Doug Bodenham, Managing Director, curatd.
Remote working is not a new phenomenon. On the contrary, it has been growing in popularity, particularly over the past decade.
Indeed, a 2019 study revealed flexible working (which includes remote working) to be one of the top three most sought after employee benefits. And it seemed that businesses across the UK were willing to accommodate their workforces’ demands, with many offering the option to work from home once or twice a week.
That said, the onset of the coronavirus has, of course, accelerated this trend at an unprecedented pace. When the UK went into lockdown in March, employers were forced to overhaul their remote working policy overnight, with millions of employees swapping their office desks for their kitchen tables.
At the beginning of lockdown, some organisations optimistically believed that the virus would be short-lived, assuming normality would resume within a few months. Consequently, they failed to invest to support long-term home working; they did not purchase IT hardware and software, or long-term strategies to protect employees’ mental and physical health, for example.
For a short while, this did not seem to pose an issue, with the Government encouraging businesses to head back to the office over the summer months. However, with the UK within the grips of a second wave of cases, the Prime Minister reversed his stance in September, once again asking those who are able to work from home to do so.
With COVID-19 maintaining its stronghold on the UK, and indeed the entire planet, remote working is going to be the norm for the foreseeable future. As such, it is clear that businesses must adjust their policies and budgets accordingly to ensure staff are receiving the support they need.
Failure to support staff
According to figures from the Office of National Statistics, almost half (47%) of employed people in the UK were working remotely at the height of the first lockdown period. In contrast, less than a third (30%) of people would ever work from home prior to the pandemic.
Large sections of the UK’s workforce have embraced the move wholeheartedly. Most notably, it has enabled employees to develop a healthier work-life balance, as they enjoy greater autonomy over their working hours and a freed from the pains of commuting. Indeed, recent research has revealed that almost a third of employees would rather quit their job than forfeit the option to permanently work from home.
Yet action is required. For instance, a recent survey conducted by YouGov uncovered that 41% of the UK’s home workers do not have an appropriate working environment. Consequently, 64% of staff have resorted to makeshift arrangements, using their kitchen table, sofa, or even bed as their “office space”.
Such arrangements are clearly not sustainable. So, it comes as no surprise that prominent organisations such as Health & Safety Executive have written extensively on the importance of businesses putting the right strategies in place to better support the mental and physical wellbeing of staff.
Investing in employee wellbeing
It is safe to say that, in the office environment, if HR directors and team managers saw their staff working in uncomfortable positions, or slouching awkwardly to see their computer screens, they would take action. However, at present, as they cannot see this first-hand, such issues are easy to overlook.
It is possible to suggest that UK businesses have capacity to invest more in their employee’s home working setup. Afterall, a recent study revealed that 70% of UK SMEs were making savings of almost £1,000 per month since wholesale remote working began; this is largely due to reduced rent costs, as well as cutting back on staff catering or cancelling cleaners.
Thus, there is scope for employers to reassess their budgets, and direct the savings made towards improving remote working conditions for their staff. From investing in chars to offer better back support, to ensuring that staff are emotionally supported, there are plenty of ways in which employers could make working from home far more comfortable, productive and safer.
In case any further prompt was required, it appears that such an investment in home working setups could also help to safeguard businesses against a potential legal backlash. In August, it was reported that there was an unprecedent backlog of 39,000 employment complaints in need of address. At this stage, it is unknown how many relate to employees not receiving proper support from their organisations now they are remote working, but it is an issue that is likely to become more prominent over the coming months.
Such legal complaints could be a financial drain on organisations; so, it is vital that employers address any employee concerns regarding their working environment as soon as possible, in order to avoid the financial and reputational damage that could come with a tribunal.
Any assumptions that COVID-19 would abate and things would quickly return to normal have, over the past month, been brushed aside. With remote working here to stay for the foreseeable future, now is the time for employers to step up and invest in the wellbeing of their employees. Failure to do so could have long-term negative impacts on their workforce, as well as the business itself.
Doug Bodenham is the managing director for curatd., a new offering by The Furniture Practice aiming to solve the challenges increasingly faced by business leaders responsible for working-from-home teams. Applying over 23 years of workplace experience, curatd. is working with companies to equip their staff at home with compliant and ergonomic furniture and equipment – offering trade priced solutions via a convenient online procurement portal, it helps businesses fulfil their duty of care to their staff with a fully-integrated solution.