Why working from home is a privilege for many

The impact of coronavirus on the way we must now live and work is undeniable. The government has advised everyone to work from home apart from those deemed essential to the country’s operations. But the assumption that everyone has the ability to work from home is significant. CEOs, directors and managers ordering employees to work from home owe their staff the responsibility of ensuring they have everything they need to do so. If businesses fail to equip their employees, they could experience a significant decrease in productivity, efficiency and bottom-line performance.

Which industries can work from home?

There are some industries that are almost fully equipped to work from home as their work is primarily digital. Finance, professional and business services, client services, telecoms and education are amongst the industries that are most able to work from home. Construction, health and medical, leisure and hospitality and agriculture are amongst the industries that find it the most challenging, if not impossible, to work from home.

Those on the medical frontline have no choice but to go to work and protect the country during this time. Workers with labour-intensive roles and those who require face-to-face interaction to do business are left with little choice but to stop working and accept a change in their employment status. Some must continue in close proximity to others in factories, warehouses, farms and delivery services to ensure supply chains carry on. It’s up to the employer and government to provide the funding and personal protective equipment needed to protect these individuals.

The need for the right technology

For the privileged industries that have the ability to work from home, workers need the right technology and resources to do their jobs effectively. For many companies, it appears the higher-ups are the individuals with the most means to work from home compared to their employees. This is largely due to the technology that they have access to remotely. Most director and managerial positions will have company laptops, phones and devices that allow them to work flexibly. Those in the office, onsite or front of house don’t always have the resources required to bring their work home.

Where equipment isn’t provided by the company, higher-ups tend to show more willingness to use their personal devices for work purposes. Employees are often hesitant to use their own mobile phones and laptops because of their usage plans and allowances. There’s also the issue of personal data; workers won’t want their personal mobile numbers being known by external businesses, colleagues and clients. As well as devices, wifi and broadband connections are integral to working from home. Without these, connecting to external networks and communicating with the wider organisation and clients aren’t possible.

Health and safety implications

In the office and onsite, health and safety regulations must be followed exactly to ensure the wellbeing of workers and visitors. These regulations must apply when working remotely too.  The Workplace (Health, Safety & Welfare) Regulations 1992 don’t apply to domestic premises, but your employer has a duty of care to look after your health and safety while working from home. Your employer should ask you to complete a working from home risk assessment to outline the risks and hazards in the home. This risk assessment would also depend on the type of work you’re expected to carry out at home. For example, if you were making garments at home, your employer would have to provide the necessary safety equipment to protect your wellbeing and environment.

Your risk assessment should cover the use of display screen equipment, appropriate electrical equipment and the influence of other people in the home working environment. You should put measures in place to control these risks, including having enough space to work safely, adequate lighting and temperature. Your home working environment should have trailing wires and leads tucked away safely, and your employer may ask you to provide evidence of this. You should report if you’re using equipment with any issues, faults, breakages or damage and how you’re fixing this. If you have children, parents, pets or other individuals in your home environment, you need to make sure they’re controlled to prevent distractions and stress.

Ergonomics are another key health and safety implication. You’re unlikely to have the proper ergonomic equipment when working from home unless it’s your primary place of work or you’re a higher-up. You need the right desk height to ensure you don’t have to strain your neck to see the screen. Your desk chair must support your back and shoulders so you don’t experience pain and discomfort. If you’re used to having a large desktop or multiple screens, transitioning to one screen or a small laptop is likely to cause eyestrain and headaches. If these issues are occurring, your employer should provide you with the means of working from home comfortably as it’s now your primary place of work.

Impact on productivity and efficiency

While working from home, your productivity and efficiency is likely to take a hit. This could be because you don’t have the right equipment and resources available to you to do your work effectively. Without ergonomic equipment, discomfort to your neck, back and shoulders can distract you from your work. With small screens and the wrong screen height, eyestrain can lead to headaches which can make you lose focus. Having the right amount of space to work from home effectively is essential. If you don’t have a dedicated room to be able to do so, the dining table or console table might be your best option.

Not being able to work face-to-face with colleagues, clients and customers will demand time and effort to find other means of communication. For these professions, you may feel lost for large chunks of your day that would otherwise have been spent on visits, meetings and calls that can’t be achieved from home. Some individuals may thrive when working from home. Time saved on travel and commuting can be invested into the working day to get even more done. This privilege isn’t for everyone and can make you feel demotivated if you’re not being as productive as others appear to be.

It’s clear that a lot needs to be done by businesses to make sure their workers are supported when working from home. Particularly where higher-ups may assume that each of their workers has the same home working environment privileges as they do. As the home is the primary working environment for a number of industries now, employers must ensure their workforces have all the equipment and resources needed to work effectively and safely. Regular check-ups and allowances will enable you to find the ergonomics needed to support your mental and physical wellbeing. Risk assessments and health and safety regulations will help protect you from hazards and accidents at home. With all this in mind, you can hopefully work towards securing a home office model that enables you to be as productive and efficient as your profession allows in these circumstances.