As I begin my daily commute to work, padding across the landing from bedroom to bathroom, then to the spare bedroom, where my home office is now situated, I am reminded of how Bill Murray felt every morning in the film Groundhog Day. Given that we are firmly in the middle of another lockdown, it can be easy to think that we are reliving the same day over and over, particularly if you are working from home on a full time basis.
But what should your employer be doing to help you if you are now working from home and how are they able to manage you during this time?
Firstly they should be aware of your physical wellbeing. Many of us are used to working in a brightly lit office with air conditioning or large windows, sitting on ergonomically designed chairs, and with appropriate workstation and DSE assessments undertaken and reviewed regularly.
All home office workers should be encouraged to carry out their own workstation assessment, and your employer should provide you with equipment to ensure that your home working environment is safe, if possible. This might mean anything from supplying you with a suitable keyboard or mouse, to providing you with larger display screen. Some employers may be willing to supply you with an appropriate office chair or even desk, so that you maintain the correct posture throughout your working day. Whilst it sounds obvious, if you are working on a laptop from your sofa, or at a kitchen table, sitting on a dining chair, and with poor lighting, this is a recipe for headaches, eye strain and backache. Are you straining your eyes whilst working? Can you contact your firm’s IT Department to see if they can alter the format and display on the screen, so that this becomes more user friendly?
The likelihood is that you are working longer hours at home, with less breaks. Be honest about your home working day. Are you taking a full hour for your lunch? Are you taking the recommended breaks away from your screen (at least 5 minutes in every working hour)? Are you keeping hydrated? Imagine yourself back in the office. Would you sit at your desk for a solid four hours without taking a break to go to the water cooler, or grabbing yourself a hot drink? If the answer is no, then you shouldn’t be doing that at home either.
If you haven’t thought about approaching your employer for help, then maybe now is the time to do it as home working, whether full or part time, is likely to be the “new normal” for the foreseeable future. This works both ways. Your employer should be keeping in regular contact with you, giving you a forum or opportunity to raise any issues with them.
What about keeping your home workers mentally healthy? Humans are generally social creatures and for those who are missing the general bustle and hum of a busy office, home working can feel isolating and lonely. Your employers should be keeping in touch with you regularly through team or one to one meetings, so that you have the platform to raise any issues that you might be having. Your managers should be trained to look out for signs of stress or anxiety in their employees, such as them becoming withdrawn and uncommunicative, seeming emotional and maybe having difficulty with decision making etc. If your manager believes that they have identified a problem, then your employer should encourage you to open up about this, to see if there is anything that can be done to improve the way that you are feeling.
Some employers have an online wellbeing forum, which you can dip into for advice on anything from getting a good night’s sleep, to working safely at home, to keeping active and even recipe ideas. Something like this goes a long way to make their employees feel that they are cared for and looked after.
The Chartered Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors has published extremely helpful online guidance for those people who find themselves working from home, details of which can be found here: Home working and staying healthy. This has hints, tips and advice, not only on how to work safely at home from a physical perspective, but also how to look after one’s mental wellbeing.
One thing is certain, the national lockdowns will have concentrated some employers’ minds on the benefits of agile working for their workforce, maybe on a permanent basis. If this is the future, please ensure that you are working in such a way that promotes a healthy mind and body, and request help if you need it.