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  • Rhona Jamieson

Safeguarding Without Walls

Updated: Oct 20, 2023

Home Relations - The New HR

In the second of our current series ‘Home Relations – The New HR’, we look at how this new army of home workers can be protected and supported by their employers. Any parent will know how much easier it is to shield and encourage their offspring while they are within the four walls of the family home. The problems and risks multiply when they are released into the big, wide world. Managers have a similar problem where now their team, no matter how well connected digitally, are still operating away from the safety and security of the office. A number of issues need to be formally addressed, perhaps in some cases with the challenging job of re-writing contracts.

Of uppermost importance is the wellbeing of each individual, both their physical, and perhaps at this time more pertinently, their mental health. It is very easy for remote workers to feel isolated and for this to lead to serious problems. While productivity may be up as people work from home, it has come at a price. In a study by CIPD, the professional body for those in HR, nearly half of the firms surveyed said the mental wellbeing of staff had reduced since lockdown started. Managers have a duty of care to regularly check in with staff working from home to make sure they are not under too much stress or struggling with the lack of socialisation.

A drawing of a house with various symbols for security surrounding it such as a camera, a padlock, a brick wall and an alarm

They also have to look after their employees’ physical health. At Wellworking we have seen a rise in companies purchasing additional equipment for their workers to use at home including adjustable chairs and laptop accessories. Some are going to huge financial lengths to make sure every member of staff enjoys the same level of comfort that they would in their office. We have also carried out thousands of Virtual Ergonomic Assessments via video calls on behalf of companies. This is one of the tools at managers’ disposal to make sure their employees have the best set-up to enable them to work comfortably and productively from home. Just because the employee is not in the office, it doesn’t mean they are outside of an employer’s responsibility to ensure their health and safety is taken care of. We have seen dozens of firms going above and beyond to ensure that is the case.

There are other responsibilities that also extend outside the office, those related to security and confidentiality. Customer data or other sensitive information that is protected by GDPR still has to be kept secure at home, perhaps more so. Employees need to take extra care that documents or files are not able to be accessed by people outside their own organisation, including, perhaps unwittingly, by other members of their household.

Professional-level firewalls, local networks and anti-virus software may need to operate at people’s home address to maintain that digital security, particularly if employees are using their own equipment. With teams unable to meet in person, there will be more communication via digital means or phone, opening up the possibility of information leaks, even if unintentional. Data protection doesn’t end at the door out of the office, so employees and their managers need to take suitable precautions.

A white and dark blue office chair next to a marble topped desk

The advancement and prevalence of different means of digital communication have opened up just how much can be done away from the office, but there have to be limits on its use. Some might ask, for example, whether it is fair to host disciplinary proceedings by phone or video call? At the height of the pandemic several US firms were criticised for unexpectedly laying off large numbers of employees during group video calls.

Acas, the independent employment relations body, has detailed advice on how disciplinary processes should be carried out during the pandemic here in the UK. Video calls, although perhaps not popular in these circumstances, are acceptable if there is no other way and they are carried out fairly.

Technology has allowed managers to keep in touch with their staff, but they will only see their team through a small video call window, for a limited period, on perhaps an infrequent basis. Without being able to properly read the hidden messages given out by employees through their body language or presence in the office, it is hard to make sure they are actually ok. As we conclude our series next week, we will look at how despite the current situation, the office is far from dead. Indeed, it is crucial to help not only safeguard, but also build-up the workforce.

You can read the first in the series, Working from Home or Living at Work, here.

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