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WORKING FROM HOME - the impact on physical health

  • 2 min read

By Guy Osmond

The universal implications of COVID-19 are hard for any of us to grasp fully. In the workplace, we observe a domino effect with new demands appearing week by week.

We are seeing employers sending people home to work in very large numbers. This is an inevitable response to government instructions but the needs and productivity of each home worker are proving very variable. Obviously, home working is not new and many employers have been developing home working capability as part of a broader Agile Working plan for some time. The differences currently are the pace, the scale and, most significantly, the lack of comprehensive preparation.

Most organisations focus first on IT and communications. This is the essential first step. Without access to company information, historical data and a familiar digital environment, nobody can work effectively. Equally, the need to communicate readily and easily with colleagues, customers and other stakeholders is also essential. Fortunately, most employers already use Skype, Teams, Zoom or a similar teleconferencing tool. Where that may not be practical, historically personal tools are also being used effectively since most people also use WhatsApp, FaceTime or Google Hangouts with family and friends.

With comms and IT sorted, most people can now focus on their work and this is when we start to see musculoskeletal (MSK) issues (back ache, neck ache, etc.) arising. Here, employers fall into two categories. The first group have already taken some pre-emptive action (typically, bulk purchase of laptop kits and/or allowing personnel to take their work chair home). The remainder have adopted a ‘suck it and see’ strategy (either by design or by default!). It is interesting to note, here, that the latter appeared quite a reasonable option when lockdown duration was expected to be only a few weeks. The outlook now is quite different.

With the prospect of an unknown period at home, there seem to be two reasons for MSK queries to arise:

  • Pre-existing problems exacerbated when office-supplied equipment is unavailable at home
  • No previous record of MSK history but problems arising from inappropriate working conditions at home.

With some UK factories closed and some products going out of stock, it is important to pre-empt such needs and have a plan in place to ensure a responsive, controlled strategy.

We find that employers now want to discuss how to address these needs in a timely, strategic manner. Here are ideas of how to do this:

  • Identify the procurement process e.g. blanket order for individual call-off or individual orders for each need? Think about: How agile is your procurement process? Will it be able to respond in a timely fashion?
  • Where can you make this information available to your home workers? Can it be added to your own intranet or can your supplier create something quickly for you to provide a link to?
  • How will you propagate this information through your organisation?
  • How will you ensure effective control and block abuse of the process? e.g. occupational health approval, manager sign-offs, etc. Will those in the authorisation process also be able to respond in a timely manner?

All of these issues have been addressed in the last few weeks. Please contact us for strategic assistance.

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