This is the fourth in a series of 5 blogs exploring key considerations for employers who are establishing their post-pandemic arrangements for knowledge workers. Click here for the first in the series.
Employer response to homeworker needs has varied from non-existent to comprehensive. However, we have seen that, even amongst caring employers with support systems in place, provision during the pandemic has been inconsistent and often inadequate.
In the early days of Covid, it was easy enough to see the situation as temporary and many organisations chose ‘cheap and cheerful’ solutions or made no provision at all. As we now look at the future of hybrid working, homeworking has become a recognised and defined element of many people’s lives. It may even involve a change to their Contract of Employment. In these circumstances, the employer’s duty of care applies in both home and office situations and equivalent support should be provided for both scenarios.
We have heard countless stories of people working at the kitchen or dining table and the musculoskeletal problems that have arisen. It is a recognised fact that dining tables are often higher than an office desk (75 cm is a common height) and dining chairs sit lower. Prolonged laptop use in such a setting commonly gives rise to neck and shoulder problems due to the resultant hunching. Many of the individuals presenting these complaints have no previous history of musculoskeletal problems.
Many other people would be delighted to even have space for a table and a chair! Space limitations are a constant issue for a very large proportion of homeworkers. Often the shortage of space means inadequate furniture provision combined with the inability to get away from their work at the end of the day. Health issues (mental as well as physical) become even more crucial when this is the case. Furniture like dressing tables have drawers that get in the way and other cupboards or sideboards may be a suitable height but offer no legroom. All these alternatives can cause pain and discomfort. The only variable is where in the body the pain occurs!
With organisational commitment and an appropriate budget, it is easy enough to resolve all individual issues in the home. First, it is essential to carry out a suitable risk assessment. In most cases a DSE (Display Screen Equipment) assessment will be suitable and highlight any needs. Many employers have an online DSE tool which should provide a homeworker module or extra question set. Simple issues can be fixed with stock or pre-approved products. More complex problems or injuries can be referred for an escalated assessment. Since the pandemic, many employers have failed to maintain their assessment processes and there is no doubt in my mind that there is a significant backlog of individuals who need action sooner rather than later.
The assessment will highlight individual needs and employees may well require accessories to improve their productivity. Many organisations have already supplied an extra monitor for staff to use with their computer at home but laptop stands (with separate keyboard and mouse) will also reduce neck and shoulder problems, as well as potentially improving eye health. When considering these products, it is recommended to agree an approved product list to simplify the decision process and manage procurement.
Obviously, we can help with all of the processes outlined here as well as proposing suitable products!
Click here for the next blog in the series.