How can businesses enable agile working when procuring electrical and ergonomic home office equipment? Stephen Roberts, a specialist in workstation power, connectivity and ergonomics, discusses the duty of care to remote-working employees.
For years, those ‘working from home’ were the butt of colleagues’ jokes that they were actually finishing off some DIY, or enjoying the garden on a sunny day. It was this cynicism about how productive people would be if they were allowed to work from home that ensured office workers remained shackled not only to their desks, but also to their routine and their increasingly congested commute. But 2020 changed all that.
Far from seeing a drop in productivity when people were forced to work from home because of COVID-19, many employers noticed an upturn in motivation and efficiency. Working days became more flexible, wasted commuting time became productive work time for many, and digital systems combined with video conferencing apps kept everyone connected. What started as an emergency response became a spontaneous trial of agile working and, for most companies, the trial has been an unequivocal success.
But with pandemic restrictions now ending, we’re moving out of the fire-fighting, make-do-and-mend phase of working from home. Now, remote working is part of an agile workplace approach and an operational strategy for combining reduced overheads with flexibility. People have become used to managing their working life in their living space, by creating a home office for example. But temporary, makeshift arrangements are not acceptable as part of a permanent shift to a hybrid office and home-working model. If companies are writing a required – or even permitted – number of work days per week at home into policy, they are designating employees’ homes part of the workplace. As a result, the duty of care and health and safety best practice in the office must also be applied at home.
Taking workplace standards home
The biggest challenge – even for employers committed to applying company premises standards to their team’s home ‘office’ – is that no two employees’ homes are the same. In an office fit-out, consistency enables due diligence across specification, maintenance and health and safety management, with scheduled PAT testing of electrical equipment throughout its lifecycle. Many home-workers have been using company laptops, and as they move to a hybrid model of hot-desking in the office and working from home, companies will need to consider both the portability of devices between the two locations, and the speed and ease of set-up at either workstation.
They will also need to think about safety. BS 6396 restricts the number of sockets fed from a single 13A plug in commercial environments to prevent overloading or excessive earth leakage. The standard does not usually apply to domestic properties, but an employee’s home is effectively part of the workplace for the allocated number of days per week that they work there. As a result, companies should aim for BS 6396 compliance to ensure the home-working environment is as safe as the office, and protects both people and equipment.
Some companies are already on board with the need to invest some of their operational cost savings in equipment to enable employees to work safely and efficiently at home. However, in some of the corporate announcements on the topic, the strategy seems to be providing employees with a grant to buy what they need. But who is monitoring what they ‘need’ and how much due diligence is being applied to ensuring it is safe, fit for purpose and ergonomically suitable? An employee is mostly likely to purchase what they consider suitable from a retailer or online store, without the expertise to check whether it is suitable, compatible with their existing equipment or fully tested and certified. Moreover, if every employee spends their grant as they choose, the opportunity for consistency, standardised maintenance intervals and routine replacement is lost.
For example, a workstation power unit that combines power, charging and any data or media sockets is an ideal, compact solution for a home-working environment. But a unit like this must have undergone robust testing and certification, and should be backed by specification support. Untested brands and white-labelled goods from consumer-facing online retailers offer none of this quality assurance, traceability or expertise, so employers should ensure quality, safety and consistency by procuring proven office power and connectivity products that are suitable for use in the home.
Similarly, if home-working is written into company policy, the display screen equipment requirements that apply in commercial workplaces should also apply when the home is designated as a workplace. This means that employers should consider a monitor arm or a laptop stand and monitor arm combination to encourage good posture while employees are working at home. Task seating should form part of this commitment to musculoskeletal health and wellbeing for all members of staff, or employers are likely to see a rise in issues related to the strain of hunching over a laptop while seated on chair that offers no lumbar support or height adjustability.
The pandemic is still lingering but, long after it has gone, its legacy will be a permanent shift in the way we work and the locations we consider to be our workplace.
Employers must consider not only how this period of change will affect them commercially and operationally, but also what it means for legacy management of office equipment. Employees left to fund their own home office or source their own equipment are unlikely to understand or research required standards. Worse still, they may be tempted to select low-cost equipment in order to stretch their allowance to more items.
Only by procuring centrally from a trusted supplier with the expertise to advise on the most appropriate solutions can employers be confident their team will be safe and productive at home. And only with consistent equipment across all home-working environments is managing those assets simple, accountable and efficient.
Stephen is head of sales at CMD Ltd, specialists in workstation power, connectivity and ergonomics.