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Coronavirus has totally transformed the way people work. Previously, almost all employees commuted to offices from Monday to Friday; this dynamic meant that health and safety concerns were predominantly office-based concerns. Managers would focus on the welfare of their staff within the four walls of the office, but there was much less emphasis placed on employees working in alternative locations.

This is no longer the case. In the new, post-pandemic world which is emerging, it’s clear that staff now expect the freedom to work outside the office on at least a part-time basis. Many companies have adopted formal flexi-working policies; major law firms like Travers Smith are suggesting that staff can work up to 2.5 days a week from home [1], whilst Spotify has gone even further by allowing employees to work fully from home if they so wish [2].

It’s important, therefore, that HR officials start to think about how their duties might change with their staff working away from the office full-time. The shift to some degree of remote working offers much promise for businesses, but employee safety needs to be placed at the heart of any flexible working policy.

Emergencies and crises

Offices are controlled environments, with hopefully no intruders or unauthorised visitors – this means that when your staff are there, they’re assured of a basic level of personal safety. But when they’re away from the office – and particularly when they’re looking to work in public spaces like cafes, parks or libraries – it can be much harder to manage risks.

This means that health and safety officials need to start thinking creatively about ways to check in with their employees away from the desk. Phonecalls and emails are too inefficient as tools; by the time it’s been registered that an employee hasn’t responded to an email or call it may well be too late. Equally, some sort of constant liaison with staff can be intrusive and distract from work; employees want to feel trusted by their bosses, not micromanaged.

Safety technology can help; digital panic buttons, for instance, offer employees a convenient way to indicate to their line manager that they feel unsafe or that there is some issue. This can allow a manager to summon appropriate resources, with many types of personal safety apps in fact doing so automatically.

Mental health

Even before the pandemic, awareness of the importance of mental health was growing amongst employers. However coronavirus and lockdowns have generated even more attention on this topic,[3] with researchers increasingly concerned over how isolation can have an impact upon the mental health of workers. Though the pandemic may slowly be receding, flexible working may inadvertently perpetuate some of the negative concerns regarding employee mental health – employees who spend all day at home may begin to experience anxiety, depression and even rage. [4]

It’s therefore important that any flexi-working policy take employee mental health fully into account. It isn’t enough to simply make decisions based on economic factors; the welfare of your staff should be at the forefront, not only welfare reasons but also to avoid future lawsuits. Giving employees maximum choice of working venue can help, allowing them to have some social interaction alongside work. HR check-ins should become not merely a formality, but a genuine forum to discuss how employees are feeling and whether companies can support them better.

Safety technology can help here too; utilising big data to analyse patterns means you’ll be able to see particular causes of poor mental health amongst your workforce, whether it’s a time of week or day, or a particular location that they’re working in. This means that you can advise them better as to how to manage it, as well as being forewarned if you need to step in and intervene.

[1] Legal Cheek, 21 August 2021. Work remotely up to 2.5 days a week, Travers tells lawyers. Available at https://www.legalcheek.com/2021/08/work-remotely-up-to-2-5-days-a-week-travers-tells-lawyers/ (Accessed 13 September 2021)

[2] Spotify HR, 12 February 2021. Introducing Working from Anywhere. Available at https://hrblog.spotify.com/2021/02/12/introducing-working-from-anywhere/ (Accessed 13 September 2021)

[3] WHO, 18 March 2020. Mental Health and Psychosocial Considerations During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Available at https://www.who.int/publications-detail-redirect/WHO-2019-nCoV-MentalHealth-2020.1 (Accessed 13 September 2021)

[4] BMC Public Health, 8 February 2021. Impacts of the Covid-19 lockdown and relevant vulnerabilities on capability well-being, mental health and social support: an Austrian survey study. Available at https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12889-021-10351-5 (Accessed 13 September 2021)