Remote working: What to consider

Remote working: What to consider

When the global pandemic began in 2020, businesses had to adapt very quickly, sending employees home to work. With the national state of disaster now over and Covid reaching endemic status, how do businesses and employees navigate the changed world of work?

Dr Richard Malkin, CEO of specialist health and wellness provider Workforce Healthcare, says that remote work is here to stay. “Employees realise that they can work from home, spend less time in the traffic, save the costs of transport, and even if they don’t feel well, they can still put in a productive day at home. Employers now face several issues that they need to tackle to ensure fairness in the workplace and protect their businesses. Grey areas must be addressed to clarify the terms of the employer-employee relationship.”

Not all employees can work remotely. Receptionists who are expected to be at the office, for example, will not have the privilege of saving on transport costs. Must the employer provide a travel allowance for those working in the office to ensure pay parity? Quite possibly.

Data protection is another concern. Can company information and intellectual property be regulated properly at an employee’s remote workplace? Businesses must assess, measure, and mitigate the risks, all while dealing with the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPIA).

POPIA, the Occupational Health and Safety Act, the Hazardous Biological Agents Regulations, and the Labour Relations Act also extend to remote work. Employers should, therefore, conduct inspections, location approval, and risk assessments and audits at an employee’s home. The practical rollout will be extensive, yet companies and the state will need to deal with it. Australia is one country that has already amended various pieces of legislation to deal with home office work.

The costs of a remote office are also up for debate. Is it fair for a remote worker to expect their employer to pay for setting up a home office? Some believe that if you can legally work at the office but choose to work remotely, the cost should be yours to bear.

“There is an obligation on the employer to facilitate an environment and, if possible, a remote working environment for employees with comorbidities who face poor health outcomes with Covid-19,” Malkin adds. “As time goes by, this may be the only scenario in which set up and running costs of a remote office are warranted.”

He warns that isolation doesn’t work for everyone, and can harm productivity. “Collaboration and team effort also take a back seat when working remotely and meeting virtually has its limits for team spirit.”

Workforce Healthcare has seen that working from home has had the following impacts:

Isolation: Physical disconnection from peers and colleagues removes support networks, leaving some feeling anxious or stressed.

Increased workload: Increased workloads may lead to frustration or burnout. Lines are being blurred between work and home life, and people are taking on more in an attempt to prove that they are productive.

Fatigue: Many are feeling the strain of constant back-to-back virtual meetings, and are also working longer hours because there is no need to commute.

Companies need to assist their employees to navigate these issues. This can be done through mental health education and awareness and implementing an employee wellness programme. Companies could also consider assigning certain days as “meeting free”.

“As we continue to adapt and become accustomed to a changed way of working and running profitable businesses, it is important to get it right,” says Malkin.

Published by

Jaco de Klerk

JACO DE KLERK is editor of SHEQ MANAGEMENT and assistant editor of its sister publication FOCUS on Transport and Logistics. It’s nearly a decade later, and he is still as passionate about all things SHEQ-related since his first column, Sound Off, which he wrote for this magazine as well.
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