it at the beginning of the first lockdown.

Here to Support Your Business and Agile Workers

As a health and safety consultancy we’re here to support businesses as they navigate these changing times. We understand that managing health and safety risks with workforces split across multiple locations can be challenging but we are here to help make sure you fulfil your obligations and keep your team safe.

Whether you’re looking for help on a specific project or a bit of advice on a particular area – we’re here for you.  Call our highly qualified team for a chat on 01666 503686 or contact us here.

A Helpful Reminder for All

The Chartered Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors (CIEHF) have created a useful Home working and staying healthy infographic which helps remind all workers of the things to be mindful of when working from home.

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Need more help?

You may be confident that you have your wider health and safety covered but need some specific advice in a particular area, or perhaps you need a review of what you are doing by a qualified advisor to give you peace of mind that you are meeting your obligations?

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