Working from Home

Sometimes people baulk at the words ‘Health and Safety’. But this is literally about keeping people ‘healthy and safe’ – something that most feel is worthwhile.

During the current Coronavirus (COVID19) outbreak many people are leaving their usual workplaces to work at home. This can lead to changes for employers and employees alike.

Employers

Employers have the same health and safety responsibilities for home workers as any other workers.

When someone is working from home, permanently or temporarily, as an employer you should consider:

  • How will you keep in touch with them?
  • What work activity will they be doing (and for how long)?
  • Can it be done safely?
  • Do you need to put control measures in place to protect them?

Without direct supervision, lone workers without direct supervision or anyone to help them if things go wrong, will always be at greater risk. Keep in touch with people working from home (any other lone workers) to make sure they are healthy and safe.

Without appropriate contact, workers may feel disconnected, isolated or abandoned which can affect stress levels and mental health. Put procedures in place to keep in direct contact with home workers, allowing you to recognise any signs of stress as early as possibly. Have an emergency point of contact too, that people can use to get help if they need it.

The free Tackling Work-Related Stress using the Management Standards Approach step-by-step workbook can help organisations meet their legal duty to assess the risks to their employees from work-related stress and provides practical advice on how to manage work-related stress.

Working with display screen equipment

For people who are working at home on a long-term basis, the risks associated with using display screen equipment (DSE) such as computers and laptops must be controlled. This includes doing home workstation assessments.

For those working at home temporarily, employers do not need to routinely do home workstation assessments.

The HSE offers useful information on working safely with display screen equipment.

It can be a good idea to provide workers with advice on completing their own basic assessment at home. This practical workstation checklist may help them.

Be mindful of your posture whilst you’re working with display screen equipment.

Simple steps to reduce the risks from display screen work

  • Break up long spells of DSE work with rest breaks (at least 5 minutes every hour) or change activity regularly.
  • Avoid awkward, static postures by regularly changing position.
  • Get up, move or do stretching exercises.

Specialised DSE equipment needs

Workers with specific needs should talk to their employer. Employers should try to meet those needs where possible. You can find more information in this brief guide from the HSE.

General advice for home working 

Get dressed

Getting ready for work can help get your mind into ‘work mode’. This can be important to help stop the work and life divide becoming blurred. Whilst you might not need to sit in a suit, changing out of your pyjamas can help focus your mind and is helpful for those video calls!

Timetable/organise your day

Try to go to bed at a reasonable hour, so you can get up and be ready to start work when you normally would. Work out what needs to be done and devise a plan to do it. A daily schedule can help you remain on task. If you’ve got regular or usual hours that you normally work, try to stick to them. At first, this can be challenging, but once you get into your new rhythm, this becomes your new routine which becomes easier. 

Establish boundaries

If there are other people in your house, try to find somewhere quiet where you can work uninterrupted. It can be useful to have a designated workspace, away from places you associate with ‘leisure time’. At the end of the working day, switch off your computer, tidy away any work related paraphernalia and close the door (if possible) to help you switch off from work.

If you can, agree with people in your home when you will be available, and when you won’t be. This can be really difficult – so it can be best to accept that this isn’t always going to work exactly as you may wish!

There may be a temptation to always be available, but aim to set some boundaries.

Exercise 

Regular exercise can really help. Some people find that going for a walk before settling down to work at home separates work and home life. Others like to go for a walk at the end of the working day to signal that work has now finished. If you can’t get outside, consider exercising at home. Opening windows can help you get some fresh air.

Keep in contact with colleagues 

These days it’s tempting to just keep in touch with people through messages and email. But it can be more meaningful to speak to colleagues on the phone or through video message. If you’re used to working in a busy office, you might find that you miss that social interaction whilst working at home and picking up the phone or video calling someone can make a huge difference to your productivity and mood.

Keep in contact with colleagues e.g. through the phone calls, messages and video calls.

Take regular breaks

Shorter breaks throughout the day are usually more beneficial than more infrequent longer breaks. Many homeworkers recommend the Pomodoro Technique, a technique which breaks your working day into 25 minute chunks, which is followed by a 5 minute break. Stand up, stretch or go for a short walk to get away from your screen.

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