As a significant number of employees left their offices for the foreseeable future – taking their work laptops and mobile devices with them at the end of March – many workforces are still yet to return to their company’s physical headquarters.
The global crisis has challenged employers to tackle immediate issues relating to home working – including internet access, accessibility to equipment, risk assessments, and ways of working – and there is now a real consideration for many leaders as to whether to continue in this same vein or get people back into the office.
Long-term home working does bring some challenges that many employers and companies may not have come across before – and are acting upon following employee feedback. But the fact remains the same that managing remote workers requires a different set of leadership skills – all of which provides a few more potential hurdles when supervising and managing teams.
ESPHR has embraced home working for over seven years now and has learned, from experience, that remote working presents opportunities as well as challenges to face head-on. As a remote worker and manager myself, here are some of my top tips for employers to think about if a return to the office may potentially become a ‘thing of the past’ for their businesses…
Leaders are used to managing staff in the office. While there are some formal meetings, appraisals and key touch points required during the working day, a lot of management takes place ‘informally’. Managers can hear discussions between employees, join conversations naturally and deal with any concerns immediately – should they arise.
However, that does tend to become more difficult when your workforce operates from home and there are fewer ‘water cooler’ moments. Organisations perhaps might not realise the amount of ‘unconscious management’ that takes place within the business – or its vital function in terms of leadership and communication.
Managers must now think carefully and make a real effort to ‘check in’ with people via a variety of methods. Formal conversations may need to increase, however, so do informal discussions. For example, instead of a call to chat about business, could managers look at more of a ‘how are you?’ style check-in to help build relationships?
Even if it is only for a few moments, making time to have a debrief with colleagues can prove to be vital in terms of making employees feel less isolated and more like they are part of a team. Therefore, regular communication via email/WhatsApp or internal instant messaging are perhaps channels for organisations to consider – if preferred.
Some roles lend themselves easily to home working. Solicitors, accountants, and some IT roles for example, all require employees to ‘time record’ the work they undertake during the day which is then billed to customers. Therefore, with technological advances, this level of recording can be completed with ease and speed regardless of the colleague’s location. The challenge that could arise is how to supervise while people work from home, where time recording systems are not ‘the norm’.
It is important for companies to consider how they oversee the tasks undertaken by staff and how they set out clear instructions as to what is expected of them during the day. For example, should employees block out their diaries for lunch so that colleagues know they are not contactable? Do they have to be reached by phone/email throughout the whole day? Communicating well for all concerned helps to breed a level of trust and autonomy.
Working hours – and availability – must be expressly agreed too and, just as in the office, if the employee needs time-off during the working day for appointments or to start/finish early, they should always still seek permission. A specific consideration must also be made as to what technology can help employers and employees continue to have visibility of the work being carried out – but it is vital not to ‘micro-manage’ teams.
Quite often, less experienced members of the team learn from listening to – and watching – senior employees. Can this same level of mentoring be made available even when they are at home? If the managers/trainers are away from the office, it is crucial for leaders and their teams to set out ways in which training and development can still take place.
Video conferencing is a great tool to assist in this – from hosting learning webinars to brainstorming ideas and holding customer meetings. Anyone who has responsibility for junior team members should always actively invite trainees onto those calls to listen and learn.
Additionally, can other software help with staff training? All these considerations have to be made, and reviewed, regularly to ensure junior members are receiving a good employee experience like everyone else.
An important part of the workplace has always been how the team develops and ensuring that colleagues learn from one another. Some employees may feel more productive when they work collaboratively, and – by sharing these experiences – this can help to shape the company’s values and strengths.
Traditionally, businesses may have tapped into ‘away days’ and have, therefore, had to be creative during lockdown as a result. However, that should not stop the virtual meet ups, and opportunities to build relationships and learn new skills.
Employers should be encouraged to speak to their teams about what they would like to do, involving them from the outset so that employees remain happy and motivated regardless of wherever in the world they might be.
Developing relationships, and making working from home a success, often relies on technology in today’s climate. Whether rolling-out regular video calls and instant messaging, creating online lunch catch ups or organising Fantasy Football leagues – all add to an overall experience that can help the move to longer-term remote models. For us, we have an ongoing Fantasy F1 competition and WhatsApp groups, as well as regular team catch ups via a variety of digital methods to keep building relationships and making sure no-one feels isolated.
Whatever suits the business operationally and whichever comms and development methods employees buy into, the crucial element employers must always remember is that they must keep communicating with their teams. Doing so will maintain motivation and productivity as workforces battle on throughout true times of flux together – no matter where they might be based.
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