8 Staff Meeting Safety Minute Topics for the Virtual Worker

I know you are looking for options when inevitably asked to supply content for your next virtual team meeting Safety Talk. I am here to help.

I find corporate staff meetings as tedious as everyone else. I once had a manager tell me I would be charged 25¢ for every minute I was late to the weekly hour-long meeting. I offered my manager $20 to get out of the meeting. It was rejected, but I was never asked for a quarter again.

Presumably, I am not alone in feeling most staff meetings are too long, bureaucratic, and held unnecessarily often. Of course, there are times getting the whole gang together has value. The existence of the weekly safety briefing, especially for a virtual team, is not one. When your team meets fifty times a year and requires a colleague to deliver the weekly banal reminder, you may feel your time has been absorbed into darkness. There are only so many hackneyed ways you can spin, “Don’t stand on your roller-chair to change the light bulb.”

The staff meeting ‘Safety Minute,’ by whatever friendly name it gets, always amuses me. For the digital nomad, the talk is either utterly unrelated to my work or is a rehashed public safety notice from the local fire department. Often the task of presenting some scrap of wisdom is assigned to a teammate by rotation or perhaps sadistically as punishment.

For those who are lucky enough to not have had this experience, I admire your existence.

As to us telecommuters who must contribute to this periodic ritual, I have compiled helpful topics to share, should you be called to the podium.

Safety Meeting Topic Ideas for the Virtual Worker

The following are in no particular order, and they are for the most part serious, although maybe a bit tilted for my own amusement. All fall into one or more categories, a Venn diagram of “Exercise,” “Mental Wellbeing,” and “Don’t Do Stupid Things.”

This are not meant as exhaustive nor as expert medical advice. These are topics of discussion and general advice. Riff with it.

Don’t Die at Your Desk, #1 – Stand Up

Everyone, stand up. Nobody wants a painful and all-to-real Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT).

This is your chance as designated leader to make the virtual meeting employ a physical activity. The DVT is a serious risk, particularly for desk-jockeys. Engage your virtual teammates by asking them to stand up and get circulation going in their legs. Amazingly, The DVT risk from sitting all day can be mitigated by not sitting continuously all day.

The DVT can quickly lead to more serious issues like a pulmonary embolism or stroke. These are bad.

The simple advice; stand while taking calls. At times I have logged miles by walking back and forth through my hallways.

Don’t Die at Your Desk, #2 – Move It

Exercise. That’s it. Advice on this is as plentiful and diverse as the people seeking it. What type of physical activity to pursue is less important than doing it, whatever “it” is. For the full-time office worker, remote or at the corporate cube-farm, being sedentary is unhealthy. Run, swim, walk, yoga, whatever you see doing, do it.

We have all had times where we dread going to the gym. One tip which may help carry you through the door is to build a system for success. For example, motivation can be enhanced by a pleasurable incentive system, like enjoying your coffee as a reward for a morning walk.

Scott Adams’ book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, has some great advice on building systems for success, while recognizing and leveraging the mistakes along the way.

For years I made a routine of practicing martial arts three days a week around lunch time. The activity was its own reward by being interactive, fun, social, and extremely physical. I felt recharged and ready to go back to work. There were times I despised the idea of going, but never regretted that I had.

The Substance of Addiction

Telecommuting can be a chance to heal or the straw that breaks you. One survey found being forced to work remotely against your preference to do so aggravated substance abuse. Conversely, being away from the corporate office affords an opportunity to seek help and treatment privately.

Virtual work from the home office may mean rarely leaving home. The Covid pandemic accentuated this isolation to extremes. To thrive, people need occasions to socialize, celebrate, communicate. The stress of loneliness, boredom, and loss may be dangerous conditions.

Finding pleasurable, social hobbies or activities outside the home may help. This is doubly powerful when the pursuits are combined with exercise. Consider dinner with friends versus dance lessons, for example.

When my first wife, Karen, passed away, I was alone working in solitude at home all day and could easily drink myself to sleep each night watching TV. My friends practically dragged me to visit for a meal each week. It quickly became an event to plan for, alternating homes, challenged to create a new dessert or dinner. It was a healing gesture and helped me recover my life.

Now remarried, Kally and I are looking at post-Covid hobbies. Golf lessons may be in our future. I will take a swing at it.

Don’t Die at Your Desk, #3 – Balance

Work-life balance is much touted as a benefit to telecommuting. There is a belief that working virtually is a stress-free gig. That is not always the case. Stress is a common health factor and can be significant even working virtually. It is not always clear working from home is the right choice.

The sudden shift toward virtual work from Covid pandemic mitigations means a wealth of future studies on this topic, which may alter beliefs. The common belief is a digital work life is a more balanced life. There are indications it may not be.

The questions to ask is, do your job requirements fit with your personality and environment? There is no one answer to the benefits, it requires self-evaluation.

My takeaways:

There are indications a digital nomad lifestyle works better as you age.
Telecommuting may be more beneficial to the employer if the employee is a workaholic.
A job, while able to be done remotely, may be less stressful when in a central office.
Schedules and focus requires self-discipline.

Since 2015 I have had multiple interactions with two types of virtual workers who genuinely loved their work-life balance. One was a traveling Notary Public service; the other was a Census surveyor. The people I met in these professions always commented on the joys and freedom of their work. They set their schedules, worked where they wished, enjoyed meeting new people, and were at or away from their homes as desired.

Naturally, I am biased to the virtual worker way of life. As a software developer it is an easy match. It gives me the opportunity to study marital arts, be a caretaker for my family in times of need, allows spontaneous creativity at work, and I can travel as a digital nomad. Your mileage may vary.

Don’t Die at Your Desk, #4 – Stressing the Point

Apparently, it cannot be stressed enough that stress can kill. Here are signs of an imminent heart attack.

  • Chest pain or discomfort.
  • Feeling weak, light-headed, or faint.
  • Pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck, or back.
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms or shoulders.
  • Shortness of breath.

Working remotely often means working alone. Be aware of how you are feeling. Knowing signs of a heart attack serves as an example for the larger issue of just being aware of your health in general.

Beyond stress, self-awareness is important. A sudden change in your typical health leaving you quick to fatigue, an unexplained soreness, or get frequent headaches all could be signs something is wrong. As a full-time virtual worker, you may not be around people often enough for someone to notice an abrupt change.

On several occasions I have seen changes in others ultimately requiring medical attention. A sore limb, a wet feeling in the breast, an odd change in personality all lead to long-term care. None were chest-clutching cardiac events.

Pet Patience

Cats and dogs have rapacious nature to eat things not classified as food. Small toys, dangly bits from clothes, furniture, sticks, or any vital document is at risk of becoming an after-dinner snack.

Dogs and cats have similar, but not identical, signs of intestinal blockage. Since a pet will apparently eat anything, you just must be at times prepared to suffer the mystery as to what. Your number-one sign, and pet-produced clue to the solution is vomiting. Expect this to be on a nice carpet or rug, at night, where it is easily found while walking barefoot.

Kally and I have two cats Nigel and Nikita. Nigel likes to eat, and while a bit overweight, he has stayed mostly in actual food groups. Nikita, however, is still a kitten and finds random objects as irresistible treats. This leads to the inevitable expulsion of kitten consumed contents.

Recently she discovered the silicone cord-ties on my USB cables. Soft, chewy, durable, and now missing. So far, no harm has come of it except to our carpets and cord ties. While writing this I caught her tearing at a foam yoga-roller five times her size. Her persistence gnaws on me.

The Chairman has the Floor

You have likely been told to use a ladder not a chair for objects out of reach. This is a reminder. Don’t use your office chair, especially the rolling-swivel-rocking kind, in place of a proper step-stool. Everyone has, no one should, and will probably do so again. The warning and danger are as persistent as gravity and our negligence.

Beyond the obvious injuries from poor choices, there are at-home work booboos to be ware. Consider tripping hazards, loose handrails or flooring, dangling cords, kids toys, and pets as an unmapped minefield waiting for discovery.

Mental health is of importance when working in isolation common of telecommuters. Depression can leave you unable to engage in proper self-care.  Anxiety can leave you fearful to act in your own best interests.

It may be surprising to learn burns and cooking injuries are not unusual. Check your smoke and CO2 alarms and fire extinguishers on a yearly basis.

I lost count of the number of times I burned myself filling my tea cup from my electric kettle. Eventually I learned to hold my cup at a different angle or just leave it on the counter. No kidding, dozens of times I held my cup in such a way that boiling water would splash on my hand. I think it fell in the same category as standing on a chair.

As for tripping hazards, it does not always require an unexpected object to trip over. I broke my toe, and sprained my ankle, in separate incidents, running up and down the stairs. Both times I was rushing to answer the door while in a work meeting. And no, I did not claim workers compensation.

From the Comfort of Your Home

Whether working from a home office, hotel room, beach chair, or back porch, be mindful of the physical arrangements.

If you often work from home, invest in a proper ergonomic setting. Second-hand stores are a great source if cost is an issue. For example, a good craftsman will invest in the best tools they can afford, which does not always mean costly. If you are a virtual worker, your workspace is your toolbox. Fill it wisely.

Thirty years ago, I injured my back while moving a large lid on a sewage tank. I reinjure easily now. Last winter after reminding myself of this, I spent more than a month working from bed as I recovered. Pillows are invaluable, supplying support for the knees, back, and elbows. I also worked from an RV for almost two years and made good use of an articulated monitor stand. I try to plan ahead when traveling, researching what I will have available and what I may need to bring in order to be comfortably supported. It pays to have your own back.