Even Virtual Offices Need Real Workplace Safety Policies

Wherever your team members are working, they need the same protections as they would have at their desk.

learn more about Peylina Chu

By Peylina Chu

andreakoontz | Foap.com

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Workers today are calling the shots. They can work from home, at Starbucks, on the tech bus or, dare I say, even at their desk. Employers are faced with different predicaments in each of those workplace scenarios, with safety right up there in terms of concerns. With all the workplace options employees are expecting today, it might seem daunting to create a workplace that encourages and nurtures safety. But virtual worker safety doesn't mean employers should restrict workplace options – they should embrace them.

Here are three keys you need to understand to keep your virtual workforce safe.

1. Identify risks.

Your employees need to be safe regardless of their location, whether they are working from home, in the office or commuting on a tech bus. Technology companies of all shapes and sizes may not be aware that it is their legal obligation to ensure employee safety wherever they are working. All companies must have policies in place that address varying risks, including ergonomics and other work-related injuries, as well as keep pace with ever-changing global environment, health and safety (EHS) regulations that differ from region to region on a global scale.

For years, the technology industry has been experiencing rapid growth that has necessitated expanding the workforce outside the confines of typical one-building offices. This is evidenced by the highly flexible (or often lacking) work from home policies by industry giants like Google, Facebook and HP, as well as startups like Airbnb and Foursquare, and reflects the rapidly growing size of companies and the need for a diverse and spread-out campus.

Failing to preemptively defend against EHS threats can result in companies facing personal-injury lawsuits and regulatory infractions that could cut into the bottom line. Most importantly, it perpetuates a laissez faire culture of ill preparedness and reactivity to risks that should be proactively avoided before growing into widespread HR issues.

On the surface, these costs may appear less serious as companies assume compensation insurance will protect them, but that is far from the total cost. Administrative expenses, medical costs, wage and productivity losses, uninsured costs and other impacts on the company total to billons of dollars per year on a national level across industries. The fast-growing companies that have yet to cement EHS standards for their virtual workers are being hit hardest.

The hidden cost to a company's brand and reputation when recruiting new employees may be even higher, if a company is perceived to have a laissez faire attitude around employee safety. To avoid this, it's important to look at what risks can be planned for.

Related: 7 Steps to Keep Employees Safe In The Workplace

2. Develop and implement procedures.

To begin combating the risks to your virtual workforce, it's important to identify and understand not only the risks for virtual workers, but also issues plaguing in-office employees. These concerns can stem from poor workstation ergonomics, lack of safety training, or improper equipment to complete assigned tasks.

Whether its workers' hands developing stress fractures after using equipment incorrectly for years, or slipping a disc while exiting a tech bus en route to HQ, identifying these risks and issues allows you to step back, look at trends and develop solutions. With a better understanding of issues at hand, you'll be able to prioritize fixes based on the widest-spreading, most damaging concerns plaguing the overall workforce.

Sometimes, these risks are resolved by simple fixes. Drafting policies to ensure proper and standardized equipment is installed in all home offices can help prevent ergonomic or soft tissue injury concerns. Requiring safety training for all employees is an integral tool for lessening EHS risks across virtual and in-office teams.

Related: 6 Ways to Improve Workplace Safety Without Going Broke

3. Nurture a culture of safety.

Though policy and training alone are useful methods in protecting virtual workers, a company must achieve awareness at all levels, from virtual workers all the way up to the CEO, to create a culture of safety. Not only does this alleviate risks before they blossom into legal concerns, but it also perpetuates a focus on safety that feeds back into business goals, not least attracting and retaining top technology talent.

Part of creating this culture is to have an open dialogue with your employees, understanding their needs and staying attuned to concerns as they arise. Assign a trusted and experienced partner who is completely up to date on all regulatory mandates and industry-specific risks to help make sure all EHS measures are properly implemented and people are actually able to flourish at work.

Showing awareness and responsiveness to the growing pains that come from an expanding business helps build out a culture of safety and allows companies to grow at their own pace and create a culture that's truly their own.

Related: 7 Computer Keyboards That Broke the Mold

Peylina Chu

Senior Consultant at Antea Group

Peylina Chu is a chemical engineer with over 20 years of experience in the EHS, sustainability and management consulting business at Antea Group and is a senior consultant to technology clients. She helps manage the business aspects of EHS for clients to be able to drive sustainable growth for the future.

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