Addressing the work environment of employees falls within the ambit of any human resources department. This also applies to our current situation: working from home during lockdown. If left unaddressed, bad ergonomic habits could mean higher healthcare costs for the institution, lower productivity and an increased risk of employees sustaining an injury.
Tukkievaria (TV) speaks to Sithembile Mbuyisa (SM), Human Resources Director, about the shift to working remotely.
TV: What are the implications for employers with this shift to remote working?
SM: Globally, employers are contending with an unprecedented shift that has seen volumes of employees being reallocated from a controlled workspace where they have access to tools that ensure ergonomic care, and where there is controlled lighting and other reasonable considerations from a workplace health and safety perspective.
This is a paradigm shift for employers, who now have to consider what constitutes tools of trade. Tools of trade are the skills, instruments and other equipment that you need in order to do your job properly. Traditionally a laptop, wi-fi dongle and cellphone were considered sufficient for employees whose work required them to constantly be on the move. Rarely was the employee’s home environment considered.
This period will change many definitions for various employers and greatly influence the budget allocation towards such aspects for employers, since by law the responsibility for health and safety of workers rests on the employer.
TV: How do you suggest organisations overcome the recent challenges?
SM: The organisations that will benefit from this period are those that are agile and unafraid to pioneer the way for others to follow. Business magnate Warren Buffett put it well when he said: “It is only when the tide goes out that you discover who has been swimming naked.
”TV: Can a person who works in a solitary environment be productive?
SM: As much as the virtual working concept bucks the traditional operational environment trend, especially in a traditional university environment, it is a growing trend worldwide with proven merits. Executed as part of a solid/deliberate strategy rather than as a knee-jerk reaction to a crisis, virtual working boosts the individual employee’s morale and thus their productivity. While valid concerns have been raised about the average South African employee’s readiness to operate in this uncharted territory, the challenge is not insurmountable.
TV: Which skills, knowledge and abilities are required to operate remotely?
SM: Mitigating strategies and interventions in the form of suitable ergonomics, soft skills and employee induction can be devised and implemented. There are also technological systems available to ensure team interaction, as well as monitoring and virtual working support to close any loops that may result from the shift to a home working environment.
Therefore, while embracing the virtual working concept may require a considerable effort and capital outlay from an organisational perspective, it will yield positive results in the medium to long term, and safeguard the organisation from the cost of disruptions to operations in future.
TV: What is the advantage of working from home?
SM: While employers are baffled by the question of the adequacy of their systems, the beauty of this moment is that it gives employees the opportunity to design what would be a perfect workspace for them in the comfort of their own homes. Human beings are inherently active and dynamic in the creation of their own reality.
TV: How can employees maintain their productivity considering the various distractions that come with working from home?
SM: This requires a mindset shift for emplosyees to be more output focused and to marshal time management skills that will enable them to successfully achieve what they have planned to accomplish individually as well as part of a team. Many thought leaders have set out to tackle the question of working from home, which could be unchartered territory for most employees right now. A lot of interesting material can be accessed via the LinkedIn Learning courses available to UP employees on clickUP.
TV: What sort of office equipment should staff consider investing in?
SM: A fitted chair to improve posture and reduce back strain, and an ergonomic keyboard to reduce tension on muscles could both prevent future injuries or pain.
TV: What advice would you give an employee who has a medical condition or injury?
SM: This is even more essential for employees who have medical conditions that could be aggravated by prolonged hours of sitting in an environment that isn’t ergonomically designed. It would be advisable for employees to explore the right settings for working from home that addresses their special needs. With this being a universal concern right now, many affordable hacks have been developed on how to creatively make your workspace more comfortable with less risk of back problems. Here is a helpful link: https://www.cnbc.com/2020/03/19/ways-to-make-your-work-from-home-space-ergonomic-better-for-your-back.html