The majority (88 per cent) of Canadians employees say the coronavirus pandemic changed how they work in one or more ways, a percentage that increases among employees who work remotely (91 per cent) and those in a hybrid work arrangement (96 per cent), according to a survey conducted by RKI Inc. this spring.

The results support a view that work is evolving in fundamental ways. There’s a desire among many employees for greater flexibility, including — where possible — the opportunity for remote working. Technology hasn’t only accelerated digital business, but has also changed the characteristics of work duties.

Read: Survey finds employees seeking more control over workday through flexible hours, remote working

A hybrid work model can have a positive effect on employee health and productivity, but can also pose complications. With remote working comes the added dimension of each employee’s offsite work environment and the impact it has on their well-being. Regardless of whether a commute is involved, remote working can increase the frequency of disability claims as well as complicate recovery and the return to work.

Given this context, here are five considerations for group benefits plan sponsors:

1. Disability case managers need to understand claimants’ needs

Disability management professionals take into consideration that every claimant’s situation is unique and every workplace has a different impact on recovery. A broader understanding of capabilities and potential accommodations may require an increased reliance on assistive technologies, ergonomic equipment and modified work schedules.

2. Be vigilant about the mental health of employees who work at home or in a hybrid work arrangement

While the World Health Organization has declared the end of the pandemic, the social isolation that comes with remote working is still an issue for many employees. Although remote working has been normalized, it’s more important than ever for employers to proactively support employee mental health.

Read: 73% of employers increasing communications on mental-health, behavioural health offerings: survey

It can be more difficult to recognize when employees who work remotely are experiencing mental-health challenges. Finding purposeful ways for these employees to stay connected with co-workers, along with access to virtual counselling and stress and anxiety management resources, can support employees’ well-being and productivity. Employees also need to know where these tools and services are available and how to access them.

3. Ensure workplace safety programs are up to date

Since not all remote work is done at home, these programs may have to be developed for a broader application. Employers can engage employees in a dialogue about how to adapt existing workplace safety policies to accommodate a range of remote working environments.

4. Help employees create a dedicated workspace

The kitchen table may have worked during the pandemic, but it isn’t sustainable for the long term. Employees who haven’t created a comfortable and productive space for themselves in their homes may need help. Information on good ergonomic design and, in some cases, financial support, will pay off in the long run, similar to investments in onsite workplaces. But it isn’t just about money. Find out what employees need and help them design a space that works.

5. Communication matters even more

Frequent, consistent and open dialogue with disability claimants is a must regardless of where they’re at in their recovery journey. Employers need to make use of whatever mediums the employee is comfortable with, including texts, phone or video calls.

Disability management best practices are no different when it comes to remote working. With flexible work arrangements comes a greater need for an understanding of capabilities and job requirements. These additional measures will contribute to an organizations’ ability to unlock productivity gains enabled by remote working.

Read: Employers leveraging benefits, flexibility to prevent pandemic surge in disability claims