remote working

The New Normal: ensuring health & safety for remote workers

Feb. 1 2021 - 5 min

For better or worse, 2020 saw businesses across the globe reinvent their work culture. And while many employees may now look forward to returning to a pre-pandemic routine, certain new habits look set to stay.

For example, a recent study found that 62% of US hiring managers plan to continue remote work going forward[1]. Although teleworking has plenty of upsides—including time saved by avoiding long commutes, unnecessary meetings and distractions from colleagues—it comes with a new set of concerns, especially in the management of workplace health and safety.

To promote the welfare of people at work, businesses should know the best practices for remote working and communicate them clearly to their workforce.

Encourage employees to set a clear boundary between home and work

The end to long commutes may seem like a dream come true. However, the lack of a physical distance between the office and home can also make it harder to ‘switch off’, leaving employees at risk of working much longer hours than before. A sense of having to be available 24/7, combined with issues like job insecurity or the intensification of work due to automation and digitalization, pose a real risk of harassment and stress-related illness, such as burnout.

When the daily commute is reduced to moving from the kitchen table to the couch, both mind and body need new signals to bookend the workday. It can be helpful to prepare to unwind by scheduling less intense tasks for the end of the day, while healthy habits such as a hearty breakfast and a brisk, post-work walk outside could facilitate the switch between home and home office.

Provide ways to connect with colleagues over non-work-related matters

A US study has found that office chit-chat has the ability to boost employees’ sense of wellbeing[2]. And while it may be perceived as disruptive, especially in open-plan offices, this small-talk can have the added advantage of encouraging teamwork and thus mitigating some of its negative effects on concentration.  

Unfortunately, coffee-machine chit-chat is difficult to replicate in a virtual office. But this is not to say managers and employees can’t try to encourage casual conversations via video. Some managers choose to invite employees to virtual social events, while others set aside time at either end of team meetings for small-talk.

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Ask your teams to assess their home workstations

Working from home usually means long hours in front of a computer. And without natural reasons to give the body a break from sitting—such as walking down the hall to the printer or over to a colleague’s desk—employees are at greater risk of repetitive-strain injuries and joint pain.

While getting up to stretch between tasks remains important, it is also crucial to assess the home-office for ergonomic issues that may exacerbate physical strain. For example, workers should be encouraged to opt for a good office chair and a desk that allows for the top of the computer screen to be just below eye level.

Ensuring remote workers’ health & safety with ISO 45001

Adopting an Occupational Health & Safety Management System like ISO 45001 helps businesses address the risks associated with remote work as well as a host of other health and safety hazards. The new standard, which will replace the OHSAS 18001 certification on September 30, 2021, covers both physical and psychological risks, including burnout and stress-related illness. It also emphasizes the role of workers in identifying potential risks to workplace health and safety.

Bureau Veritas offers a full range of training and certification services to organizations migrating to ISO 45001, which can also be done remotely. Opting for certification with a world leader like Bureau Veritas sends a message to stakeholders that an organization is committed to ensuring the highest standard in protecting its employees worldwide.