The landscape of work has undergone a dramatic transformation in recent years, largely driven by technological advancements and the pandemic which has only served to accelerate the shift towards flexible working, says Niki Fuchs.
Employees around the globe have since come to embrace working from home as part of the new normal. During this transition, the importance of implementing health and safety measures in remote work environments has frequently been underestimated, leading to a new crisis: one that threatens worker wellbeing and overall job satisfaction.
As the number of people working from home at least one day a week reaching 40 percent post-pandemic , it is increasingly crucial for employers and employees to tackle neglected health and safety concerns associated with remote work in order to create a secure and comfortable environment that supports productivity, fosters wellbeing, and protects workers for the long-term.
Risks associated with remote work
The growing prevalence of remote work has unveiled various physical and mental obstacles for employees, most prominently, the inadequate availability of proper office furniture in home settings which can potentially cause discomfort and long-term health problems.
Considering these challenges, the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 obliges employers to hold up their duty of care in ensuring the health, safety and welfare of all employees, including those working remotely . This obligation requires employers to undertake a risk assessment of employees’ work from home environments to ensure that it is both “suitable and sufficient”. Yet the validity of such self-assessments is unclear. Naturally, those who choose to work from home will be eager to present their house as a suitable setting, and this desire may impact how honestly they carry out the self-assessment. While an employer is obliged to review an employee’s risk assessment, the guidelines around verification are loose and insubstantial.
Meanwhile, employees also often anticipate reasonable provisions for a comfortable home office setup, such as desks, ergonomic chairs, or dual monitors. These provisions, however, can carry a substantial cost, potentially offsetting the typical savings associated with remote work. This situation is further complicated by studies indicating that people are more likely to experience worsening health behaviours when working from home. One in four respondents report an increase in alcohol consumption, while four in ten noted a decrease in their physical activity levels.
Beyond physical health concerns, remote work has also unveiled mental health challenges faced by employees. More than half of surveyed remote workers reported heightened feelings of loneliness and blurred work-life boundaries , factors that can adversely impact mental health and well-being. The diminished social interactions and the absence of a supportive environment typically found in traditional workplaces may also exacerbate these feelings of isolation.
Given these disconcerting findings, it is evident that businesses can no longer afford to neglect the health and wellbeing crisis associated with remote work. Employers bear the responsibility of not only ensuring the physical safety of their employees, but also their mental well-being. It is crucial for businesses to prioritise the establishment of a secure and comfortable work environment, regardless of where employees are located. Only by actively addressing these concerns can businesses create a more resilient workforce and contribute to the long-term success of both employees and the business.
Benefits of an office-based environment.
An office-based environment offers a myriad of benefits for worker health and well-being, addressing both physical and mental health risks. These advantages contribute to a more positive work experience and can enhance overall productivity, creating a nurturing and supportive atmosphere.
For one, ergonomic workspaces are a crucial element in office environments, as they provide employees with appropriate furniture and equipment. By ensuring proper posture and reducing strain, offices can help minimise the risk of long-term health issues often associated with improper working conditions. Other such benefits of an office include the access to ventilation and air conditioning, something which many older homes may not have and which both stimulates employees and creates a more comfortable working environment. Likewise, access to natural light through the large windows found in many office designs will help employees to feel happier and more productive in their workplace.
Beyond just infrastructure, the physical proximity inherent in an office environment naturally facilitates enhanced collaboration and communication among colleagues. Spontaneous conversations, brainstorming sessions, and problem-solving discussions become much more achievable in person, fostering better teamwork and more effective collaboration. Furthermore, the office setting promotes improved emotional well-being through social connections, counteracting feelings of isolation that can arise in remote work situations. With 57% of the workforce saying that a “work best friend” makes their job more enjoyable, these social connections play a crucial role in maintaining mental health and overall happiness, ultimately fostering a more positive and supportive work environment for all employees.
On the whole, well-designed office environments can significantly contribute to employees achieving a healthy work-life balance, as they provide a clear delineation between professional and personal spaces. By incorporating elements that support the best aspects of working from home, such as quiet zones and call booths, office spaces can offer employees dedicated and adaptable work areas that minimise distractions commonly encountered in home-based or remote work settings.
By thoughtfully integrating the benefits of both office-based and remote work, companies can establish an optimal work environment prioritises employee well-being. Embracing this hybrid approach allows employees to reap the advantages of the structure and resources provided by an office setting, while simultaneously enjoying the flexibility and adaptability that remote work offers.
Prioritising employee well-being
As we examine the challenges and benefits associated with remote work, the importance of prioritising employee health and well-being becomes undeniably clear. Recognising the value of office-based work as a viable alternative is essential in fostering employee well-being. By embracing the benefits derived from an in-office setting, organisations can achieve equilibrium between the convenience of remote work and the advantages of face-to-face interactions.
In order to adeptly navigate the ever-changing work environment, a proactive approach is essential: both employers and employees must collaborate to establish a balance between remote and office-based work that fosters health, safety and productivity. By cultivating a culture of teamwork and transparent communication, businesses can devise a hybrid strategy that merges them most effective aspects of both work environments, ultimately benefitting employees and the organisation as a whole.
Niki Fuchs is CEO at Office Space in Town.
Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at the University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.