Working from home advice: how HR can help keep employees happy and healthy
As homeworking becomes the new normal it's important to consider the behaviour and culture changes required to make your remote workers happy, healthy and productive, says Lauren Gordon, behavioural insights adviser at Bupa. Here are her top tips
Take a look at your work setup. How different is it, compared to the start of 2020? For many of us, it’ll be completely unrecognisable; you’re steps away from your kitchen, draped in loungewear, maybe even with a child or a furry friend dividing your attention. Through necessity, we’ve adapted our routines, technologies and environments to make way for a safer way of working – and for some companies, like Twitter, the shift to homeworking is here to stay.
While many employers and employees are no doubt looking forward to a time when they can all be reunited back in the office, other companies may be scoping out the benefits and flexibility that comes with working from home, and considering whether it can be made more of a long-term thing. However, for homeworking to be a success for both its employees and business, HR leaders should consider the behaviour and culture changes required to make homeworkers happy, healthy and productive.
First up, it’s important to check in with your employees to get a feel on how being based at home has been working practically for them so far. If you haven’t already, ask them some questions to get a feel of the ways their home environment could be impacting their ability to work well. For example, does the employee have a dedicated quiet space where they can concentrate? If not, where do they work from?
Set up for success
Although some employees may already have dedicated office spaces in their home, there’s always the possibility that they may be tempted to chill out on the sofa with their laptop balanced on their knees. Supporting your employees by futureproofing their workstation is key to avoid the aches and pains that can come about from a poor posture. Working with poor posture over long periods can cause back, shoulder, neck and shoulder issues. In fact, muscle and bone problems account for 28 million days of absence for UK workers every year, making it even more important to safeguard the physical health of your employees as they work from home.
A comfortable workstation includes a desk or kitchen table and a height-adjustable chair with back support. Move the chair so that it’s close to your work surface and your feet are both fully on the floor – then you’re ready to add your equipment! If you’re able to, provide your employee with a separate monitor or laptop riser so that, together with their height-adjustable chair, they can position themselves so that their eye level naturally falls to the top of the screen – this helps to avoid eye and muscle strain. A stack of books works well as a makeshift laptop riser, too. Ideally, employees should have a detachable keyboard and mouse so they can keep their monitor or laptop an arm’s length away from them, with their lower back supported, shoulders relaxed and elbows at a 90-degree angle.
Adapt, support and break it up
Next, think about the ways you can support your employee’s lifestyles. For example, they might have additional care responsibilities at the moment, like home-schooling or shopping for a vulnerable person. Encourage your team managers to have conversations with their staff about how their working hours can flex and adapt to create a personalised, required balance to fulfil both their work and home roles. We know that the office environment often demands more of a uniformed structure to working days; working from home scenarios have a lot more variance and challenges – reset expectations of how a job traditionally gets done.
Lead by example and encourage open discussions between managers and employees about how best to maintain motivation when working from home, for a variety of circumstances. Keeping a work-life balance is important for mental wellbeing, especially if you’re working in the same room that you usually use for evening relaxing. You could encourage your employees to create ‘routines’ such as going for a short walk before work begins to simulate ‘commuting’, and the same when your working day has ended – marking your front door as a signal to symbolise the beginning and end of the working day. This will spur your employees to truly embrace the working and non-working parts of their lives, helping them to start their working day fully recharged and refreshed.
Keep in touch
Employees may find working from home quite lonely from time to time. Loneliness is often linked to mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression and stress,which may lead to staff absences. Research has shown that talking to a person on video-call sends the same happiness signals to your brain as it does if you were having the conversation face-to-face. Where possible, try to adopt a presumption that team meetings will take place over video-call, instead of traditional voice call, to help increase team engagement, morale and mental health.
Why getting employees off their chairs and moving is beneficial for health and productivity
Think about how long you’ve spent sitting down at your desk, today – it’s a lot, isn’t it? Humans aren’t meant to be sedentary, and without the natural stimulus of a busy office you might find that you’re sitting down more than usual. There’s often a bit of a stigma associated with having a break when you’re at work – you might think of it as a time when employees are inactive and unproductive. But having regular breaks can be advantageous for mental and physical health, as well as productivity.
As an HR leader, think about implementing measures to break the taboos around taking a break. Structured break times can encourage homeworkers to get away from their desks. Whether their break is used to do some stretches, make a drink, or take part in a mindfulness session, promote them as an opportunity to benefit health, wellbeing and productivity. It’s just as important to look after our mental health as it is our physical health; mindfulness and meditation can provide us with an outlet to connect to our minds, bodies and the here and now.
Regular stretches help to give your eyes a break from your screen, and reduce discomfort by bringing some controlled movement back to areas that may be strained from sitting down. You could do them at your desk, outside on your lunch break or even whilst you’re waiting for the kettle to boil – this way, you’ll learn to incorporate them at regular points of the day, making them easier to form into a habit and increase your physical and mental health in the long term. If structured breaks aren’t something that works well for all employees, think about introducing the concept of a walking and talking call – this is where both parties in the meeting agree to have their meeting while going for a walk.
Did you know that fresh air can work wonders for work output, too? Research has shown that indoor air quality can impact productivity. Even more a reason to have a change of scenery and get up out of that chair.
Lauren Gordon is behavioural insights adviser at Bupa UK