Remote working has undeniably increased in popularity in recent years. Indeed, a 2019 survey conducted by Aviva revealed that two fifths (39%) of the UK workforce considered flexible working (including working from home) to be a highly desirable employee benefit.
And while many employers had shown a willingness to embrace this trend, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has meant that the vast majority of companies across the UK have been forced to overhaul their remote working policies.
When the UK went into lockdown in March, employees found themselves swapping their desks for their kitchen tables. There was little warning and little time for preparation, yet most organisations understood the necessity to do so and got by as best they could.
Indeed, in the early months of the lockdown many employees appeared to enjoy the novelty of working from home. After all, some had wanted this freedom, while others believed that the pandemic would only be short-lived. One drawback of such short-term thinking, though, has been that many employers have failed to invest in important elements of remote working, such as cybersecurity, furniture as well as the mental and physical health of staff.
As the months have dragged on, it has become clear that home working was not a temporary exercise. And with the Government imposing even tighter regional lockdown restrictions as a second wave of the virus takes hold, now is the time for businesses to revisit their remote working policies.
Lack of employee support
During the height of the first lockdown, half (47%) of the UK’s workforce were working remotely. By comparison, only 30% of employed people had ever worked from home prior to the pandemic.
Overall, employees’ reaction to remote working has been positive. Indeed, many appreciate the greater autonomy they now have within their working lives, which combined with not having to commute means they can develop a healthier work-life balance. In fact, a recent survey revealed that a third of UK employees would prefer to quit their job than forfeit the option to work from home on a permanent basis.
Paired with the arrival of a second wave of COVID-19, it is increasingly unlikely that businesses will make a formal return to office life any time soon. And so, if they had not already, businesses must accept that remote working could become a permanent feature.
Yet it appears that, so far, many businesses have failed to accept this. Indeed, a recent study conducted by YouGov revealed that 41% of home workers do not have an appropriate home working environment; almost two thirds (39%) of staff have resorted to impractical or uncomfortable working arrangements, setting up a workstation on kitchen tables, sofas or even beds.
Such working environments are unsustainable. Not only will they likely have a negative impact on employee productivity, but they could also damage their physical health, causing musculoskeletal issues due to improper back support, for example.
Indeed, the Health & Safety Executive has been keen to stress that employers must do more to protect their staff when working remotely – and of course, this will mean offering the appropriate support to uphold their physical and emotional wellbeing.
Investing in employee wellness
Perhaps one of the underlying issues is that management and HR teams cannot properly see and assess their staff’s working setups. After all, in an office environment, if managers were to see employees slouching to see their screens or working in uncomfortable chairs, action would be taken.
The same approach must be applied when people are working remotely. Best practice dictates that workplace assessments are carried out whether an employee is in the office or at home – this cannot be ignored.
Ultimately, it is vital that businesses reassess their budgets to invest in employees’ home working setups. A recent survey discovered that 70% of UK SMEs were saving almost £1,000 per month by working remotely throughout the lockdown period. This is due to businesses no longer needing to pay additional expenses that come with renting office space, such as cleaning or catering for staff. So, there is no reason why such savings cannot be reinvested to ensure home workers can do their job in a safe, comfortable and productive space.
Failure to do so could trigger a legal backlash. Indeed, it is important to note that in August it was reported that a massive 39,000 employee complaints were waiting to be heard – it is unknown how many relate to employees not receiving proper support during the transition to full-time home working, but it is likely to be an increasingly prevalent issue in the coming months.
Potential tribunals could cause long-term financial and reputational damage to a business. So, employers would be wise to listen to the concerns of their staff and address them as a top priority.
Remote working is clearly here to stay, and so it is vital that employers act accordingly and offer better support to their staff. Failure to do so could result in irreversible to damage to staff and, consequently, the business itself.
Doug Bodenham is the managing director for curatd., a new offering by The Furniture Practice aiming to solve the challenges increasingly faced by business leaders responsible for working-from-home teams. Applying over 23 years of workplace experience, curatd. is working with companies to equip their staff at home with compliant and ergonomic furniture and equipment – offering trade priced solutions via a convenient online procurement portal, it helps businesses fulfil their duty of care to their staff with a fully-integrated solution.