Practical tips and advice to create a company-wide telework policy
Employers have a duty to ensure that their staff have a safe and healthy working environment, whether that is in the office or at home, respecting certain legal obligations. Because teleworkers may face high risks of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), employers should create a company-wide teleworking policy to protect them.
How to create a company-wide teleworking policy
This type of policy should include instructions on how to complete regular workplace risk assessments so that key hazards and areas of concern can be identified. It is also important that risk assessments are repeated on a regular basis so that they include up-to-date information on hazards, which may change over time.
When creating a teleworking policy, it is best practice to take a participatory approach and include the expertise and opinions of workers. It is also key to ensure that the work situations of everyone are represented in this policy. It can be helpful to ask employees to answer surveys about their needs or to set up working groups to ensure that no staff member’s situation is overlooked.
Additionally, employers should review and update the teleworking policy regularly.
What can be done to adjust the work environment when teleworking?
Proper ergonomic work furniture and equipment can protect employees from developing or aggravating an MSD by providing support to limbs, ensuring correct posture and reducing eye strain. Whether in the office or at home, it is important that all employees have the correct equipment to do their work without endangering their health. As well as providing ergonomic equipment, staff should be trained on how to properly adjust their own equipment for optimal use (screen height, chair and desk position etc).
Some companies, such as Orange in France and Credito Cooperativo Bank in Italy provided employees with equipment to work from home or a payment to cover workstation expenses. It may be useful to include such measures in a teleworking policy and explain to employees how they can be reimbursed for necessary equipment.
Alongside ergonomic equipment, it is crucial that the homeworking environment doesn’t contain any risks to good health. Adequate lighting (preferably a minimum of 500 lux) and eliminating extreme light contrasts is needed to avoid eye strain. It is also important that workers have access to a noise-free and calm environment without distractions.
Sedentary behaviour is linked to a range of health conditions. Studies have shown associations and causal relations between physical inactivity and musculoskeletal complaints and psychological disorders (depression and anxiety), apart from other increased health risks. Unfortunately, many workers do not incorporate sufficient movement into their daily routine and spend too much time sitting without moving or changing position. This can be made worse by teleworking as there is no need to commute to and from the office. In order to counteract the negative affects of prolonged static postures, employees can be encouraged to build regular stretches and movement into their working day.
What can be done to protect mental health when teleworking?
Equally important for workers’ physical health is their emotional and mental wellbeing. Homeworkers may face an increased risk of a range of psychosocial issues such as social isolation, a lack of a work-life balance, difficulties working autonomously or an overload of work.
It is key that regular one-on-one calls as well as team calls are scheduled so that social isolation is decreased. This also offers managers the opportunity to check in with workers and ensure that they feel empowered to speak up when their workload is too heavy. Like this, managers can make sure that workers can rotate tasks to avoid monotony, that they have the confidence and experience they need to work autonomously and that they are taking regular breaks. A good telework policy will also encourage employees to start and finish at the same time every day and to disconnect at a specific time. It is worth considering implementing a policy where no work messages or emails can be sent outside of a certain time, as has been done in the Spanish banking sector, at Volkswagen in Germany and at the steel manufacturing company Acciai Speciali Terni in Italy. It is also important that managers encourage their teams to take their full lunch break and to take regular breaks to stretch and move around.
A comprehensive teleworking policy can help protect workers from health issues such as MSDs when working from home. It is vital that companies create and implement one, along with a plan to review and update it regularly.
To access a wide range of resources, publications and tools on the topic, visit the teleworking priority page. Remember to follow the campaign on social media via Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to keep up to date with the latest news.