As more and more employees choose to work from home, and more companies acknowledge home as a legitimate new work place, one question keeps dominating managerial meetings: “How does this impact company risk?”
More subconsciously, managers are asking themselves: “How do I manage this?”
Commercial risk expert Natalie Fox, a director of Perth-based consultancy RiskAdvisor, is similarly focused on a more holistic management approach versus the standard risk register.
It’s all about engagement
“We shouldn’t be overthinking the challenge being faced, she says. It is an issue about effective communication,” Ms Fox said.
“At the end of the day it’s all about engagement with the workforce whether they are in the office or at home.”
“In terms of identifying the risk, it’s about understanding what sort of people your employees are, what work they are undertaking at home, the hours they work, and whether their home is the right work environment.”
Natalie explains that the onus on de-risking the environment is on the manager and how good they are at managing their team.
“A lot is dependent on the caliber of the manager and whether he or she can establish a relationship with staff that is open and transparent.
“There needs to be quality conversation about the expectations and the employee needs to put parameters in place about what is work versus what is home time.”
Natalie says a lot hinges on how managers personally feel about isolated, autonomous work habits.
“Some are innately skeptical and think their employees are skiving off. Others take the time to understand their people better and can see that their output is appropriate – if not exceptional.”
She says that the opportunity for every manager now is to have a conversation with their employees about what their personal home workplace should look like and how they feel about working in it.
“They need to be asking employees if they have a home office that allows the quiet time to concentrate or take a call. They need to gauge whether the individual’s mental health can cope with working independently.”
Everyone is different
GIO Workers Insurance Executive Manager, Llewellyn Jones, an expert on workers compensation in the Northern Territory and Western Australia, echoes these comments.
“Employers need to create a consultative structure to ensure remote workers stay connected,” Mr Jones said.
“The first step companies can take is to conduct a risk assessment of the working environment at home and use a checklist: Do you have a designated area for working at home? Does it conform to office ergonomic considerations? What hours are being worked?”
He advises that Worksafe WA provide tools that can be downloaded to complete these types of assessments.
The rise in psychological risk
Like Natalie, Llewellyn also recommends that employers focus on the psychological risks and how these can be avoided.
“When COVID first began we assumed there would be a few physical incidents in the house. Secondly, we were worried about mental health issues arising from people not feeling connected.
To minimise these problems, he says employers need to create structures that ensure remote workers stay connected.
Timetables for talking
“It may be necessary to set up a timetable for regular communication. A big piece is ensuring that there is a system which keeps people connected to the workplace and helps mitigate psycho-social risks.”
Support mechanisms like Employee Assist Programs (EAP) should not be forgotten and employers should not be reticent about calling in independent counsellors, he says.
In terms of workers compensation claims Llewellyn says not much has changed.
Workers compensation largely unchanged
“Work has to have significantly contributed to the incident for a compensable claim. The employee must prove the incident occurred either during a working period at home or in the office or in some way was directed by their employer,” Mr Jones said.
“The only change is that a lot of businesses are instructing staff to work from home without having completed all the necessary risk assessment that would normally apply.
“Important to remember the legislation makes the employer responsible to provide a safe system of work and workplace be it in the home or the office. In terms of how companies are coping in WA, the signs are positive.”