Badly managed remote working practices could harm staff health and wellbeing, a wellbeing specialist has warned.
With flexible working practices being the norm across the majority of businesses, Paul Finch, CEO of workforce wellbeing solutions company, A People Business said poorly managed policies could actually 'accentuate' mental and physical health issues.
"Infrequent or impersonal contact with your team and managers can make it harder to talk about issues and also weaken the informal support network that working environments frequently provide," said Finch. "Despite videoconferencing and similar technology, sometimes there's no substitute for a good chat over a cup of tea."
According to figures released by the Office for National Statistics in 2014, the number of remote, home, mobile or lone workers is on the rise. Those working from home during the first quarter of that year were 4.2 million, an increase from 1.3 million people since 1998.
Charles Alberts, senior consultant and mental health specialist at Aon Employee Benefits said: "Positive social interaction is vital for our wellbeing and the value of workplace connections and relationships should not be underestimated. At the same time, we know that allowing people greater control over their working time is good for stress levels and mental wellbeing. And let's not forget the negative impact long commutes and working hours can have on wellbeing."
Remote working is currently considered a 'reasonable adjustment' for staff with depression or stress-related issues, but Finch warned that such practices would only work if there is good communication between the employee and the rest of their team to avoid feelings of isolation. In particular, Finch recommended emailing remote-working staff regularly to praise and reward them for their efforts whilst ensuring such staff are not expected to work 24/7 with clear working time boundaries. In addition, three key practices were also suggested:
- Office Time - whereby staff members attend the office at least one day per month and catch-up sessions with key mentors or buddies are arranged
- Online Support – Utilising apps to enhance remote support such as Rungway or Yammer
- Context – Ensuring remote-workers are included in all company communications, staff parties and other events.
Alberts advised: "As not all employees will have the same attitude to remote working, it is important to consult and involve them in decisions around changes to working practices. If not properly managed, remote working can result in unintended negative health outcomes."
"Health and safety should be carefully considered and a strategic approach taken with hazards identified and appropriate steps taken to minimise these. Conducting a risk assessment at the employee's home, having a formal home-working policy and insurances in place are good steps to take."
For employers wanting to access advice and recommendations for implementing home-working policies, Alberts recommends the following guides from specialist organisations:
In addition, Work Wise Week and their National Work from Home Day promotes 'smarter' working practices.
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