A good working-from-home book… finally

One of the most appealing little occupational health and safety (OHS) crossed my desk the other day. It is a small, cheap book called “Work Well From Home – Staying Effective in the Age of Remote and Hybrid Working“. Although this updated edition was published in 2023, its appeal is that it is a reissue from 2005 when the advice is largely pre-COVID, pre-broadband service, pre-Zoom, and pre- lots of issues that now seem to complicate working from home.

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Purposeful or lazy discussion of Right-To-Disconnect and Working-From-Home?

There is a curious development in the current discussion in Australia about the newly introduced Right-To-Disconnect (RTD). Many are conflating RTD with Working From Home (WFH) – two separate but slightly overlapping changes to the world of work – which is impeding valid and necessary discussion.

Working From Home largely emerged as a response to the coronavirus pandemic and used flimsy work structures to provide business continuity. The WFH arrangements would have been unlikely to have been so widespread without the federal government’s investment in the National Broadband Network and the commercial growth in mobile phone communication infrastructure. However, that same infrastructure and investment have contributed to the problem that Right-To-Disconnect is intended to address.

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Work From Home conflict between corporate desire and worker reality

The working-from-home (WFH) debate continues in business newspapers with tension about what the employer and worker want. The Australian Financial Review (AFR) has its regular voices from business groups saying that it is damaging productivity for workers to be away from the offices as much as they are, but also reporting the lived experience of working from home with workers identifying positive social and familial benefits.

On November 25, 2023, the newspaper confirmed that Amazon Australia is using career progression as a nudge for workers to come to the offices more frequently.

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Politics can mask OHS

The push for workers to return to offices for the majority of their working hours or full-time continues but is one step forward and two back, or vice versa. This is partly due to mixed mainstream and online media messages from conflicting and confusing sources. This is not helpful when one is trying to make a decision on the best available evidence.

A recent example was in the Australian Financial Review (AFR) on November 22, 2023 (paywalled). A commercial real estate services provider CBRE, has released quarterly figures that say workplaces in Melbourne are “only a little over half-occupied on average”. According to Tom Broderick of CBRE:

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The OHS of Working from Home remains problematic

When Australia harmonised its occupational health and safety (OHS) laws, the management focus broadened to include work, and not just workplaces.  Some “knowledge” or white-collar work can be done anywhere, and employers have often struggled to understand how to extend their OHS management systems and duties to apply to this revised or expanded system of work. Current OHS guidance on working from home is too “big picture” when employers are addressing localised decisions.

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Emerging workplace hazards that have been around for a long time

Psychological safety at work is often referred to as a recent phenomenon or as an emerging risk. The hazard has captured people’s attention in Australia primarily because of a “mental health tsunami” that many relate to the COVID-19 pandemic, lockdowns and so forth.

WorkSafe Victoria released guidance on workplace bullying and occupational violence in the late 1990s and early 2000s. And in 2006 advised this in one of its office safety publications:

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Psychosocial risks may need a new type of activism

Excessive working hours are a known occupational health and safety (OHS) hazard, both physically and psychologically. But when the excessive, excessive? When do these excessive hours start to create harm?

A recent article by the Centre for Work Health and Safety clarifies, confuses and may startle.

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