Teleworking - or working from home

Teleworking  is the growing trend for people to work away from the office using information technology. 

Teleworking means moving the work, not the worker. Phones, computers connected to the internet and other tools mean daily trips to a central office can be unnecessary. Teleworking can include working from home, a satellite office or in the field. Some people telework now and then, while for others it is a regular activity.

Update: March 2020

Due to the threat of the pandemic Coronavirus (COVID-19), an increasing number of workers are now working remotely at home in measures intended to slow infection rates. In addition, there are workers who are being required to self-isolate for 14 days due to either having been in contact with someone who has the disease or because they have returned from overseas may be well and expected to work from home.

Employers of workers who work remotely still have a duty of care to these employers. While there may be benefits, according to research done by a business school in Nottingham, flexible working from home can create a whole new set of stressful problems. Teleworkers face increased pressure from family, feelings of guilt unless they work long hours, and disruption of normal home life, the study done by the Nottingham Business School shows. (Read more: BBC News)

The employer must consider following factors:

  1. Work environment: The work environment must be free of hazards such as poorly positioned cords or wires, or ungrounded or overheated electrical equipment.
  2. Workstation: Just like in the office, a home-based workstation must include an appropriate, quality desk and chair that is adjustable to suit the worker. The keyboard must be at the right height so that arms and wrists are in a neutral position. Lighting must also be sufficient, with minimal reflection or glare. The cost of any extra equipment should be covered by the employer. 
  3. Scheduling: There is a tendency for teleworkers to not take breaks. Without the natural breaks of meeting with co-workers or walking to a printer, the teleworker tends to spend long periods in the same position, doing repetitive motions that may lead to musculoskeletal injuries.
  4. Emergency measures: Emergency measures, such as evacuation, first aid facilities, and other measures as necessary must be in place for the safety of teleworkers.
  5. Remote access: access to IT systems, etc
  6. Psychological wellbeing: maintain regular contact with the workers through phone calls, instant messaging, meetings on online platforms, and so on.
  7. Responsibilities: Even though the worker is working at home, it needs to be absolutely clear that the employer has responsibility for health and safety issues and worker's compensation. An employer representative must ensure the work environment is safe, and stay in touch with the worker. As for the worker, he or she must report accidents or injuries to their supervisor, just as workers at the worksite are required to do.  It is probably worthwhile to have these details in writing to avoid any confusion, especially in the event of a compensation claim. Also to include in the agreement: which parts of the home are considered "the workplace", and that the employer or a health and safety committee representative has the right to access this area of the home to conduct a health and safety inspection.

So some questions to consider - or to convert into a simple checklist:

  1. Is the chair and workstation ergonomic and are there adequately sized work surfaces?
  2. Does the office space have a working smoke detector?
  3. Is a fire extinguisher readily available?
  4. Is there a basic first aid kit?
  5. Are exits from the work area clear and unobstructed?
  6. Are all electrical cords and appliances safely secured and checked?
  7. Are there any tripping hazards?
  8. Are all floor coverings safe and non-slip?
  9. Are there appropriate handrails on any stairs?
  10. Is the lighting appropriate for the work being undertaken?
  11. Is there proper ventilation and adequate heating/cooling?

Here is a sample checklistComcare also has a checklist [pdf]

Advice to workers to maintain 'mental health' 

This advice is from Comcare (March 2020)

  • Establish a routine and boundaries with family and friends around work hours
  • Schedule regular meetings to maintain ongoing contact with colleagues and clients to stay connected and foster positive working relationships
  • Organise ongoing communications via phone, email and via your organisation’s videoconferencing and instant messaging platforms
  • Use outdoor spaces where possible when taking breaks and try to incorporate some exercise or other activity during the day
  • Playing music or listening to the radio helps to create a more pleasant working environment
  • Identify potential distractions and put strategies in place to minimise them, for example separating work activities from home activities.

The UK's Trade Union Congress, jointly with the (then) Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and employer groups, produced a publication, Telework Guidance (pdf file) for employers and employees.   It is the first European framework agreement to be implemented in the UK through a consultative process. The guide covers a large number of matters: OHS, HR, training, allowances, personal support and information security. In the UK, from April 2004, parents of children under the age of six have had the right to request that their employer allows them to work flexibly - this includes the right to request working from home.

Meanwhile, news from Europe is that the number of people who are teleworking and working away from the place of work is on the increase, according to a new study from Eurofound's European Working Conditions Observatory (EWCO). About half of the working population in the EU works at their place of work all of the time, results from the recent Fourth European Working Conditions Survey (EWCS) show, and it concludes 'employees who work from home either predominantly or partly report a better work-life balance and, as a result, higher levels of job satisfaction.'
Eurofound Reports (Place of Work And Working Conditions) and Telework in the European Union.

See also:

  • WorkSafe Guidance (March 2020) Minimising the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19): Working from home. This guidance provides information on the duties of employers and the health and safety issues to consider when setting up a home office. 
  • Advice from Comcare on working remotely - on its Coronavirus page
  • Normal life has been disrupted - Managing the disruption caused by COVID-19 [pdf]  This is an Occupational Therapy Guide providing general advice for those spending much more time at home, either due to work or just generally. It has some useful advice.
  • Australian workers and OHS Reps might find some useful information in the document: The Telework Guidance (pdf file)
  • From the Australian Bureau of Statistics: Teleworking, New South Wales, Oct 2001 - Summary of findings  
  • The Telework Association - based in the UK, this is a membership only association providing news, newsletters, and so on. There are similar organisations in other countries.

Last amended March 2020