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COVID-19 represents unprecedented challenges for the entire community. Much of Australia’s commercial sector has voluntarily deployed strategies to support social distancing ahead of any lock downs. Businesses are working to safely maintain operations and a productive workforce throughout social isolation/distancing for an unknown duration. Yet uncertainty, ambiguity and radical change are breeding grounds for anxiety, stress and helplessness. Conditions that contradict safe mental health practices for work. The Australian perspective includes the cumulative stressors of the bushfires, torrential rains and floods. Each of these stressors was an environmental stressor. But people and businesses knew what to do. The newest cumulative stressor is remote work becoming the norm. Workplaces have often had a mediating effect as a point of social interaction. Legally mandated safe spaces that people could connect and be productive within. There is much research on the connection between social isolation and loneliness. Organisations need to support workers in maintaining social connections, team cohesion and productivity throughout these times. This paper will explore the health and safety legal obligations that apply in this context and outline a practical framework for organisations to contribute to and reinforce a positive state of mental health during the mass remote work experiment.
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