We are in a new era of workplace models, and the freedom and flexibility of remote work is incredible in many ways. But there is a second side to this coin. Daily, I interact with organizations that provide in-person services for their communities – services that cannot be performed remotely. Service-based jobs require people to be present to provide those services and include jobs in city government, hospitals, schools and grocery stores, as well as positions in all the trades. Even when there is a way to supplement those roles with remote work, the bulk of it must be performed in person.
The fact is that physical workspaces are still – and will always be – important, and, at the moment, many organizations are concluding that both on-site and remote work environments will be necessary indefinitely.
The following tips will help you reduce corporate risk and support employees in both remote and on-site environments.
For remote workers
Establish work and break guidelines: To maintain productivity and prevent burnout, establish employee guidelines for working hours and breaks. Some remote employees will overwork while others are prone to underwork. Guidelines set clear expectations and help everyone to find balance.
Establish ergonomic guidelines: To reduce physical risk, including the risk of carpal tunnel and repetitive action injuries, put ergonomic guidelines in place for at-home workstations and offer ergonomic training to employees. Dining room tables are often at a different heights than desks and are not appropriate workspaces. Provide guidance on the right height for monitors, desks and surface areas, as well as proper posture.
See also: Smart Home Devices: the Security Risks
Develop communication standards: To ensure connection during emergencies, put an adequate communications system in place, such as Microsoft Teams or a Slack. Provide employees steps on what to do if they have daily technology challenges and explain how and on what channels the company will communicate in case of an emergency.
Build teams and trust: To encourage fluid communication throughout the year and a unified direction, focus on team building. AP Keenan puts a significant amount of effort into team building, which allows quality communication and opens the doors to educate and coach employees. In addition, with strong team camaraderie, we can more easily check in with our employees and make sure their mental health is good. We’ve hired people over the past year, and the feedback we get is: “Wow! You really keep in contact.”
Foster a work-life balance: Help employees create a work-life balance by encouraging them to take time off, just as they did when they were in an office – even if their laptop is within five feet of them. You can especially help employees who are “workaholics” or those who feel guilty not working 24/7 to set boundaries. In addition, make sure your remote employees are not isolating themselves excessively. Happy, balanced employees who interact with others and have a network of support have more to offer at work.
Consider workers' compensation claims: With hybrid models, today’s employers must consider what the workers' compensation situation is in an employee’s home and the liability to the employer versus the employee in that space. As an employer, what is your control over the work environment and your ability to affect safety? Is there enough room for your employee to get around, or are they tripping over drawers or cabinets when they are getting up to go to the restroom?
Consider your financial liability: To ensure you maintain connection with your employees, consider providing compensation for your remote employees’ phone and internet access. At AP Keenan, across the board, we add a dollar amount to all hourly employees’ paychecks to assist with their phone and utility bills.
In addition, make conscious decisions about the physical supplies your employees need. When the pandemic began, many companies were able to quickly switch to remote work. They had emergency response plans that allowed them to know where there data centers where, how they were going to provide employees continued connection and how they would get supplies to their people. The reality is that most employees don’t stock office paper or light bulbs at home, and their internet might not support all the work functions or provide the right security. As you decide what employees must provide versus what you will provide, have clear conversations about shifting costs to employees. In particular, consider if you are shifting costs to those who already experience a wage gap.
For in-person employees, you’ll need to provide adequate resources to support the spaces in which they work to reduce your risk and increase their health and productivity. These tips apply:
Reassess the budget: As employers aim to accommodate the hybrid concept, they risk spreading dollars thin over new costs. Have clear budgeting discussions that highlight the transfer of funds to support remote work as well as the risks of defunding the physical workspace. Will you be removing resources that avoid the severity and frequency of claims?
Invest in safe work environments: Look around -- does your brick-and-mortar workspace look like a storage unit or a moving facility since the pandemic started? Are boxes stacked in the hallway? Are you still ADA-compliant? As the corporate physical space is reduced in favor of remote work, there is often an uptick in claims, such as “slip, trip and fall” scenarios. It’s important for in-person facilities staff to remove obstacles and keep the physical space up to standard.
Continue safety trainings: Keep employees’ physical safety at the top of the priority list. Dedicate a healthy portion of your budget to maintaining in-person safety and prevention programs to avoid problems. Whether you have one or 10,000 employees in the office, it only takes one injury to result in a claim.
See also: Cyber Tips for Work From Home
Stay on top of workers' compensation laws: One of the most complex factors employers face when deciding on a hybrid work model is workers' compensation. In California, it’s one of the largest drivers in the workplace and often an incredibly complex expense. Laws change regularly and are bound to change as a result of the shifting workforce. Work with a consultant to stay up-to-date on evolving workers' compensation laws – especially those in your particular state.
Work with your insurer: One of the best ways to control costs and keep people safe is to avoid claims in the first place. To reduce the severity and frequently of claims, make sure your insurer is not just managing claims and providing coverage, but helping you think through these important issues. In the end, your insurer can help you improve your rates, improve your experience, retain your employees and realize a successful future.