What protection of remote workers during the pandemic?

Published 2021-02-13 11:07:47
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Many companies all over the world have started implementing work-from-home arrangements in response to their respective government lockdown regulations since 2020. This new working conditions raised many questions about this type of employment, especially the adherence of the normal labour laws that protected workers in the pre-Covid workplace.

How would normal workplace practices be implemented in this new setting? What are the new duties and responsibilities of companies toward their employees? These questions and many others need to be outlined clearly by companies because the pandemic and remote working is here to stay for the foreseeable future. In addition, companies like Twitter, Facebook or Salesforce have decided that their employees will not return to the office and will continue working from home indefinitely.

Technology has made working-from-home (for certain jobs) a possibility with high speed internet available almost everywhere and most workers proficient with using laptops and various devices. Companies like Microsoft and Google have offered free teleconferencing tools to enable people to meet virtually and for business to continue as normally as possible.

Considerations for remote workers

Establishing remote working within a company may initially be full of obstacles but over time workers get used to the novelty of the situation and settle into a routine that works well both for productivity and their personal well-being. 

  • All workers should have the proper technology available. Businness insurer AmTrust explains that employer should provide all required equipment like laptops/devices to the worker. All remote workers should be informed of procedures to access technical support quickly and easily, if required.
  • The remote location should be equipped with a secure internet connection to ensure corporate data privacy. A VPN (virtual private network) can be used to encrypt data to keep it secure.
  • It is necessary to set up tools to keep in contact with remote workers through softwares like video conferencing (Skype, Zoom, etc), emails and calls. Working alone at home can be very isolating, and with lockdowns in place in many parts of the world co-workers might be the only human contact they have.
  • In some cases, different time zones will have to be considered if the remote worker is located in a different part of the world. This will mean more flexibility when scheduling meetings, etc.
  • The employers should outline their expectations of the remote worker very clearly.

A specific policy should include points like:

  • Clearly describe what the work area should outlook like.
  • What the daily work schedule should look like.
  • Overtime policies: All overtime should be recorded and remote employees should be compensated fairly as they would've been if they were physically in the office. Remote employees should also be advised as to what constitutes overtime - some employees can't switch-off because the office is conveniently located and they put in more hours than is necessary, creating stress and related illness, and undue pressure on the employers to pay for the extra overtime.
  • What constitutes injury during work hours and the process to follow when reporting it: Employers should explore the legal qualification of injury of the remote worker. The company may have to look into additional  insurance coverage.
  • How to report any damaged equipment and how to implement safeguards to protect company information and data.
  • They should also be afforded the same opportunities for career development and promotions as when they were working in the office.

Trust is a very important trait to have between the employer and employees. Workers at home should not be under constant supervision and cannot be micromanaged. Supervisors have to give the workers a degree of autonomy and responsibility to complete tasks well and on time.

Policies should be checked regularly to ensure they are working effectively and the company should be flexible enough to make necessary changes to policies that require amending. Most governments are not prepared for protection of remote workers at this time because of the rapid pace with which the Covid-19 virus stormed the world, but companies have a legal duty towards their staff wellbeing.

Before the pandemic, the UK was one of the most advanced countries for legal requirements on work equipement. Part of the Work Act 1974, The Health and Safety Regulations 1992 (Display Screen Equipment) apply to those who work with screens [i.e. computers, laptops, tablets, smartphones], and British companies have a legal obligation to regularly assess the workplace ergonomic. Last November, France has published a series of guidelines for remote working, however without any obligation and specific rules that would be mandatory: a lot of wishful practices that will be left to local organisations to decide how to use them.

There is an obvious lack of global rules for remote working, to put it midly. The next priority for legislators worldwide will certainly be, at least, to implement laws to protect workers injured in the course of their work, independantly of the physical location of the employee.

Possible safety risks to the remote worker

  1. Unfavourable working spaces may cause injuries to the worker if the space is not ergonomically suited to the type of work the employee is doing.
  2. Uncomfortable work area may cause undue mental and physical harm to the worker, eg. if the remote worker has to share space with a child who has to be home-schooled at the same time.
  3. Security risks: Employees should keep their laptops and other work devices in a secure location to prevent theft. Data protection is also important for the employer so they should ensure that all network connections are secure.

Most companies were caught unprepared for their workforce to be remote workers when the pandemic struck. Employees could have had easy access to corporate data while using personal and unprotected devices to access it from home. As company operations resumed after the early days of the pandemic, employers realised the urgent need for increased cyber security and many began investing in more robust tools to keep their data safe. Remote working looks like it's here to stay.

A few tips to manage remote workers

  1. Set clear guidelines for the minimum requirements for a suitable and safe workspace. This will help prevent injury to the worker reducing any worker's compensation. The remote workspace set-up can be tested by the employee to ensure that he/she can complete their duties effectively and safely.
  2. Clear working times should be communicated and employees encouraged to "switch off" when the workday is done.
  3. Remote workers can be encouraged to develop a list of achievable goals and deadlines for projects for a specific period, and this will be a good indication of their productivity at home without harming their well-being.
  4. The employer can further do a virtual inspection to ensure that the remote work environment is not hazardous in any way (fire and ventilation problems, slippery surfaces that can cause falls, etc).
  5. Re-evaluate the company's injury prevention to include the domestic remote working settings as well. Employees should be trained to avoid hazards in the home (if this is the remote working environment).
  6. Keep communication open with all remote workers to appraise any difficulties, progress of projects, etc.

As we settle into the new way of working with the new "normal" that the pandemic has enforced upon us, it gives us an opportunity to incorporate all the positive aspects of work life and balance it in a healthy way with our home lives. This may be the ideal opportunity to be as productive as before but with some extra time to smell the proverbial roses.

Share your experience, participate in the discussion and leave comments in our forum HERE.

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Work & Business

Author: KashGo
Expat Mum in the Desert...

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