Covid-19: Risks of Working from Home

October 15, 2021

The desire to work from home has been quite high up on the wish list of many employees for a number of years, so when the Covid-19 lockdown accelerated the decision taken by most companies to work remotely, it was a rare silver lining in an otherwise traumatic lockdown experience.

“The grass is always greener on the other side” comes to mind in this regard as the initial working from home bonanza starts to lose some of its sparkle.

Some advantages of working from home for both employee and employer are:

  • More autonomy in structuring your work day.
  • Elimination of ‘preferential’ treatment of customers i.e. the previous face to face meetings for local customers and remote meetings with geographically distant customers.
  • Less time commuting, or zero commuting time if permanently working from home.
  • Flexibility to take care of appointments and personal business.
  • If working in a separate office or quiet environment – less interruptions or noise and improved focus.
  • Access to employing a wider selection of new employees without being hampered by geographic location.

Some disadvantages for both employee and employer are:

  • No distinct separation between work and personal time.
  • If working in a shared space such as a dining room, there might be too many distractions.
  • Increased cost of equipment as shared equipment now needs to be provided to each person.
  • Feeling socially isolated can lead to some staff not feeling part of the team.
  • Possible technical problems with WiFi connections and power cuts.
  • Potential mental health issues regarding lack of social interaction or loss of identity.
  • Physical health issues such as back/neck pain and increased stress.

The laws related to working from home may not be fully understood and do need to be discussed particularly if employment contracts need to be amended. An employer’s obligation under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) must consider the health and safety of staff that are working outside of the normal workplace and this will include working from home. How does a company go about ensuring a safe and healthy working environment in each person’s home?

In terms of the Labour Relations Act (LRA) an employee’s dining room table (or home) is not considered a “workplace” as it is not an independent location or operation where workers perform as a collective. According to this interpretation an employer cannot actually enforce the workplace rules on employees working from home. This is where common sense, logic and reason must be applied.

Ultimately, the responsibility for their own health and safety lies with the remote employee. The employer can assist with identifying potential hazards and advising appropriate control measures, including such things as the provision of a suitable chair and chair/desk/monitor configuration wherever logistically possible.

Currently, with the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPIA) being in effect the implications of data loss and other cyber security breaches could have additional consequences for the “working from home” business. During the Covid-19 lockdowns, and with many employees working remotely compliance with POPIA has become even more important – it is not worth risking a maximum fine of R10 million or up to 10 year’s imprisonment. And consideration needs to go beyond just the risk to data privacy. Cyber-attacks are on the increase. The National Security Institute in the USA has estimated that in 2021, a ransomware attack will occur every 11 seconds globally. Remote working has considerably magnified the potential attack plane and has even opened well protected networks to increased vulnerability.

Reputational risk has always been a critically important organisational risk, but with the rising number of employees working from home and the resultant increase in social media activity with searches for news, advice and more social interaction, it has become even more vital Unfortunately, social media allows people to offer their opinions without much thought going into it and if these opinions mention your company name or can be linked back to your company name then your reputation is most certainly threatened.

On a lighter note these are a few of the funnier aspects of working from home:

  • “You’re on mute” has become one of the most spoken phrases while in online meetings.
  • Trying as many innovative ways as possible to warn your family that you are on a video call.
  • Pets have no respect for online meetings.
  • Now it’s finally time for the introverts to shine.

Author – Warrick Asher, October 2021.