By Donal Laverty, Consultancy Partner at Baker Tilly Mooney Moore
Covid-19 has fast-tracked our future of work and changed how and where we work. Many of us now find ourselves returning to our homes (if we ever left them) to sit out this new lockdown and return to our kitchen tables and pick up where we left off.
The concerns that we had in March around productivity, keeping connected to employees and maintaining morale are all still legitimate concerns. We still grapple with these and still worry about how does a company motivate and effectively manage someone from a distance?
Remote working has boomed this year because of coronavirus, and attitudes to flexible working are changing dramatically. However, employers need to be aware of the challenges of managing a remote team to ensure flexible working is a success.
With government guidance announced again recommending that employees should work from home if they can, many organisations are having to rethink their return-to-the-office plans. For many, home working could continue into the summer of 2021 – some organisations they have said that any return to the workplace would be based on employee choice.
The way we work has changed dramatically in the past few months — and for some, the shift will be permanent.
Remote working has many benefits, like reducing real costs for businesses and increasing flexibility for employees. However, it also has downsides. More than half of employees say they’ve become lonelier working from home during the pandemic. Others struggle to maintain work-life balance without the separation of a commute or have more trouble focusing when they work from their living rooms instead of their offices.
In March we set out some simple steps to support employees coping with lockdown – here we re-visit that guidance and update for a new lockdown period.
- It’s critical that managers check in with employees more frequently:Frequent and effective communication supports healthier, more productive remote work environments.
- Encourage boundary setting:Having a set routine minimises stress and reduces burnout, but those routines should be flexible according to the employee’s needs. For example, a working parent may prefer to go online early in the morning, then take time during the day to be with their children, returning to work in the evening. Encourage your employees to set these expectations clearly, so their teammates can adapt workflows to their schedules.
- Support wellness remotely: survey after survey tells us that over 85% of employees wanted more help from employers as they adjust to working from home. That support can come in many forms; offering guided meditation sessions, recommending fitness apps, ensuring the company health plan covers virtual therapy. Whichever tactics you choose, remember to model healthy habits by taking advantage of the same options yourself!
- Plan new working arrangements carefully – a key lesson learnt from the first lockdown is to make sure any working arrangements are carefully planned, with the needs of both the business and employees in mind. For flexible working to be a success, managers need to be supportive, genuinely open to this way of working, and have measures in place to overcome any challenges.
- Another key learning from March is to set objectives to measure performance. Managing employee performance when they are working remotely can be a challenge. Measuring an individual’s performance by results and not by their presence in the workplace or the number of hours they work is the best way to ensure that flexible working arrangements succeed.
Whilst we are all becoming more used to a dispersed way of working with remote teams, leading remote teams does require specific skills, including a clear and direct communication style, with the ability to provide empathy and support. Managers also need to provide clarity in relation to expectations, results and outcomes.
Remote working is here to stay and will bring new challenges and opportunities. Organisations around the world are experimenting with new management practices to manage the transition to a more distributed workforce. We are still in the early days, and it’s not yet clear which of these approaches will endure. However the underpinning principles remain the same – look after yourself and your team; stay true to a strong work life balance; set boundaries, manage expectations and above all communicate, communicate and then communicate some more.