Depending in what country you work, your answer to this will likely be different, especially when it comes to health and safety. For European countries like Ireland and the UK, the obligations of the employer are clear: you are liable for the health and safety of your employees no matter where they work. If you are an American firm, the lines may be more blurred.
The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was established nearly 50 years ago “to ensure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance” as per their mission statement. This means that for a half a century, the exact wattage of the lightbulbs in our offices, the height of our desk chairs, and the layout of our workplaces have been closely monitored for safety and to be OSHA compliant. So what does that now mean when half of the country is working from home? Who is meant to ensure their safety now?
Under their current policies, OSHA has, perhaps prematurely, indicated that the US employer is, in fact, not accountable for the health and safety of their remote workforce. However, in this same policy, they also indicate that certain employers are still liable to keep track of injuries and illnesses “regardless of whether the injuries occur in the factory, in a home office, or elsewhere, as long as they are work-related” clearly acknowledging that there is a gap in the implications of this policy.
US employers are now left with the question of “what now?” when it comes to their remote staff. Not taking an active role in the safety of their remote employees could leave the employer open to future workers compensation claims but more than that, the impact to productivity, efficiency, and even their company’s culture are also at risk.
Improper ergonomics can lead to familiar injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome, back injuries and neck strain. But did you also know that incorrect posture can be a trigger for headache sufferers to experience more instances of migraines? Lighting that is even slightly too bright or too dim can lead to eye strain, tension, and even nausea. These scratch the surface of common injuries that can directly impact your team’s productivity and well-being. And that translates to money lost for the organization, and risk to the long-term health and sustainability of your employees.
Perhaps you’ve had your employees attend an ergonomics webinar or complete another form of compliance questionnaire to confirm that they understand how to properly set up their desk at home. Without confirming that they have actually complied with the instructions provided, while you may feel better about your liabilities as an employer, you are still losing money if they are not working as efficiently as they could be. It’s a simple equation: how much longer does it take your staff to complete their job functions due to improper home office set up? That has a direct impact to your bottom line. And one that employers could avoid. Companies like Capella provide a simple, user friendly, portal for HR professionals, Facilities managers and employers to virtually assess that their staff’s home offices are properly set up. Easy to administer and monitor, this technology tool can have an immediate impact on your team’s output and your company’s long-term profitability.
If health, safety, productivity and profitability are not enough, the support you offer remote employees, or the lack thereof can also have an impact on your culture and the employee experience. When a new employee starts with your firm, their first weeks are often spent inducting them into the culture of the company, providing training from teammates and managers as to their primary job functions, and making sure they have everything they will need to succeed. Because our offices have been so closely monitored by OSHA for so long, we often don’t account for how important the physical workspace is to that success. Employers should strive to provide the same level of support to their employees – new and existing – regardless of whether they work in the company’s home office, or their home office.
As employers and HR professionals, your focus and responsibilities have been unexpectedly, and understandably, in flux over the past several months. There are new stresses to consider, impediments to productivity, and impacts to profitability that have stepped into the foreground. Although your staff’s home office set up may have seemed like an afterthought when working from home was a temporary measure, as remote working becomes a more likely reality for the future of your firm, this too needs to become a priority.
And if like many leaders in your position you feel like this is simple not doable right now, and you have too much on your plate already, Capella can help. By ensuring that your staff are working efficiently and safely at home, we help you sustain the long-term success of your both your employees and your profitability, and let you get back to doing other things!