Homeworking, practical and policy advice

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Many staff are now working from home
Many staff are now working from home

Natasha Wales-Dixon, of Suffolk-based S.H.E. Advises, offers some timely advice about the practicalities (and policies) or working from home.

Understandably companies are looking to reduce the spread of Coronavirus by asking staff to work from home or giving them the option to.

There has been a lot of guidance put out from a range of sources advising on how to work comfortably. However, employers are also wrestling with some broader policy-type issues.

This post provides help and information on some key questions that the current situation poses for HR departments and managers.

Do I need to do a full desk/DSE assessment for people working at home?

If your staff members have already had guidance on how to set up comfortably and an assessment in the office, realistically you should only need to check that they can follow that guidance (e.g. screen height, elbow height, etc.) and get them to confirm that they are doing so while they are working at home. In current circumstances it is our view that full assessments at home are unrealistic – and if done face-to-face defeats the whole aim of social distancing (although remote / Skype and Facetime etc. assessments are possible).

Some companies may decide to roll out a self-assessment format for people who are temporarily working at home. Unless this has been specifically designed for homeworking it is possible this will not pick up on issues in a way that is helpful.

Setting up at home is different for many – the guidance people need is different (although key principles remain the same) and you should definitely provide staff with appropriate and relevant guidance that is short and to the point. We have produced a simple top tips sheet that we hope will help.

So, in short – generally, the answer is in our view no, if the arrangements are temporary. We recommend providing staff with guidance and checking that they can follow it. For permanent or contracted homeworkers then yes, but in a way that is safe and convenient. You should not be asking staff to sign a disclaimer to say they have no equipment and are happy to work in that way, the employer still retains responsibility for the health, safety and welfare of their staff even in these uncertain times.

Do I need to provide staff with equipment for working at home?

The decision of what kit to provide comes down to *reasonable practicability.

Is it reasonably practicable to provide staff with an office chair, dual monitors etc if they are only likely to be working at home for a month or two? It seems unlikely.

Is it reasonably practicable to provide them with a laptop stand and an external keyboard and mouse? Probably yes – it is not a high cost and it is kit that can be kept and continue to be used after the current problems are over. A significant number of staff may already have this kit and may not, therefore, need more. Some staff may already have a home office set up which is great – nothing further is needed if that is the case.

If staff are anticipating having to work from home advise them to take all the kit they think they might need when they leave the office. This potentially would just then mean ideally providing a laptop stand. These are not enormously expensive, and it would be hard in our view for most companies to suggest they are not reasonably practicable. If a laptop stand is not considered reasonably practicable, users should still be advised to raise their laptop on a stack of books or a box, to improve screen height and maintain a more neutral neck posture.

What about users with specialist kit and chairs etc?

Our recommendation is that if it is safe to do so, staff should be allowed to collect specialist kit from the office / take it home if they feel that they need it and will be unable to work comfortably without it. This is not without risks itself and would need careful managing to avoid handling injuries. In our view, this would need to be based on some projection of how long staff are likely to be working from home. For a week – it is probably not necessary for most. For a month – for some users, it may be helpful, and in more severe cases it may be necessary.

Some companies may even decide to send out users’ chairs to them.

Realistically, based on our experience a good proportion of people who need or are given specialist chairs in the office, are able to get by reasonably well without them at home – at least for a relatively short period. At home people often feel able to stand and move more freely, do a few stretches etc, and typically are able to make do with a dining chair supported by cushions.

*Reasonably practicable essentially means a balance of risk reduction vs. cost (in terms of money, effort etc.). What can be done by employers to reduce risks (in this case of musculoskeletal injury) must be done up to the point that the cost of doing any more grossly outweighs the benefits. It is not always an easy thing to judge, and current circumstances throw an additional risk consideration into the mix.

If you have any other questions about home working or need advice about equipment please don’t hesitate to get in touch with S.H.E Advises.

If you have staff who are really struggling with home working and setting themselves up, we can offer support and guidance. If needed, we can carry out remote assessments via video link.