“Telework is no fashion trend, but an evolution of digital working”

In her opinion piece of 4 October on the Bloovi website, Stéphanie Ouachan, CEO of Striktly Business Software, delivers a fiery sermon on why she does not believe in the added value of working from home for her staff. This perspective goes against the dominant view: during the COVID-19 pandemic, many organisations either reluctantly or enthusiastically embraced teleworking. The obligation to work from home is no longer required, but lots of organisations continue to offer a combination of teleworking and in-office work – referred to as hybrid working.

It is perfectly possible that, for some companies, ‘no working from home’ is best for their organisation and their employees. Striktly conducted an internal study, which formed a solid basis for arguing that it is best for them that teleworking remains the exception. But we have to be careful that the findings on mandatory COVID-19-related teleworking are not interpreted on a par with working from home under ‘normal’ circumstances.

In other words, it is not a matter of being for or against teleworking that inspired me to take up my pen, but a passage in the opinion piece by Stéphanie Ouachan:

Working from home is at complete odds with the obligations imposed by such prevention advisers as Mensura and Mediwet. We are required to have a burnout prevention policy, but how can you fulfil this requirement if you rarely or never see your employees?

I do not agree with the first sentence, but the second one deserves a few comments. Let me start by saying that, as prevention advisers, we evolve along with the changes that occur in the workplace. Safety and prevention are as important as ever for those who are not working within the brick and mortar walls of the company. That is why we also advocate a participatory process when developing a teleworking policy that enables employees to help decide what is acceptable and what is not. No motivated employee wants to stay away (permanently) from the physical workplace. But working from home offers many employees the opportunity to achieve a better and more meaningful balance between their work and their personal life.

Stéphanie Ouachan brings up a very pertinent matter when she mentions the psychosocial risks faced by teleworkers. The physical distance between manager and employee essentially makes it more difficult to pick up on signs that something is not as it should be. Or to find out whether an employee is struggling in any way through an informal chat. It is therefore essential that the organisation develops a crystal-clear vision. This is the only way to ensure that employees still feel a sense of connection with the organisation. In cases where this was problematic, the obligation to work from home full-time at the height of the coronavirus crisis was a veritable breeding ground for ‘team-out’, or losing that sense of connection with the team.

But there is no reason to throw the baby out with the bath water. For most employers, the perfect balance of home and office work is not an all-or-nothing proposition. Too much teleworking will definitely undermine well-being, which many a ‘Covid teleworker’ has unfortunately experienced personally. But when dosed properly, teleworking can actually increase well-being. This is not a subjective belief, but scientifically proven.

A good teleworking policy is always customised and tailored to the individual character of the company and its specific activities. Developing a different type of dialogue culture is perfectly feasible by alternating between working from home for focus tasks and in-office work which focuses on dialogue and connection with colleagues. For some employees, a form of stress prevention can be achieved through, for example, offering more leeway in getting children to and from school or being productive at the dining room table instead of stressing in morning rush hour.

Working from home is not good or bad in itself. It is an evolution in the organisation of work and provided there are clear agreements, a good framework and follow-up, it does not have to negatively impact productivity, stress factors or connectedness among colleagues. The psychosocial prevention plan can provide good guidelines for incorporating sufficient warning lights into the dashboard. Are there enough formal and informal dialogue opportunities? Is management familiar with the types of signals they should be looking for in order to identify psychosocial problems on time? Do we have a culture of trust in which employees dare to be vulnerable to their superiors without fearing the consequences?

As long as autonomy and a sense of connection are safeguarded, working from home does not need to be an obstacle for collegiality, loyalty or commitment.

Koen Van Hulst, Head of Psychosocial Aspects at Mensura

Do you want to work safely and remain healthy during corona times?

You’ll find frequently asked questions with their answers, helpful resources and other support for a safe return to the office on mensura.be/en/corona-at-work.

Consider the well-being of teleworkers as well

Explore Mensura’s teleworking offer to structurally improve the wellbeing of your employees while they are teleworking or working from home. During this online training course, you’ll find out how to make teleworking a success in 8 steps.