17.04.2020 : Bruce Campbell

Looking after your health and safety

When the New Zealand Government made the bold decision to move to Alert Level Four on 25 March in their strategy to combat COVID-19, we all had to quickly adjust to a new way of working. But what exactly is working differently?  

For most of us it’s meant adjusting to working from home in our bubble with family or friends. We’re no longer sitting in an office at our ergonomically configured workstations with our adjustable seats, separate keyboards and mouse, and our monitors of varying sizes and resolution; all of which support a healthy work environment. Instead, for many it has meant working from the kitchen table or the spare room, shuffling children’s toys to one side and negotiating attention with family pets.   

The process and experience is of course unique for everyone. Some people will be much more used to working from home than others, some more comfortable and others not, and we will all be approaching our own new situations in different ways.   

What is in common though, is that our daily face-to-face interactions with our teams and colleagues have changed and, regardless of how many people are in our bubbles, some may find this enforced isolation stressful. In particular, those living alone will be much more likely to feel lonely. And for some, the perception of being forced to stay at home will increase the need to be outside, often to an even greater degree than before.  

With the Government’s 16 April announcement on what life will be like under level three restrictions (at the time of writing, we still don’t know when the level change itself will take place), it appears that the majority of us will be continuing our stay-at-home bubble experience. Some schools will likely stay closed for a while longer, and although some businesses will be able to re-open, they will need to be able to demonstrate their ability to do so safely and with all necessary distancing and hygiene practices in place. 

So where does that take us?  Basically, for most of us it means making the most of our bubbles for the foreseeable future. 

How to make the most of our new working environment 

There are no golden rules for this extraordinary new environment, however there are a few things we can all do to try and make the most of our new situations. 

1. There’s no place like home 

When it comes to working from home, as far as possible set up your home workstation - your desk/table, chair, screen or screens and of course peripherals, as they would be in the office. WorkSafe NZ have some useful information on their website and there is some COVID-19 specific guidance on just how to do this, on the UK Health and Safety Executive’s webpage

2. Stay connected 

Keep in touch with your team - stay connected and ask how people are doing. We’re talking physical isolation, not social isolation! Have daily team check-ins and consider setting up a team WhatsApp or Yammer page to share and collaborate. Remember it’s vital to retain a sense of humour and have a laugh together. We have fun dressing up for some of our online meetings! 

3. Find the fun in flexibility 

Working from home can allow a more flexible approach to work (especially if you’re juggling children) and it can be tempting to work non-stop. Remember, that however you manage your time, be sure to build in breaks and move completely away from your workspace. Go for a walk, get some fresh air – it’s great for your wellbeing and you’ll come back refreshed.  

Preparing for what comes next 

Ok, so you have your workstation all set up, you’re keeping engaged and connected, and in amongst it all you’ve found a work/life balance that perhaps wasn’t even possible before the lockdown – great!  But now what?  

While it’s still impossible to predict exactly when the lockdown will end, we now have a much better idea of what the transition from one Alert Level Four to Alert Level Three will look like.  In time, we will need to consider the process for migrating ourselves back into our traditional offices and working environments entirely. And so, have you considered what action to take once the lock down is over, or at least, when we transition down to a more “normal” Level Two?  

If you borrowed equipment from your office, for instance chairs, monitors and so forth, how are you going to return them? You may need to reset your workstation. Will you need help to do that?  

First days back at work after a long break are commonly associated with an increase in workplace incidents and accidents. Consider organising pre-start briefings to remind your teams of normal health and safety protocols.  

How will your office or workplace ensure safe physical distancing and cleanliness, with everyone likely to be hyper-vigilant post lock down?  It’s never too early to begin preparations!  

Amplifying the advantages 

Finally - a philosophical question! What if the situation during lock down becomes the new reality? Could it be that working from home will become the “new normal”?  

Consider this, businesses could see advantages in home working, for example reduced overhead costs, even if they provide necessary furniture and equipment at employees’ homes. There are many possible advantages for employees as well, such as more quality time with family, less time in traffic, the chance to take the dog for a walk at lunchtime, and a better work/life balance.   

Of course, it is not without its challenges and some people will prefer to work in the office, others from home, it will be different for everyone and I certainly don’t have all the answers.  But one thing is for sure, we have all had to adapt the way we work, behave and cooperate, and we have all achieved this amazingly well and in a quick timeframe.  

Call to action:

Find out more here, on ways the Health and Safety team at Beca has been supporting the physical and mental wellbeing of our people and clients, as we navigate the biggest challenge of a generation. 

About the Author

Bruce Campbell

Senior Associate - Health & Safety (& Environment)

Bruce has over 30 years of experience in health and safety.  He is also an Environmental Health Officer and it was that profession that sparked his interest in occupational health.  Asbestos has been a frequent challenge throughout his career, and in some very diverse environments across Europe, Central America, The South Atlantic and now here in New Zealand.  His current work involves both internal services to Beca and consultancy services to a number of clients.

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