The new normal: managing risks in a remote work era

The world of work has undergone a remarkable transformation in recent years, catalysed by an unprecedented global event: the COVID-19 pandemic. Amid the chaos and uncertainty, businesses were forced to adapt rapidly. Remote work, once a fringe benefit or occasional occurrence, became the new standard. As a result, millions of employees across the globe found themselves working from the confines of their homes.

This radical shift in the way we work has had far-reaching consequences, both positive and negative. It’s essential for organisations and employees to understand the emerging risk trends associated with remote work and take proactive steps to mitigate them. In this article, we’ll delve into the pros and cons of this remote work revolution, examine the key risks it poses, and provide actionable insights on how businesses can ensure the safety and wellbeing of their remote workforce.

Let’s explore how the future of work is shaping up and how you can adapt to thrive in this new normal.

The pros and cons of remote work:

The adoption of remote work has ushered in a new era of flexibility and adaptability for businesses and their employees. However, as with any significant shift, it comes with its own set of advantages and challenges.

Pros of remote work
  • Enhanced flexibility: Remote work offers employees the flexibility to tailor their work environments to their preferences. This can lead to increased job satisfaction and potentially higher productivity.

  • Reduced commute times: The elimination of daily commutes not only saves valuable time but also contributes to a reduction in traffic congestion and environmental benefits.

  • Access to global talent: Companies can tap into a more extensive talent pool by hiring employees from different geographic locations, enhancing diversity and expertise within their teams.
Cons of remote work
  • Communication challenges: Effective communication can be more challenging in remote settings, with the absence of face-to-face interactions. Misunderstandings and miscommunication can arise more easily.

  • Work-life balance: Remote workers often struggle to establish clear boundaries between work and personal life, potentially leading to burnout.

  • Collaboration hurdles: Collaborative tasks that require brainstorming and spontaneous discussions may suffer when teams are not physically present.

  • Isolation and loneliness: Prolonged periods of working in isolation can lead to feelings of loneliness and negatively impact mental health.
The commonly addressed key risks of remote work:
Ergonomic risks
  • Prolonged sitting can lead to musculoskeletal issues like back pain and repetitive strain injuries.

  • Poorly designed home office setups can contribute to discomfort and health problems.
Psychological risks
  • Social isolation can lead to depression, anxiety, and a sense of disconnection from colleagues.

  • The blurring of work and personal boundaries can increase stress and affect mental well-being.
Cybersecurity risks
  • Remote work environments may be more vulnerable to cyberattacks due to the absence of robust office network security.
Productivity and accountability risks
  • Concerns about employee productivity and accountability when working from home may arise.
Family distractions
  • Balancing work responsibilities with family obligations, especially for those with children, can be challenging.
Technology challenges
  • Technical issues, such as unreliable internet connections or computer malfunctions, can disrupt work and collaboration.
The hidden exposure of remote work: Worker's Compensation Insurance

The hidden exposure to organisations of remote work arrangements is how your workers’ compensation programme will respond in the event of an injury or illness to an employee. This is particularly pertinent if the employee no longer works in the state, territory or country they were working prior to the pandemic.

Australian states and territories employ a ‘state of connection’ test which is a hierarchical series of tests to determine whether for workers compensation purposes, a worker’s employment is connected with a particular State or Territory.

The ‘state of connection’ tests are:

  • Test A: the State/Territory in which the worker usually works in that employment, or

  • Test B: if no single State/Territory is identified by Test A, the State/Territory in which the worker is usually based for the purposes of that employment, or

  • Test C: if no single State/Territory is identified by Test A or Test B, the State/Territory in which the employer’s principal place of business in Australia is located, or

  • Test D: in the case of a worker working on a ship, if no single State/Territory is identified by Test A, Test B or Test C, a worker’s employment is, while working on a ship, connected with the State/Territory in which the ship is registered or (if the ship is registered in more than one jurisdiction) the State/Territory in which the ship most recently became registered, or

  • Test E: If no single State/Territory is identified by Test A, B, C or D (if applicable), a worker’s employment is connected with a State/Territory if the worker is in that State/Territory when an injury happens to that worker and there is no place outside Australia under the legislation of which the worker may be entitled to compensation for the same matter.
Mitigating risks: ensuring safe remote work environments

The shift to remote work is here to stay, and it’s imperative for businesses to prioritise the safety and well-being of their remote workforce. Here are actionable steps to mitigate the risks associated with remote work:

Insurance health check
  • Workers’ Compensation: Ensure that your workers’ compensation program is compliant and provides statutory cover for remote workers.

  • General Insurance: Conduct an insurance health check to identify and potential exposures, gaps in coverage or areas over over-insurance due to the changing nature of work.
Ergonomic solutions
  • Adjustable Workstations: Encourage employees to invest in adjustable chairs and desks to maintain proper posture.

  • Regular Breaks: Remind employees to take short breaks, stretch, and walk around to prevent physical strain.
Addressing psychological wellbeing
  • Regular Check-Ins: Establish a culture of frequent check-ins and virtual social interactions to combat feelings of isolation.

  • Mental Health Resources: Provide access to mental health resources, such as counselling services or mindfulness programs.
Strengthening cybersecurity
  • Secure VPNs: Ensure that remote employees have access to secure Virtual Private Networks (VPNs).

  • Cybersecurity training: Conduct regular cybersecurity training to educate employees about online threats.
Monitoring and accountability
  • Productivity tracking tools Implement productivity tracking tools to maintain transparency and accountability.
Supporting work-life balance
  • Clear work hours: Encourage employees to set clear work hours and stick to them.

  • Promote time off Encourage the use of annual leave days and personal time to prevent burnout.
Family-friendly policies
  • Flexible hours: Offer flexibility in work hours to accommodate employees' family needs.
Technological support
  • IT Support: Provide reliable IT support to address technical issues promptly.
How can Bellrock support your business?

In February 2023, Bellrock established Bellrock Benefits which is a specialist advisory division designed to support businesses to better manage risk and insurance associated with their employees.

Bellrock Benefits can support you to manage the risks associated with remote work and ensure your workers’ compensation programme remains fit-for-purpose, compliant with state-based legislation and ready to respond in the event of an injury or illness to a remote worker.

Bellrock Benefits also partners with specialist providers that can deliver bespoke support with ergonomic assessments, psychological health and wellbeing, broader remuneration and benefits advisory services and work health and safety risk assessments.

Key takeaways

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, remote work has evolved from a temporary solution to a long-term strategy. While it presents numerous advantages, it’s not without its challenges. To thrive in this new era of work, businesses must recognise the risks associated with remote work and take proactive steps to address them. By focusing on ergonomics, mental health, cybersecurity, accountability, and family-friendly policies, organisations can create a safe and productive remote work environment for their employees.

As the world continues to adapt to these changing dynamics, it’s clear that remote work is more than just a trend—it’s a fundamental shift that requires careful consideration and strategic planning. By embracing these challenges and implementing the suggested solutions, businesses can navigate the new normal with confidence, ensuring both their employees’ well-being and their own continued success.

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