How employers can help colleagues manage the transition between home and the workplace
One of the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic has been the change on how – and where – we work. The enforced remote working continued for more than a year and even now, many workers are still logging on from their kitchen tables and spare rooms rather than returning to their usual workplace full time.
This trend is likely to continue, with a report by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) revealing that 85 per cent of adults say they want to adopt a ‘hybrid’ approach with both home and office working in the future. It looks like the concept of ‘work’ is finally moving towards being something we do, as opposed to somewhere we go.
There are certainly advantages attached to home working, in terms of convenience and the costs saved by not having to commute, but there are clear health and safety implications too.
Ultimately, a positive working environment needs to consider both physical and mental well-being. While the pandemic has rightly triggered a focus on mental health in the workplace, many people may not have considered the impact the transition between home and workplace might have on our body. After all, not many of us can say we designed our home with the intention it would also be our place of work.
Think, for example, about our seating positions. We’ve become so used to making do with the sub-optimal conditions we’ve experienced at home, such as kitchen chairs, bar stools or even the sofa. Strange as it may sound, moving back to the office and working at a proper desk and office chair, both set at the optimum ergonomic heights, may actually start to cause us more problems as we’re just not used to it anymore. We’ve all been so used to not sitting correctly for the last 18 months, that the transition back to our ‘normal’ workplace could mean some of us will experience some pain and discomfort, as we’re forced to use different muscles to sit in a different position.
There are wider considerations too. Most of us, impeded by lockdown restrictions, have become more sedentary and insular. So, what can employers do to help ease the transition of working between two locations?
Improving home and work set ups
As I mentioned earlier, it’s important to make employees aware why they’re suddenly experiencing any new aches and pains, as they may not realise it’s because of the difference between working from two locations. The move to home working was completed at pace last year, but now we all have some more time to readjust and consider the home working environment more fully. Employers should work with their colleagues to revisit their home-based set up to see where ergonomic improvements could be made, or what equipment could help to reduce any discomfort to accommodate hybrid working.
Slow, steady and with sensitivity
It’s not just our bodies that have taken a toll during the last 18 months; our mental health has been affected too. Let’s not lose the recent focus on that. More than ever, it’s important to have more patience with each other, particularly as more of us return to our usual workplaces and face to face interaction increases. Everyone’s perspective is different, so it’s important we consider individual circumstances. For example, some people might not yet be ready for a quick chat by the coffee machine. They may still want to keep a safe distance from other people, so that ‘back to work’ transition needs to be managed slowly and, if possible, in a way that still gives employees the chance to work flexibly. This might mean talking to them about whether they are comfortable with being at the same desk and within close proximity to others.
Take a break
Encouraging employees to take regular breaks and move around the workspace will help their bodies to readjust. Similarly, providing them with suggestions of stretches or exercises they can do at home and work is another good way to help ease them back into the workplace, in a way that doesn’t leave them with too many aches and pains.
It looks like the hybrid approach to place of work is set to stay for some, so it’s never been more vital to understand the importance of good ergonomics and to help people to find the best and most comfortable ways of working, wherever that is.