In light of the current COVID-19 situation, there will be many considerations for businesses when moving to remote working, not just around confidentiality and GDPR, which remain just as important whilst working from home, but also regarding supervision and employee welfare.
It is important that staff know who will be remotely supervising them, and how they contact their supervisor. They will also need to know how to access important policies and procedures whilst they are away from the office. For example, can they easily access the staff handbook or find the contact details of their colleagues and the HR team? Who do they contact in the first instance should they experience practical difficulties in their homeworking set up? If their circumstances change, and their ability to work from home is affected, whom do they inform?
This is an important time to remind everyone about confidentiality, teamwork and what is expected of them during homeworking.
Managing Employees Remotely
It is important that managers set clear expectations and maintain regular contact with remote teams. This avoids any uncertainty, which can lead to anxiety and poor performance.
ACAS advise that managers agree:
- when employees will be available to work;
- how they will keep in touch;
- how work-life balance will be managed, for example taking regular breaks and switching off from work at the end of the day;
- rules around storing information and data protection;
- how performance will be managed and measured – taking into account people’s circumstances where necessary;
- who employees should contact if they have any problems or their circumstances change.
Employer and Employee Responsibilities for Health and Safety
Employers are legally responsible for the health and safety of all employees, and this includes anyone who is working from home.
There will be many employees who do not have home office set-ups in place, and may be working at dining room or kitchen tables, making do with whatever seating they have at home.
It is important to remind staff of the need to look after their physical health by sitting properly, taking regular breaks and using office equipment such as screens and keyboards appropriately.
Employees should be asked whether they can safely work from home, and whether they have suitable equipment already in place. If employees do not have all the equipment they need, this may need to be supplied to them to ensure they can work safely and effectively.
Employers may need to consider any reasonable adjustments for employees who have a disability and if required, employers must take action. If particular equipment has been supplied to support individual employees in the office, that equipment may need to be provided for them at their home address, for example a supportive chair or audio equipment.
Employees should be encouraged to be open about their home working requirements.
Employee Mental Health Support
For some employees, this may be the first time they have experienced the inevitable reduction in face to face contact with their teams and managers. Some may relish this new challenge, but others may feel very anxious and isolated.
Although it is an extremely challenging time for businesses, it is important for employers to support their staff during this time. Encourage the use of technology to stay in regular contact and ask employees for creative ideas on how to maintain a positive team spirit.
Employees who find it very difficult to cope, and show signs of distress, must be adequately supported. If you have trained Mental Health First Aiders or HR staff who are skilled in handling sensitive situations, make sure all staff know who they are, and how to contact them confidentially.
It may be enough for some just to know that they can speak to someone during the working day, if and when they need reassurance. Mental Health and HR staff may need to direct individuals to additional outside support, and should make sure they keep a list of organisations and charities that can provide that support and keep it with them.
If you don’t have trained staff within the business, it is a good time to remind employees and managers of any existing workplace benefits that may be relevant, such as employee assistance programmes (EAPs) or online GP and medical services.