It is important to spend more time thinking about the risk factors associate with working-from-home and communicate with your employees to ensure their satisfaction and productivity.
In the past couple of months, our work style has been changed completely due to the adaptation of COVID-19. More and more ‘non-essential’ businesses have been forced to close that did not want to stop their manufacturing and productivity. As a result, they were pressed to formulate a quick solution to keep their businesses and employees in motion, so working from home has become the new norm these days. Several industries, especially technology companies such as Intel and Microsoft, had already set up a work-from-home platform much before COVID-19 began. It is clear that this model doesn’t fit most industries, but there are extreme limitations currently, so how can businesses best adapt on such short notice? As soon as the number of COVID-19 cases increased globally, large technology companies, such as Apple, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft, made an executive decision and ramped up remote work plans for the majority of their employees across the globe. Shortly after, and with the government’s new regulations, the rest of the companies quickly adapted to the work-from-home style. Working from home slows down the spread of COVID-19 and reduces the risk of employees getting infected, and is an easy and relatively cheap solution for most businesses. Included in this transition, formal meetings have transformed into a Zoom/Teams/Skype meeting, official dress codes have been reduced to a partial one – from the waist and up, computers have become an even more important tool in work, and many businesses started distributing laptops to employees like they are in a candy shop. All of these new adaptations have helped the businesses to keep functioning, produce some amount of revenue and minimize the damage. But, in doing all of this, are we truly considering our employees’ needs and well-being? Have we thought of other health issues that can arise or how they are adjusting to this new lifestyle they have been suddenly forced to?
Since nobody knows the end date of this pandemic, we cannot make short or long term plans, thoroughly complicating business process and growth. Businesses are evaluating this new process and adaptation each week, but in the meantime, how do we successfully work remotely? How do you adapt your home to become an office? How do you make sure to provide the optimal environment for your employees to still be productive?
Let’s explore a couple of proven ideas:
- Work Space: Your employee lives in a small apartment and has limited space to work. In this case, the kitchen or living room usually becomes their new office. The first thing that bothers me is ergonomics. How long a person can sit on his couch in a slouched posture and work? How many breaks will the employee need to take due to the different work environments? Where are the employees going to eat breakfast or lunch? Where will they relax and watch some TV? At his/her new office!
- Flexible Hours: Your employee has children that participate in long-distance learning. Do you ease the goals for these employees? Are you allowing him/her to work more flexible hours? Allow them to not attend the 9:00 AM meetings? Do you realize that this employee is working 2 full-time jobs with very few breaks?
- Facility: At work, you provided ergonomic chairs and desks to your employees to minimize low back and neck pain. Do you think that their couch or their current chair can sustain the load and stress and provide good support to their back? Some companies are starting to send a standing desk and new chairs to their employees.
- Vision: At work, more than likely you invest in the quality monitors. Some of us own 2 big screens in our office to allow us to perform our job better and be more productive. Can the same productivity sustain when reducing the employee environment from two sixteen-inch monitors to one 10-inch laptop monitor? Probably not — employees’ eyes get fatigued much easier and force him/her to take more breaks or deal with headaches associated with the new eye effort.
- Ergonomics: Reducing the keyboard size to a laptop keyboard and mouse can increase the risk for tennis and golf elbow injuries along with carpal tunnel. A new keyboard is the minimum employers should provide to reduce the pain and risk for upper extremity injuries for their employees.
- Anxiety Release: Being in the same place most of the day with the big COVID-19 gray cloud on top of us can produce anxiety and stress for employees. Social gatherings are not allowed anymore, and our single employees tend to be alone all day which can lead to depression. Are you providing any social/health-related activities for your employees? Are you reducing the requirements of your employees due to the ongoing stress? Do you provide mental support? Some companies have hired Pilates or yoga trainers to allow their team some fun time with exercise while working.
- Losing Healthy Routine: When people do not need to dress up every day or be at work at a certain hour, their normal routine and hygiene tend to diminish. Also, most of us are gaining weight since all the gyms are closed.
- Motivation: Motivation levels can easily go down if you do not care about your employees’ health and immediate concerns. You may lose many quality employees only because you were not flexible to their new needs.
- Engagement: How do you keep your employees up to date on what is going on in the companies business plans and financial situations? Some information is too sensitive and cannot be shared via email. How do we make sure employees are collaborative and work as a team and not only in solo?
These are only several points on how transitioning your employees to working from home does not truly provide them an optimal work environment. Employers should take these concerns seriously to avoid post-pandemic impacts. It is important to spend more time thinking about the risk factors associate with working-from-home and communicate with your employees to ensure their satisfaction and productivity. Another concerning thought — how we are all going to come out of this? How many of us will come out of it with post-pandemic trauma? What can be done now that will minimize the potential health cost for employees in the future, such as back and neck pain treatments, vision problems, upper extremity injuries, diet, and uses of PTO due to anxiety? Help your employees now or you will need to pay for it in the long run.
Dr. Ram Haddas is a medical scientist with a Ph.D. in Rehabilitation Science working for Texas Back Institute for the past 6 years.
Mrs. Nurit Kruk-Zilca is an executive in HR working at Ceragon for the past 15 years.