“It’s a moral responsibility to look after your home workers”

5 things we learned from #AskLeesman 3: Home and wellbeing

“As an employer, you have the same health and safety responsibilities for home workers as for any other workers.”

So says the Health and Safety Executive. The data that Leesman has collected so far across 160,000+ employees says that 27% do not have a space at home they can designate for work. What is the practical implication for organisations effectively intruding in people’s homes with furniture and solutions that are in their best interest as an employee, but are going to be providing a major challenge for them physically and spatially?

At this #AskLeesman event, broadcast on 2 February 2021, Leesman founder and CEO Tim Oldman, along with a panel of experts, answered your questions on the challenges of keeping home workers safe.

The panel:

Tim Oldman, founder and CEO, Leesman (chair)
Kirsty Angerer, AstraZeneca
Matthew Birtles, HSE Science Division
Jo Yarker, Affinity in Health at Work
Duncan Young, Lendlease

You can listen to highlights from this event here, or wherever you get your podcasts. Just search for ‘Leesman podcasts’.

Here’s what we learned:

1. You have a legal responsibility – no matter how challenging it is

Matt Birtles: “You have a legal responsibility to protect your workforce as an employer – and a moral responsibility as well. But the practical aspect of this has become a real challenge. The approaches to ensuring that your employees have the right equipment or furniture take a lot more engagement with individuals right now.”

Kirsty Angerer: “It’s a challenge at the moment, but there are no limitations if we work holistically on the matter: designers, architects, as well as occupational psychologists and ergonomists.”

Duncan Young: “We need to get the basics right. When we’re talking about safety, we need to ensure that we’re offering a safe environment for people to work, in terms of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing.”

2. Productivity might be “up” according to ONS figures, but employees are suffering from a lack of decompression time

Tim Oldman: “The decompression time in your journey home from work has been ripped away; the ability to close the door on work at the end of a working day is impacting all aspects of our lives. In a speech made in October last year, Andy Haldane, chief economist at the Bank of England, said that productivity doesn’t look like it’s suffered during the pandemic. But this is because people are working an extra hour in their day, giving their commute time back to the employer.”

Kirsty Angerer: “A frustration is that because there’s nothing else to do, you feel you might as well sit at your screen. It’s not a reflection of good health and wellbeing, but quite the opposite.”

Jo Yarker: “We’re getting tired, and as a result, people are finding it difficult to think as quickly and find words for the right things. Plus, the only way we can socialise with other people is through Zoom as well. People just aren’t making that step to phone somebody after work because they’re too tired, or too fed up with being on video calls. Social relationships are what sustain us.” 

3. It’s a minefield for executive leadership

Tim Oldman: “The plight of senior leadership and the stresses and the anxieties that they have of suddenly managing a globally dispersed workforce, in places not designed for work, alongside keeping businesses afloat in uncertain economic times. The stresses that they’re facing have been somewhat lost in the noise.”

Jo Yarker: “We have been layering on different responsibilities to management, from supporting return to work to managing stress, to managing flexible working. We need to acknowledge that leaders need time to lead, as well as time to do their job.”

4. Organisations might be at risk of creating an ‘us vs. them’ situation

Tim Oldman: “For a lot of organisations, all teams will be able to function remotely. But for many, organisations also have specialists in some acutely technical working environments, which cannot be replicated at home. There is a risk of two polar communities developing within an organisation.”

Kirsty Angerer: “As a business, it’s our job to facilitate work, whether that’s being at home, and we facilitate that equipment that home, or whether it’s coming back into the office, and we give you those tools and equipment to be in the office – or in the third space of a cafe restaurant breakout area. We’re going to be doing lots more psychometric testing to evaluate the type of work that our workforce does, so that we can accommodate people’s work patterns well enough.”

5. Don’t forget about the office

Tim Oldman: “If you think about an employee applying for a new role, it’s always about what the employee can do for the organisation. That’s how you recruit people. Are we going to see an empowerment of employees who are sitting in a job interview asking: What are you giving me? What is my infrastructure? What access will I have to senior leadership if they’re constantly working remotely? Is my learning and development supported not through structured learning, but through the unstructured learning opportunities that have been taken away from us?”

Duncan Young: “I think workplaces will shift in making sure that whenever people come to the office, it’s more about the creative work we do together, solving creative challenges. I think workplace design will change to ensure that we’re getting more out of observational learning.”

Matthew Birtles: “With the advent of hybrid working, I’m concerned that we might lose a lot of collaborative space as organisations look to save money in an uncertain economy by reducing their footprint. I think there’s a lot more nuance in this future strategy.”

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