In the interest of reducing exposure to the coronavirus, many companies have sent their employees home to work remotely. With millions of employees losing their jobs, those working remotely may fear the worst. It’s imperative for employers to employ strategies to ensure their workers feel connected and stay healthy, during the pandemic and beyond.
Eliminate the Fear of Covid-19
Much like injured workers suddenly thrust into the workers’ compensation system, employees forced to work remotely are feeling scared, confused and isolated. In addition to concerns about the virus itself, these workers — along with their employers — don’t know how long the situation will continue, what to expect, and if their jobs and/or companies will survive the crisis. Also, they are suddenly working on their own, with no opportunity to chat with coworkers during breaks.
These concerns can lead to a myriad of problems, not the least of which is reduced productivity. Workers who feel insecure about their futures are less likely to be able to give work their all.
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Employers can take simple steps to reduce the anxiety their workers may feel.
- Communicate. This is absolutely the most important thing organizations can do; stay in constant contact with their workers — those injured and those working remotely. Employers don’t necessarily know any more than their employees, but staying connected helps prevent workers from obsessing over their fears.
- Set up regularly scheduled meetings to give employees a chance to converse with the employer and colleagues.
- Share updates about what impact the situation is having on the company.
- Let them know you care. ‘How are you doing? I know this is an unusual time.’
- Don’t wait until you have all the answers. Again, saying something — even if it’s to say ‘we don’t know what’s happening but we will get through this together,’ provides some reassurance.
- Provide resources. Working with the company’s employee assistance program, or local resources in the absence of an EAP can help employees work through their fears. Typical reactions during the pandemic are anxiety, disrupted sleep, poor eating habits, muscle tension, accelerated heart rate or breathing. Workers can work with EAP professionals for help. Or, an EAP representative can even facilitate a group phone meeting with several employees to give them a chance to air their concerns.
- Ensure there is a feedback loop. Just hearing from the employer goes a long way to making the worker feel more comfortable but it’s even more valuable if there is two-way communication. Setting up a communication board for home-based workers, or holding virtual meetings or conference calls helps everyone feel more engaged and connected.
Empower Employees to New Work Routine
Lack of control is a devastating feeling and, unfortunately, one of the most prominent during the pandemic. No one really knows what’s ahead, making us feel powerless over the situation. But that doesn’t need to translate to all aspects of our lives. Several tips can help employees feel they are in charge of themselves.
- Set a routine. A worker who arrives at work at 8:30, has coffee, checks emails, talks with coworkers and makes the first phone call at 9:00 should keep the exact same schedule. That is, get into his ‘home office space’ at 8:30, have coffee, check emails and communicate with coworkers — then get on the phone at 9. There’s a comfort in having and maintaining a routine.
- Maintain proper hygiene and attire. It’s easy for people who suddenly start working at home to forego getting dressed and normal washing. But keeping to the normal routine here is another way to retain a sense of confidence and control. Also, with so many companies holding virtual meetings and webinars, employees should be encouraged to look professional.
- Set up a proper working space. Whether it’s in a den or at the kitchen table, the work space should make it as easy as possible for the employee to work. That may require meeting with spouses, children and other members of the household to prevent distractions. Pets should be kept away — unless they provide a sense of peace and comfort. House phones should be silenced or kept away from the space.
- Ensure adequate ergonomics. You don’t want employees to become injured while working remotely because their ‘offices’ are not set up properly. But working from home in less than optimal positions can cause pain and injury to the neck, shoulders, back, wrists and head. Employees can be taught to take simple measures to ensure they maintain good posture and don’t risk injury to themselves.
- Computer monitor — should be at eye level. If it’s not, a small box can be placed under it to lift it up. Placing the monitor too low puts excess weight on the neck and shoulders.
- Keyboard — should be set up so the arms are at a 90-degree angle and parallel to the floor. If it’s too high, a pillow can be used on the chair to raise the person up. It should also be at a distance from the body that is comfortable for the user.
- Chair — should be set so the knees are slightly below the hips. Any higher puts unnecessary strain on the body. If the chair is not adjustable and too low, a pillow can be placed on it.
- Mouse — should not be extended too far, which is what office workers often do. It should be placed so the arms are by the side of the body and don’t require the user to reach out for it, which is a major cause of neck and shoulder pain and tension headaches.
Encourage Healthy Habits
Working from home can make some people feel like they must be constantly working. It’s important they set work and home boundaries for themselves. That includes:
- Taking regular breaks, just as they would at work.
- Go for walks. Maintaining physical activity is always important, especially when so many are now housebound.
These are strange times with companies taking unprecedented actions to protect their workers and their companies. Taking steps to assure employees that we will get through it and that you’re doing all you can to maintain their health and that of the company can go a long way to preserving the organization.
Author Michael Stack, CEO Amaxx LLC. He is an expert in workers’ compensation cost containment systems and helps employers reduce their workers’ comp costs by 20% to 50%. He works as a consultant to large and mid-market clients, is a co-author of Your Ultimate Guide To Mastering Workers Comp Costs, a comprehensive step-by-step manual of cost containment strategies based on hands-on field experience, and is the founder & lead trainer of Amaxx Workers’ Comp Training Center.
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