As we move through the COVID-19 pandemic, employers should continue to enable and support their staff to work from home wherever possible, as per PHE guidance.
Enabling home working is one way employers can reduce the risk of infection to their wider workforce and patients while maintaining core functions. Home working should also be utilised to support staff from ‘at-risk’ groups to continue working while minimising social contact.
Many administrative functions will continue to be suitable for home working, as well as some primary care and outpatient-facing roles, which may be able to carry on undertaking clinical consultations remotely. Organisations should still work with managers, trade unions, occupational health, and health and safety teams to identify specific roles or tasks which are suitable for home working. Employers may consider redeploying staff from ‘at-risk’ groups to work in roles which are more suitable for home working than their substantive role.
Employers still have a duty of care to employees when working from home, including ensuring appropriate health and safety arrangements. However, the usual health and safety assessments may be impractical at short notice so, in the absence of this, employers should provide employees with detailed guidance and advice. The Health and Safety Executive provides guidance on risk assessments for home workers, including a checklist for display screen equipment.
Where possible, employees should have suitable equipment and a dedicated work space if working from home, including:
- IT equipment to enable them to undertake elements of their role, the organisation should provide this where possible
- software which enables remote working, for example including video calls or collaborative document editing
- a space which is suitable for the work they need to undertake, including furniture and a quiet confidential space if speaking to patients or colleagues.
Due to the exceptional circumstances the NHS is working under, the ideal setup may not be practicable at short notice. Organisations should still enable employees to work from home even in these situations.
Line managers should agree the flexibility of working hours and availability of staff working at home, taking into account each person's individual personal circumstances including caring or childcare responsibilities.
Supporting employees' wellbeing when working from home
To support the wellbeing of employees who are working from home, employers should:
- ensure line managers maintain regular contact and communication with their teams, through phone calls or virtual meetings
- encourage line managers to discuss the caring or childcare responsibilities of employees and adapt the duties and/or working hours of home workers to accommodate these
- provide home workers with regular updates and communications in line with the rest of the workforce, for example through staff newsletters or enabling dial-in for all staff briefings
- give employees information about the support available to them during their period of time working from home.
It is also helpful to provide support and tips on what staff can do to maintain their own wellbeing while working from home, including considering:
- establishing a routine, including a start and end time to your work, as agreed with your manager
- discussing home working arrangements with family or the other people you live with and try to establish boundaries so you can work uninterrupted
- maintaining a healthy lifestyle, good nutrition and plenty of sleep
- taking a lunch break
- staying connected with other colleagues
- taking regular breaks throughout the day to get away from your screen/desk
- staying active, either by taking a walk (if not self-isolated) or doing simple stretches and exercise at home.
Guidance for managers - supporting remote workers
Adjusting to homeworking may be a challenge for many managers and employees, particularly if they're used to working together face-to-face. This guidance is for managers and looks at the people management aspects of supporting remote workers and maintaining an effective working relationship.
1. Maintain regular contact - managers should check in regularly with employees and their teams through phone calls or virtual meetings.
2. Set clear expectations - make sure that everyone working from home knows what is expected of them. This should include agreeing when employees will be available to work, how they will keep in touch, how performance will be managed, and who they should contact if they have any problems.
3. Provide regular updates - staff working remotely with need regular updates and communications in line with the rest of the workforce, for example, through staff newsletters or virtual all-staff briefings.
4. Use video calling as much as possible – video technology helps to maintain face-to-face contact with colleagues, this is an important part of how we relate to others.
5. Be flexible about when work is done - allow staff to work in the most productive way for them and the team, which may enable people to undertake both work and caring commitments.
6. Have longer one to one meetings - people at home can miss having a daily chat with colleagues and feel they are missing out on what is happening at work. Make up for it by setting aside more time for them to catch up.
7. Make time for non-work conversations – just as you would usually do in the workplace.
8. Be mindful of staff feeling isolated, lonely or experiencing a lack of team camaraderie - encourage team get-togethers and frequent interaction via face-to-face technology to build trust and rapport.
9. Talk about how work-life balance is managed - remote working can risk blurring the line between work life and home life, be mindful of this, be clear about expectations and refer to guidance on supporting employees to manage their health and wellbeing.
10. Use our toolkit on people performance management – it provides practical support and helps you develop the skills needed to deal with key management situations.
Further guidance is available from ACAS and CIPD (see external links).
Supporting staff suffering domestic abuse or violence
Some members of staff may be at greater risk of suffering domestic abuse or violence due to home working or household self-isolation. Domestic abuse can affect anyone regardless of age, disability, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, occupation, religion or social status, including our NHS staff. NHS organisations should recognise the serious adverse effects that domestic abuse or violence can have both on the home and working lives of staff.
Domestic abuse or domestic violence, is defined as any incident of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members, regardless of their gender or sexuality.
It should be noted that domestic abuse or violence happens to both men and women. Research shows women are more likely to suffer more serious injury and ongoing assaults than men. However, it should be acknowledged that men can experience domestic abuse from their female partner and that domestic abuse also occurs in same-sex relationships.
It is believed both men and women are particularly at risk of honour-based abuse or forced marriage during this period. Disabled women are twice as likely to suffer domestic abuse than non-disabled women.
Employers have a duty of care to the people they employ and legal obligation to assess any risk and support the health and safety of their employees. NHS organisations should already have a clear pathway for staff at risk of domestic violence to confidentially seek support. In addition, employers could also explore the use of hotel accommodation for those who are at risk or worried about domestic violence or signpost to refuge support services providing temporary accommodation for those fleeing abuse.
On 18 May, NHS England and NHS Improvement issued a reminder of advice for NHS staff to key clinicians and system leaders on domestic abuse during COVID-19, written by Kate Davies, director of health and justice of the Armed Forces and Sexual Assault Referral Centres, together with Kenny Gibson, head of safeguarding.
Line managers should seek to support staff by discussing individual circumstances so appropriate support and actions can be taken accordingly. It is important to remember the staff member knows their personal circumstances better than anyone, so it is important to respect their wishes and do what you can to support them.
If someone reports that they (or their children) are being abused, it is important to believe them. Don’t question them, take immediate (but appropriate) action.
How to pick up on cues from staff who may be experiencing domestic violence
Supporting staff with this issue is sensitive and complex in the workplace and can become trickier for managers when staff are isolating and working from home. It's important that line managers are regularly checking in with their staff and pick up on any cues such as:
- a change in behaviour
- not dialling into meetings (telephone or virtual) when expected to do so
- not using the visual aids when in the meeting
- seeming withdrawn
- acting irritably.
If you are concerned about a colleague suffering either physical (sexual), financial, or psychological abuse, we encourage you to approach yours or their line manager
Further support and guidance
Employers should ensure line managers are aware of the signs of domestic violence and signpost to available support including:
- If someone is in immediate danger, they should always call 999 in an emergency. If they are unable to speak while on the phone, they should use the ‘silent solution’ system by pressing 55 where the operator will transfer the call to the relevant police force.
- For information, help and support, call the free 24-hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline run by Refuge on 0808 2000 247 or visit www.nationalhelpline.org.uk if it is not safe to phone.
- COVID-19 Safety Advice for Survivors from Women’s Aid, including their survivor’s forum, live chat and email services.
- Rape Crisis resources for survivors of sexual violence.
- Men’s advice line on 0808 801 0327 for those males suffering domestic abuse or violence.
- National LGBT+ Domestic Abuse Helpline on 0800 999 5428.
- Save Lives for supporting disabled people at risk of domestic abuse.
- Karma Nirvana for supporting victims of honour-based abuse and forced marriage. The Honour Abuse Research Matrix (HARM) at University of Lancashire has developed guidance for employers on supporting staff at risk of honour abuse or other forms of domestic violence during COVID-19.
- Crown Prosecution Service for crime information and guidance on domestic abuse.
- Respect helpline on 0808 802 0321 for anyone worried about their own behaviour.
- Bright Sky free mobile app providing support and information for anyone who may be in an abusive relationship or those concerned about someone they know.
For further support, please see our guidance to support employers in developing a local domestic violence and abuse policy and additional sources of support for staff.
The NHS Staff Council’s Health, Safety and Wellbeing Partnership Group’s Dealing with domestic violence: first steps helps organisations take a step-by-step approach when looking at how they can support their staff who may be experiencing domestic violence.