By Louise McCosh

ALTHOUGH many workplaces will soon open back up, a significant proportion of employers plan to move to a hybrid working model when they are able to so.

It is a move that puts presenteeism under the spotlight for home workers. What impact will this have on your business, and what are the practical steps you can take to support employees and ensure your business continues to thrive?

So what is remote presenteeism? Sickness presenteeism is something you may have heard of before. It refers to employees who come to work despite being unfit to do so due to sickness. For those working at home, remote presenteeism simply refers to employees continuing to open the laptop and work when they aren’t well enough to do so.

Productivity reduces when an employee is sick yet continues to work. Some studies have shown this productivity drop-off to be as great as 50 per cent, along with the quality of that work being vastly reduced when compared to normal standards.

Presenteeism also lengthens recovery time. Rather than taking the dedicated time to rest and recover, the body is having to try to function as normal whilst also fighting off an infection. So rather than someone being off for a few days, they are still logging on but their performance is 50% lower than usual for the whole week.

There are three key steps for managing remote presenteeism:

* Vigilance: Remote working makes this difficult but as a manager, look out for the signs of someone being unwell. This can be someone saying during a call that they aren’t feeling great, or a reliable person not completing a task as expected. Once you’ve identified that something isn’t quite right, have a conversation with the person and remind them that remote workers still get sick.

* Mental health awareness: Remote working can have a big impact on an employee’s mental wellbeing. It’s often easier to tell if someone is physically sick than when they’re struggling with their mental health. Try to check in with employees as regularly as possible – use it as a social call, get a general update on their life, but also ask how they’re coping. If you identify there are any issues, you can explore how to best support the employee.

* Policy still applies: Remind your staff that the absence policy still applies to those working remotely. You can do this via email, the staff intranet, or even over a video call. As always, the policy shouldn’t be taken advantage of and should only be used by those who are genuinely sick. When an employee isn’t feeling 100% they should ask themselves “would I go into the office?” and if the answer is no then they shouldn’t be switching on the laptop.

It’s important to be aware of remote presenteeism and the impact this can have on your business. Open communication with staff as a whole and on an individual level is the most important way of tackling this all too common “workplace” issue.

Louise McCosh is HR Director at business consultancy firm French Duncan