With a significant portion of the country now working from home full-time, companies must make concerted efforts to keep on top of productivity and communication, yet also look after their employees’ mental and physical health. But how can employers do that if no one is meeting in person?
“In some ways we are lucky that we are in this situation now, rather than even a decade ago,” says Jonathan Berry, European practice director of international change management consultancy Expressworks.
“Even 10 years ago,” he continued, “plenty of people thought ‘working from home’ was a euphemism for taking the day off. As that has changed, the sophistication and reach of tools that allow remote working have grown past all recognition. We can be much more productive at home than we could be back then.”
Given the odd situation that workforces across the globe have been thrust into, Expressworks’ Berry has compiled some advice for employers and managers.
With children to look after and a full washing basket a few feet away, home workers can see a dip in productivity if they are not careful. This, Berry says, can leave managers wondering how best to motivate their team.
“One way around this,” he said, “is to agree a set of outcomes that you expect from your people. This will allow you to judge whether or not they are being productive. Attendance on certain calls, the production of pieces of written work and meeting reasonable deadlines are KPIs that can be easily managed remotely.
“It may not be possible to ascertain whether your team members are glued to their computer screens from 9am – 5pm but shifting to an outcome-based method of performance management rather than a time-based one, could result in a happier team and increased productivity.
“My advice to managers is to trust your people. How they respond to that trust will tell you a lot about them.”
Depending on an employee’s situation, he or she may be more isolated by working from home than others. This can affect mental health and work performance.
“For people used to working in a busy environment, full of other people, isolation can be a real issue. Isolation can cause people can retreat into themselves, so it is important to make sure you are having plenty of conversations,” said Berry.
“My top tips are to start each day by talking to someone rather than going straight to email and where possible show your face – use video not just voice. Team drinks over video at the end of the day ensures your day has been topped and tailed with human contact.”
The plethora of new apps that have experienced a boom in recent weeks may be easier to use for some employees than others. In fact, the entirely tech-based approach required for remote working can be a source of extreme stress for some workers.
Berry said: “The meteoric rise in the share price of Zoom is one example, but Teams and Slack are adding armies of new subscribers too.
“The problem is there are still many people in our workforce who are not familiar with these tools. People are being confronted with an incredibly complicated set of tools and are being asked to make sense of them in just a few days or even hours. At a time when many people are extremely stressed about their situations, this can be an unwelcome additional cause of anxiety.
“One of the best ways for managers to overcome this anxiety is to allow team members to be organic about how they collaborate. Don’t try to be prescriptive. Let them find the ways that work best for them through trial and error. The team will need time to talk about it and discover what works best for them, so a good practice is to add 10 minutes at the end of calls to discuss ways of working and how everyone is feeling.
“Managers trying to replicate business as usual, just from remote locations, will find that productivity over time will decrease. Those who allow an organic evolution of new ways of working may find their team is even more productive than it used to be.”