COVID-19: Safeguarding employees during social isolation

Over the last few months, COVID-19 has swept the globe, leaving behind a trail of fear, confusion and uncertainty. There is still a lot that is unknown about the coronavirus or the impact it will have on us as a society but from what we do know, it is currently spreading at an alarming rate and can be life-threatening.

Companies have been under increasing pressure to protect their staff, with some having to cease trading completely. The coronavirus has affected employees in almost every industry and due to its nature, no workers are exempt from the risk. With New Zealand having recently moved to level three, employers are having to consider the best ways to continue without risking the safety of their workforce.

Working from home risks 

The government has been urging the public to adopt home working where possible as coronavirus cases continue to rise. Despite this currently being the safest option for employees, working from home carries its own risks. Working from home can be extremely isolating and there’s evidence to suggest that it can negatively impact mental health. 

All companies have a responsibility to ensure that their employees’ safety and welfare is being considered, however, mental well being is often overlooked. 42% of 1200 participants said their job played a significant role in poor mental health whilst a further 17.8% said that working alone negatively affected their mood, according to research conducted by CV-Library.

Employers have the same responsibility for the safety of their home working staff as they do any other worker. Most people’s home working environments will not have been risk assessed which could impact employees’  safety. For example, an employee could live in a house with damp and have to work in unsanitary conditions or they may not have appropriate working equipment such as a proper desk, which could result in a back injury.

When employees are working from home, they do not have access to firsthand support from managers and colleagues. Like any other lone worker, if an employee has an accident whilst working at home, they may be unable to call for help especially if they live alone. 

How to encourage safe and productive homeworking

There is no doubt that many workers will be feeling extremely anxious and fearful due to current circumstances. For many employees, this will be the first time they’ve had to work away from the office and this may contribute to feelings of unease. So how can you ensure your staff are prepared to work from home and how can you keep them safe?

Keep staff safe

By law, employers must consider the safety of their staff wherever they perform their work, which therefore includes their homes. An employer must ensure that employees have a safe environment to work from. It can be hard to mitigate the risks in employees’ homes, especially if the company employs hundreds of staff.

To help deal with this, employers can: 

  • Provide in-depth training on personal safety and train employees in how to carry out full risk assessments on their working environments.
  • Encourage home workers to modify their workspaces in line with recommendations from Worksafe New Zealand.

Once any risks have been identified in an employee’s home, employers should do their best to solve these issues. This could involve providing employees with essential equipment they will need whilst working at home or ensuring staff have a way to signal for help if an accident happens by providing them with a lone working app or device.

Lone worker apps, such as StaySafe, are a great way to monitor the safety of your staff remotely. These apps work by monitoring an employees’ location via GPS. Before a period of lone work or travel, employees start a timed session. Once they do so, they will appear on the cloud-based monitoring hub so employers can monitor where they are for their safety.

If an employee fails to end their lone working session safely, a session expiry alert will be sent to their employer or chosen monitor. If a worker finds themselves in a dangerous situation, they can trigger an alert to a member of staff or an external monitor and emergency services can be quickly dispatched to their location. This alert can be triggered at any time, even if a session is not running. If an employee is ever in a situation where they are being forced to terminate the app by an assailant, a ‘false (duress) pin’ can be entered to appear as if the session has been cancelled when, in fact, a panic alarm has been triggered.

Regular communication

Even when working from home it’s important that you maintain regular communication with your employees. Whether this is over the phone, through instant messaging or on a video call, checking in with your staff is a good way to find out how they’re coping with the adjustments. This also gives them an opportunity to discuss any concerns or worries they have. Alongside this, communicating any changes that are happening within the company and keeping workers up-to-date and involved can help dispel any feelings of unease and help your staff feel more prepared. 

Creating a community

Staff that work from home may feel as if they have no working community, particularly if they do so for long periods of time. Developing a group on Facebook, Slack or an employee website is a great way to keep staff connected to the company. These platforms can be used to celebrate special days (e.g. birthdays), company milestones, as well as community recognition for achievements.

Support and advice 

Ensuring your staff have access to the necessary support and advice is very important especially when working from home. Preparing helpful guides that detail who staff should contact if they have any concerns and providing them with practical tips on home working is a great way to ensure your staff are well equipped for a long period away from the office.

Maintaining motivation

Keeping your staff motivated whilst working from home can be tricky but there are things you can do. Setting targets, implementing incentives and acknowledging key achievements is a great way to boost productivity and maintain motivation amongst your staff. 

We are all concerned about the impact coronavirus will have on our lives but the most important thing is to keep yourselves and your staff safe. As a way to provide support during this time, we are now offering a short-term homeworking package to help employers manage the safety of all their staff. The package will include use of our StaySafe app and hub which can be used to ensure your staff have access to assistance should they need it. 

Establishing a good work area at home

Creating the proper work environment at home requires planning, innovation, and investment of time and (potentially) money. With the right furniture, imagination and some dedication to your task, you should be able to create an environment where you enjoy spending time. This article provides excellent advice on setting up a safe and productive work environment at home, and also offers tips for achieving a good work/life balance.

For more information on the latest COVID-19 government guidance, visit this website.

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