How to engage with your employees in a virtual world
Remote and hybrid working is here to stay. Work-from-home arrangements prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic have changed employees’ choice and expectations around flexible work arrangements.
Workers now want – and expect – hybrid working.
Research shows that most workers take up an option for hybrid working, combining a mix of office and work-from-home hours in a working week.
It found that before the pandemic, almost half of the workers surveyed spent every working day in the office. However, two years into the shift to the workplace “new normal”, that figure is now 4%.
But what does this workplace revolution mean for employers?
Employers’ duty of care to remote workers
As an employer, it is important for you to consider that even though an employee is working from home, they are still subject to the same Workplace Health and Safety (WHS) protections that they would be if they were back at the office or workplace.²
This can create some challenges for managers – it’s not just a matter of making sure your staff have a laptop and Wi-Fi at home. Generally, an office or workplace is an environment you can control. However, every employee’s home is different and you are restricted in what measures you can impose there.
Your role in reducing health risks
You still have a duty of care to make sure your employees stay safe and healthy while they are working from home.
One of the drawbacks of working from home is the lack of personal contact with managers and colleagues. This can mean no office banter, no face-to-face feedback, restrictions on collaboration, and limited socialising. In this situation, there is a risk that employees may feel isolated and their mental health could be impacted.
To counter this, you could consider providing your employees with information about how to maintain their mental health, and make them aware of support services they can access.
You might also discuss with them the importance of taking breaks and avoiding sedentary work habits, and be clear about the hours of work they are expected to do. You could offer them flexibility to manage work and home commitments.
If there are signs an employee is struggling, you could be proactive by offering assistance and reassurance and make sure they understand their entitlements if they are sick or have carer responsibilities.
Creating a safe workspace
The ergonomics of the home workstation also need to be addressed. As an employer, you should make sure your employee’s desk, chair, and computer are adequate for the tasks required, and situated in an appropriate part of the home.
If necessary, your employees should be allowed to take equipment from the office to use at home if doing so will ensure their safety and assist their productivity. Make sure your employees are familiar with best-practice ergonomics the same way they would be required to be if they still worked in the office.
Workers also have a responsibility to make sure they have a safe working environment by following procedures and reporting potential risks to their employer.
Communication in a virtual workplace
Communicating with your employees regularly is key to ensuring problems don’t remain hidden or escalate.
Make sure there is a designated contact person at head office who is readily available for employees seeking advice or assistance. Employees working remotely should have clear work goals and targets set for them, so everyone knows what is required.
And, as much of the staff interaction will be done through virtual meetings, it is important to develop discipline around these events so that everyone feels included and time isn’t wasted.
Impact on business culture
Many businesses work hard to generate a particular type of workplace culture in a bid to foster teamwork and boost productivity. Doing this in the age of working from home, with the workforce spread far and wide, will present some challenges to employers.
Make the most of in-office days by scheduling an all-team stand-up meeting or social occasion, and consider nominating one day of the week when all employees across the business or in a particular team are required to be in the office.
¹PricewaterhouseCoopers, 2022, Balancing Act: The new Equation in hybrid working, accessed 31 August 2022 at pwc.com.au
²Safe Work Australia, Working from home, accessed 31 August 2022 at safeworkaustralia.gov.au