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Remote workers: out of sight but not out of mind

The trend towards remote working was already on the up before the Covid-19 pandemic took hold and put the UK, and countries around the world, into lockdown.

According to the Office for National StatisticsLabour Force Survey more than 1.54 million people worked from home for their main job in 2018. That figure was 884,000 in 2008. For some, remote working is nothing new.

But the speed and scale at which remote working has been forced upon employers has created a business continuity nightmare. And with the clear instruction to stay at home, employees have dispersed and are working through their own challenges that remote working creates.

Think ‘people’, not process

Employees – the greatest asset of any business – need more inspiration than ever right now. They are worried about the health and wellbeing of their families and themselves. They are concerned about their job, and what the future holds. But how will you know what they’re really thinking and feeling? What mechanisms and plans do you have in place to give your people a voice and help them to feel connected to the organisation and each other? Perhaps you or your managers are worried about productivity when employees are no longer visible? (A common concern that is often unfounded).

People are generally more productive when remote working, for several reasons; they feel the need to ‘prove’ how productive they are; they have fewer distractions (calls, meetings, chatter). Ultimately it comes down to trust: trust your employees to manage their time to get the job done.

In our last blog, we set out three practical steps that SMEs can take to protect and build a stronger brand for the future. This time, we’re highlighting three (because all good things come in threes) ways to make remote working work for you and your organisation.

  1. Routine

It’s important to have a routine that works for the individual. This may mean saying goodbye to the traditional 9am-5pm. Flexibility is key here, although working in the evening isn’t a good idea for everyone, employees should protect ‘their’ time as much as possible; encourage them to do so.

Likewise, with breaks. In the workplace, breaks happen naturally, when someone strikes up a conversation for example. Taking time out to have lunch with the family or getting some fresh air will help break up the day and reconnects us with life outside of work.

Getting the basics right can often be overlooked. Employees must be mindful of their posture whilst working, and make sure that they follow health and safety basics to prevent strain and injury. If you don’t already have your own health and safety guidance, you can refer to the Health & Safety Executive’s workstation checklist. 

  1. Systems

There are many productivity tools that businesses can use to help manage workflows, tasks and projects, keeping them visible to team members. At cofinitive, we use Monday.com to stay abreast of each other’s projects, and Zoom and Skype for our calls. Some of our clients are making the most of Microsoft Teams on Office 365. Slack, Toggl, Trello and Asana also have really good functionality. You can trial most of them for free, albeit with limited features, but at least you can compare and ditch the ones that don’t meet your needs.

Bear in mind that getting people to adopt a new system has its own challenges. Choose a system that is intuitive and be clear about why it’s going to help the business and individuals: focus on the benefits. Make sure that employees know how to use it and who/where they can go to for help.

  1. Engage your employees

In the words of HR industry analyst Josh Bersin, “Now is the time to listen more than talk”. We wholeheartedly agree. One of the four enablers of employee engagement is employee voice and, no matter how large or small your business, employees need to be able to share their concerns, issues, ask questions and contribute ideas.

Remote working can make people feel isolated. They’ll want to stay in touch with colleagues and hear from leaders about how the organisation is ‘weathering the storm’. But there’s also a high risk that employees may become disconnected and disengaged. And disengaged employees are unproductive employees.

Reaching out to your people with a regular programme of internal communications is crucial during a crisis.

Communicate openly and often to unite your employees around a common purpose. Foster that sense of “we’re in it together”. And use a variety of methods (we comms folk call them ‘channels’) to keep the whole organisation connected. Some points to bear in mind…

  • Keep up with the strategic narrative: remind your people of the important role they play in delivering the organisation’s mission. Keep it upbeat, but don’t gloss over the facts. Be honest and explain the knowns and what you’re doing to anticipate and respond to the unknowns.
  • Make sure that managers feel supported and engaged – they are the crucial link between employees and the organisation.
  • Use pulse surveys to understand how your employees are feeling and what’s impacting their work. Take action on their feedback. We highly recommend the team at Peachy Mondays – tell them we sent you their way!
  • Encourage everyone to make an extra-special effort where communication is concerned: don’t just instant message, use the telephone, use video as well as audio for team ‘huddles’ and meetings, pick up the phone instead of emailing.

Keeping employees engaged with your purpose and goals during this crisis will make you stronger when you come out the other side. Indeed, there’s plenty of evidence out there (just Google ‘employee engagement’) that shows that organisations with high levels of engagement are more productive and more competitive. Crisis or no crisis, employee engagement makes good business sense and it can be done on a limited budget: it’s a question of whether you have a people-first mindset.

Jump ahead to better times, post-Covid-19 (it will happen), and there will be important lessons for business leaders to heed. Who will come out stronger? We’re in no doubt that organisations that put people before economics will be the most resilient and prosperous in the long-run, talk to us to find out more.