With the COVID-19 vaccination programme now well underway and the number of reported cases falling in the UK, we are edging back towards normality. All in all, the great working from home experiment of 2020 has been a success with positive reports about employee engagement and high productivity levels, despite the challenges caused by the pandemic and difficult trading conditions.
Many employers may now be thinking about reopening their offices and gradually welcoming their people back to the workplace. Other business leaders may well be reflecting on the last year; their experience of working and managing people from home, questioning the need for all employees to return to the workplace on a full-time basis.
Many business owners are now considering offering flexible working options which enable team members to work in the office on some days and from home at other times. For those employers who are considering offering remote working on an ongoing basis, the physical (and mental) wellbeing of their team members will need to be a key consideration.
One of the key requirements is to ensure that a Display Screen Equipment (DSE) Assessment is completed by each home-working employee, and any issues discovered are resolved. All companies with 5 or more staff members must have a written and auditable DSE assessment on file for every member of staff.
How to manage DSE assessments
One option is to train an in-house assessor who visits your employees and performs the assessments. This will, of course, need to be in line with ongoing social contact restrictions and laws. For the time being, employee self-assessments are the most sensible and practicable option.
Employers can also use an basic online system such as Posture People’s Self-Assessment form which can be uploaded and stored in Breathe. The basic online system requires more in-house administrative time as you need someone to track the assessments and read them to see if anything needs actioning. This option is most suitable for smaller companies with fewer than 25 members of staff.
Employers can also invest in a more comprehensive managed online system. This offers a wider range of assessments including a dedicated homeworking assessment. One of the main advantages of this type of system is that it does a lot of the tracking for you.
Once employee names are uploaded, assessments can very easily be sent to employees. Their responses can be tracked tracked, people who don’t complete assessments can be chased automatically, and all reported issues can be collated within one single report.
Any actions which need to be completed can also be tracked. This provides a rolling report of issues and the steps taken to resolve them.
Key DSE requirements
The minimum requirements for suitable equipment for DSE purposes is that someone must be working on a height adjustable chair with a five-star base. They must also have access to a suitable desk space, and use a separate keyboard and mouse to their screen. The days of pulling up the nearest kitchen chair are numbered. Although people can work at kitchen and dining room tables, they must use a laptop stand, a separate keyboard and a mouse.
If a member of staff is unwilling or unable to accommodate a proper office chair in their home then their return to the office needs to be prioritised to come back into the office regardless of whether they want to work at home or not. It is your responsibility as an employer to make sure that team members are not putting themselves at risk of musculoskeletal disorders (back pain etc.) by choosing to remain at home.
A future of flexible working
So, what of the future? Is the office dead? Will everyone want to stay permanently at home? Probably not, younger members of staff are craving more interaction with colleagues and often do not have space for suitable workspaces at home.
Other people need to have other around them to feel the ‘buzz’. But for some the quiet of home has been their ideal workspace. We believe that a flexible future is firmly in the pipeline, so therefore planning how to assess the hybrid requirements needs to be placed at the forefront of any future workspace plans.
Before the COVID-19 crisis, the idea of remote working was in the air but not proceeding very far or fast. But the pandemic changed that, with tens of millions of people transitioning to working from home, essentially overnight, across a wide range of industries. With the case for homeworking been proved to many people, this looks likely to be become increasingly well-established. With this comes the need for ensuring employees can work safely at home and in the office.