The roadmap for the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions is seeing a phased return to work across all sectors. The Government’s Return to Work Safely Protocol also highlights office work should continue to be carried out at home where possible.

As remote working remains an intrinsic part of many workers’ lives for the foreseeable future, employers have to take the time to support the occupational health needs of their workforce. With this in mind, Professor John Gallagher, Managing Director of Cognate Health, has compiled 6 top tips for managing a remote workforce during these unprecedented times. 

DESIGNATE A WORKSPACE

The Health and Safety Authority has an excellent risk assessment form for work stations that can be found HERE. In terms of working times, agree with staff on what these are, making sure you aren’t in breach of working time legislation. Also for employees, schedule activities. There is a temptation to dip in and out of emails, calls and social media. This isn’t efficient, and once you lose focus on a task, it takes 20 minutes to get the focus back. 

COMMUNICATION, COMMUNICATION, COMMUNICATION 

Communication is the biggest challenge in today’s remote workforce. I encourage employers to listen and read between the lines and build scheduled communications into a working week. This can be formal or more casual check-ins, or preferably, a mixture of both. Look to do as many of these via video, as 70% of communication is non-verbal. We are doing about 99% of our consultations now by video and it works very well. 

WATCH FOR SOCIAL ISOLATION 

We often believe that people would be happier working from home. However, you will have members of staff who struggle with loneliness and social isolation. There are a lot of studies about loneliness, and most indicate that it rivals obesity and diabetes as a health risk. Keep a watch for it, and look to manage it immediately once identified. 

SETTING BOUNDARIES 

Emailing at 7pm because you know the person is at home is a bad habit and best avoided. Try and keep communications to the working day and maintain boundaries.

TRAIN FOR TECHNOLOGY 

While the remote working revolution was earmarked for the future, we didn’t see it happening quite so quickly. People will struggle, and you have to ensure the training is there for them in terms of technology. For example, if your team needs to use SharePoint, then they should be trained. 

GET ADVICE

If you notice someone struggling, reach out, and get advice for them. Typically this is done by referral. As face-to-face consultations aren’t possible at the moment, we brought forward the launch of our dedicated remote early intervention service for your employees, DayOne+. This is designed to improve communications between employees and line managers and reduce the time it takes to get employees back to health. 

The above tips for managing a remote workforce were compiled by Professor John Gallagher, Managing Director of Cognate Health & Consultant Occupational Physician. If you would like access to a recent webinar Professor Gallagher did on good occupational health for a remote workforce, email Denis Weir at denis@cognatehealth.ie.

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