Health Regulations for Home Office SpacesBy Miriam Bello | Wed, 07/07/2021 - 16:15
Traditional working models evolved during the COVID-19 pandemic, leading Mexico’s government to pass new labor laws that would allow companies to meet their workers’ needs. To discuss the effects of this reform and the impact of the shift in working modalities in employees’ mental and physical health, experts met during the webinar “Health Regulation for Home Office Spaces Inspiring a Thriving Culture,” held on July 7, 2021. The webinar was hosted by Mexico Business News and sponsored by Ergotron.
Recently, Mexico changed its Federal Labor Law to recognize home office, or teleworking, and regulate employers' responsibilities to employees who work from home, and vice versa. The reform aims to give workers a dignified job station that is compliant with NOM-036 to prevent ergonomic risks. Improved working conditions can also support the generation of formal employment, which helps both companies and workers. Formal labor in Mexico “is the only way to guarantee the health and safety of the employee,” said Héctor Marquez Pitol, President of the Mexican Association of Human Capital Companies.
Mexico has a significant problem in labor informality, which prevails across the country despite the pandemic. “Despite (informal employment) facing a severe disadvantage during the pandemic, we still can not combat it,” said Márquez Pitol. While some companies might fear the obligations that come with formal labor, Márquez Pitol explains that it creates a virtuous cycle that companies and the economy, especially during these troubled times. “Mexico has recovered more than 300,000 formal jobs but over 500,000 jobs have yet to be recovered, mainly in the construction, trade, extraction, services and tourism sectors,” said Márquez Pitol.
Mexican new law imposes several obligations to both employers and employees, including:
- Provide necessary working equipment
- Allow for the balance between personal and professional life through a gender perspective
- Provide a balanced labor relationship and a dignified working experience
- Provide training to guarantee education in the new home office technologies
- Using information and data correctly
- Respect working times
- Provide social security
- Take care of the equipment, materials and provided furniture
- Respond to data protection mechanisms and restrictions
- Comply with health and safety mechanisms proposed by the company
- Use the operational systems for the supervision of activities
Working from home is not necessarily a positive experience. Depending on the personal situation of the employee, the home office modality can be better or worse than working from an office, explained Valeria Rivera, General Director of Communication for Siemens Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. “It depends on their house environment and possibilities,” said Rivera. However, the trends that have been stablished up to this point will not necessarily continue in the new normal. “In a post-COVID-19 world, we will not have the same home office scenario; we will be able to interact with other people, which will also positively impact our mental health.”
In the new normal, employees have to face challenges old and new. Chief among them is bad posture, said Betsey Banker, Wellness and Ergonomics Ambassador of Ergotron. Whether at home or at the office, employees often lack ergonomic work stations that support neutral positions when working, explained Banker. Bad home or office furniture leads to bad posture. During the pandemic, people began working from their living room counters or couches, which are not made to support a daily workday with neutral posture. Integrating mobility into the working hours is essential, she explained, and can be easily done by encouraging employees to stand up or stretch. “One study revealed that 6 minutes of light activity was equivalent to 1 minute of intense exercise,” said Baker. Physical activity is associated with positive outcomes on employees’ health and productivity, she added.
Equipment can directly impact employee’s safety, comfort and productivity, according to Banker. She urged companies to improve workspaces at home or at the office through the following measures:
- Create a policy: set to provide adjustable equipment and identify the moments when employers can integrate mobility, which will make employees feel supported.
- Select equipment: choose standing desks and identify the times when employees can integrate movement while still being productive.
- Make an announcement: share the new policy with the employee, so they feel taken care of.
- Provide education so employees feel integrated and empowered to take care of themselves while working.
“To promote and active work style with movement and neutral postures is a great way to prioritize employee safety, comfort and productivity,” said Banker. She used Ergotron's furniture as an example of mobile, ergonomic desks, which can be found here.
Companies have a responsibility to monitor the physical and mental health of their collaborators. Due to the pandemic, the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare had to impose clear working conditions for employer and employees operating under a remote or presential modality. “NOM-035 regulated the psychosocial risks at work spaces to avoid mental traumas or that can damage employee development and general behaviors in life,” said Cointa Lagunes, Director of Standardization in Occupational Health and Safety of the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare.
By ensuring a mental and physical safe space for workers “we are taking care of their future health outcomes related to stress or anxiety,” said Lagunes. The Labor Law also veils for the ergonomic risks of the collaborator to prevent “the negative impacts in their musculoskeletal apparatus caused by bad posture, lack of mobility or abrupt mobility,” said Lagunes.
Investment to avoid health complications in employees almost immediately pays off, said Banker. “A study found that people experiencing daily back pain reported a significant improvement when then began using standing desks. By the end of the study, people reported pain-free days,” she added.
In the new normal, companies should trust and empower their employees. “We do not need to be next to employees to make sure they work. We must provide training to be able to function in this new environment,” said Rivera. Companies, however, have little time to prepare to meet the requirements of the new normal. “On August this year, the NOM to regulate home office will be formally published, which will grant 18 months for companies to align with it,” said Lagunes.