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During the pandemic lock downs countless businesses were asking people to work from home, but in the mad dash to enable remote working the usual due diligence processes may have gone out the window. Now that things are almost back to normal many people are still working from home so now may be a good time to do a working from home risk assessment, both from a Health and Safety perspective and also from a Data Protection and Information Security point of view.

Technology and Equipment

Working safely is equally as important for those working remotely as those in a regular office, and both employers and employees have a duty to ensure that the working environment for someone working from home is suitable and safe.

This article is mainly focused on people doing computer-based work activity as opposed to something more manual, which will present their own set of challenges. Just as in an office, working at a computer at home requires the right equipment set up in the right way. Home workers, with support from their line managers, should conduct full working from home risk assessments, and many tools and checklist are available online to help with this. The risk assessments need to include a full display screen equipment assessment which will make sure equipment like chairs, monitors, keyboards, lighting, heating and ventilation are all set up to meet ergonomic standards.

As well reducing the health risks for the remote employee, businesses need to look at the risks to company data.  Home working may present a reduction in security standards that businesses need to address. Is the workers computer provided by the company or are they using their own?  If the latter what measures can be put in place to ensure information security. Who else uses the computer?  Does it have adequate virus protection?  Is it running latest supported operating systems.

Focus needs to be given on how remote workers access company systems and data.  Is data being held on remote workers computers and if so is that adequately protected with backups.

If the remote worker’s computer is connected to the main office over a VPN are there adequate controls in place to prevent malware traversing the connection to the corporate network. Consider using a hosted desktop service to run shared applications and databases and thereby avoid that direct connection from user’s home to the office.

It will also be necessary to check the physical security of IT equipment, especially if the remote worker is using an outdoor garden office which may not be as secure as their main house.   Companies need to check their insurance to make sure remote working is included, and the employee also needs to check their own house insurance and make their insurance company aware that they are working from home.

If remote workers are also “travelling” workers, i.e. visiting clients and staying over in hotels then check that the equipment they are using is light and portable, but also that there is adequate security if it gets stolen, for example using encryption on the computers drives, and avoiding storing data on USB drives unless they too are encrypted.

Ensure remote workers and home workers know the process for reporting technical issues, or training on applications.


Employee wellbeing

Working from home is not for everyone, and can be difficult to adjust to. That said there are huge benefits to home working, and if both the home worker and employer understand the risks and challenges to employee mental health, and put things in place to address them, then there is no reason that home working can’t be the perfect solution for all concerned.

The benefits of working from home include a better work life balance, less time wasted commuting, less pollution, traffic, and stress on public transport, a customised working environment for the employee and less costs on office space for the employer. Employers also have a larger pool to choose from when employing new recruits.

There are some downsides to home working, employees can become isolated and suffer from stress and other mental health conditions which can go unnoticed. Balancing work and home life distractions can also be difficult, and home workers can also be tempted to work longer hours, replacing the commuting time with extra work activity. Employers and employees should agree formal rules in relation to working hours, child care, use of equipment and managing work and home life in a way that works for both parties.


Progression and Development

There is a risk that home workers are overlooked as part of the normal employee “management”. Direct line managers of remote workers will need to included measure to ensure their remote team members are motivated as well as monitoring performance. Training and continuous professional development of remote workers is crucial for motivation and productivity.

Team building can also be more difficult for home workers. Employers should implement regular trips to the office for one to one meetings, team meetings, and also try to involve remote workers in social events. It is also important to involve remote workers in decision making.


Health and Safety

Health and Safety risks need to be regularly monitored for all employees, and especially home workers.  Businesses put in place robust safety measures for lone workers when working on building, industrial, or commercial sites, but a similar approach should be adopted for lone working for remote or home workers.  Use modern collaboration tools like Teams or Slack and request remote workers “check in” every day to colleagues know they are OK.  Make sure remote workers know the procedures for Health and Safety incidents and accidents.  If your company has occupational health schemes, include procedures so that remote workers can take advantage of these schemes.

Home working can be very beneficial for people with disabilities but at the same time employers need to make sure they cater for sensitive risk groups in their safety measures and remote working policies and procedures.