Over the last 12 months, our lives have rapidly changed due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. With office workers instructed to work from home as countries locked down in spring 2020, companies had to quickly adapt to the new working landscape. For many, this is still an ongoing situation as countries re-enter lockdowns or tighten restrictions.
This shift to remote working has changed duty of care for employers. With employees now based across a country (or countries), rather than in one central hub, and with many new pandemic-related worries to deal with, employers have to consider the changing needs of their workers. “Lack of visibility is an issue,” says Alec Towers, Compensation & Benefits Business Partner EMEA at Chubb. “If someone is struggling, whereas you might be able to see those signs in the office and pick up on them, it’s less obvious while everyone works at home.”
But it's not just mental health issues that should be carefully considered; the safety of employees’ new workspaces is also important, as is their physical comfort and ability to adjust to new ways of working. “For some, it can take time to fully adjust to homeworking,” says Flora Kalhor, Head of Business Continuity, Health and Safety EMEA at Chubb. “Businesses should consider that when analysing the impact on their operations.”
So what steps should businesses take to ensure the health and wellbeing of their staff in this new working environment?
Businesses need to think about updating their processes and protocols, adapting existing frameworks and creating new ones to ensure employees know that they are being put at the centre of new working processes. It could be the time to refine your Group Personal Accident offering to ensure employees are covered wherever they are located while they work; in addition, Chubb is building a new working from home insurance offering that specifically responds to and anticipates the pressing issues of this time.
Leading by example
The management team can make a huge difference to the working from home experience. Management leading by example and setting parameters around what is and isn’t expected can help to contribute to a cohesive, fulfilling working experience for all employees. “Leaders really need to step forward and reinforce the importance of taking a break, to avoid burnout.,” says Louisa Lombardo, Head of Diversity and Inclusion EMEA at Chubb. She suggests management talk to colleagues about the importance of taking time out, whether to grab a coffee (virtually) with colleagues, or to go for a walk.
Management training programmes should also be considered so that leaders recognise the signs that suggest an employee may be struggling. Training will also empower management to sensitively approach the subject, as well as providing employees with the reassurance that their health is being considered and invested in at all levels of the company.
“It can be harder to achieve a good work/life balance while working from home,” says Jessica Strudwick, Business Continuity Manager, Chubb. “When your laptop’s sitting on the kitchen table you’re more tempted to log in than you would be if you had physically left the office.” Management can set the tone as to work/life balance, but there are also processes that can be implemented. “There are tools and technology that can help to reduce stress and pressure so that employees don’t feel like they constantly have to have their phones with them and check emails all the time,” adds Louisa.
Companies should stay up to date with legal developments and government advice and communicate expectations quickly and simply to employees. But considering the nuances of your messaging is more important than ever. “Because you’re not having that face-to-face interaction anymore, you don’t really know how messaging is coming across,” explains Jessica. In a distanced working situation, it can be harder for managers to follow up, and possibly for employees to ask questions. “It’s important to be really conscious of how you’re having these kinds of conversations, and to make sure that enough support is given to people who are in all different kinds of situations,” she adds.
Setting up support networks is another way to open up lines of communication. These could be centred around different cohorts of workers, so for example a carers’ network. “It’s about encouraging people to connect with others who maybe aren’t in their teams,” says Louisa. “Businesses can also tailor their communications and messaging to target specific groups.”
Employees can also be empowered to support one another. Training individuals to become accredited mental health first aiders can provide further lines of communication. For some, their first choice would be to speak to teammates that they know, whereas others may find it easier to open up to a stranger. “Everyone is different,” says Alec. “It’s important to have all the resources and support in place so that if someone needs a certain kind of support, it’s already on offer.”
“Regardless of where people work, we have obligations to make sure the workplace is safe,” says Flora. Companies should check their health and safety documents are up to date and applicable to the current working landscape. Two key areas that should be checked to ensure they aren’t causing potential health risks or worker discomfort are workstations (in all their various home iterations), and electrical connections and appliance safety. In the UK, employers are obliged to ensure their employees comply with display screen equipment (DSE) regulations. Online training courses are available for employees; if these raise any concerns, a phone assessment can be conducted to assess the situation.
With it becoming clearer that working from home is likely to continue for some time and may become a permanent change for some, employees who previously may have thought there was no need to get an office chair or keyboard supports may decide that actually, they do need to create a more office-like environment.
Duty of care in this new era
All organisations have a tricky path to navigate in these changing work landscapes and many will need to take practical steps to adjust their protocols. “Before COVID-19, businesses could plan around a relatively stable risk landscape for their employees,” says Goulven Thépot, Regional Underwriting Manager, Accident & Health, EMEA at Chubb. “Now they need to make sure their insurance programmes cover their employees when whey work from home or another mobile office. We have an enhanced proposition whereby we’ll provide lump sum payments should employees have an accident while working from home or remotely. The same coverage extends to fund mental health support or workspace upgrades.”
By thinking differently about workplace risk and taking steps to align their wellbeing support with a well-managed programme of insurance coverage and risk management, businesses stand a better chance of successfully navigating the current crisis while building long-term resilience.
For more information about Chubb’s insurance proposition for work from home employees, please contact us