One year after the start of lockdown, half of all people who work from home report mental and/or physical complaints as a direct result, according to Idewe, an independent consultancy on safety and protection at work.
The main physical problems are neck and back pain, mainly caused by poor posture when working at a desk – a chair that offers insufficient back support, a desktop at the wrong height or a computer monitor too high or too low.
Mental problems take the form of stress or anxiety from an unfamiliar working situation, or from the unusual mixing of home and work – domestic interruptions that would not take place in the office, for example.
And in general, the loss of a clear distinction between workplace and home leads to added stress as work impinges on domestic life – out-of-hours messages being one example.
Now, as the pandemic seems to be coming under control with the arrival of multiple vaccines, a new form of working appears on the horizon: what Idewe calls hybrid working. Days at home, and days in the office. But the evolution needs, Idewe says, to be tailor made for every business, or even for every employee.
“We are absolutely in favour of hybrid working,” said Lode Godderis of Idewe, who authored a paper on the subject.
“However, we cannot ignore the enormous psychosocial and physical impact of a year of teleworking. Belgian employers and employees have made enormous efforts to keep things going and many are on their last legs. And so it is extremely important that employers take a smart approach to hybrid working.
He advocates ‘activity-based’ and ‘human-based’ working – hybrid working from a well-thought-out vision, with attention for everyone's well-being.
“Now that teleworking is becoming a long-term reality, points such as the design of the home workplace and the correct professional and human interaction with the teleworker are more important than ever,” he said.
Many companies, faced with the reality of teleworking, have already decided to cut back on office space – both Proximus and Telenet have already made announcements to that effect. But other employers must not think, Godderis said, that the clock can be turned back and employees brought back to the office as if the last year had not happened.
“After such a devastating pandemic, thinking that all employees just want to come back to the office is not realistic,” he said.
“And we should not expect employees who want this to be able to immediately return to the office after a year of telework. Only those who are already preparing for a future-proof post-corona workplace can guarantee the maximum well-being of their employees while making their attractiveness as an employer future-proof.”
The Brussels Times