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More than a band-aid

Six months ago, businesses were forced to migrate to a new way of working almost overnight as we were urged to stay home to contain the virus. Although many businesses adapted well and remote working became commonplace, the process was rushed – driven by panic and spurred by the need to survive.

These fixes were never built to last.

As we look forward, it seems that remote working is here to stay – with many businesses challenging more traditional setups and looking to ditch or reduce their office overheads. But to be successful long-term, more structure and investment is required – particularly in the effort required to maintain a positive employee connection that transcends distance.

So, how can you keep your team engagement and morale high when working conditions are somewhat different to what you’ve been used to? We discuss this and more, with example to the drawbacks and how to address these going forward.

 

Leading from the front

Winckworth Sherwood found that 78% of employers are planning on “long-term operational changes” as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • 9% considering closing their offices completely
  • 26% considering reducing their office space
  • 47% increasing flexibility around working from home
  • 38% increasing flexibility around set working hours

With huge businesses such as BT and Twitter making the offer to employees to permanently choose how they work it feels like we’re on the precipice of a huge cultural shift.

But, with change comes new challenges. What are the issues associated with managing people from afar and how can you look after your staff when you can’t see them? Let’s take a look.

 

Overcoming barriers to remote working

On the surface, remote working sounds great. It can help employers lure in exceptional talent, reduce office costs, chat and distractions and your employees will relish in their newfound sense of freedom – working how and when they work best.

So, what’s with all the reluctancy and why are some so keen to get back to the office?

Whilst working from home is popular right now, there must be some consideration into the long-term consequences that will begin to appear in the not so distant future.

At this time of great upheaval, we’re going to steer you through some of the HR issues that arise when working from home – with some thought-provoking insight and direction on how to mitigate any hurdles. So, let’s dive in.

 

Negative impacts on employee wellbeing

It is reported that 62% of employees would be “happy” if their offices closed and working from home became a permanent setup. But that leaves a good proportion of the workforce unhappy with this situation.

There are many reasons this may be, as the office can provide benefits for employees including:

  • Social interaction
  • Support – personally and professionally
  • Routine and a change of scenery
  • A place to focus without distractions, such as childcare
  • Relief from home pressures, such as strained relationships

So, without the face-to-face interaction you’re used to, how can you look after employees? Be sure to look a little closer for the signs of someone struggling, including reduced engagement or participation, missed deadlines or overdoing their hours. These may be an indication that an employee’s mental health is declining.

To combat this, consider:

  • Regular team meetings at a coffee shop or co-working space (when safe to do so)
  • Making support digital, such as posting self-help and advice on the intranet
  • Setting up support groups, buddy systems and social nights
  • Encouraging employees to log their hours
  • Reminding employees of their line manager

 

Playing fair

There is some stipulation that the increase in remote working will lead to a more unjust workplace. So how can you play fair in an increasingly competitive environment?

Say there’s a big promotion coming up. Who will be seen more favourably for the leg up: an employee who is frequently present and visible within the office or a team member that may be less well-known working from home?

There’s a great possibility that a two-tier workforce will soon be established – dividing those that come into work and those that don’t. And, with childcare being a key draw for remote working, women are likely to be most affected by this, causing the gender pay gap to be even further widened.

Other concerns include wages being driven down – due to reduced travel expenses, outsourcing and increased competition. Although it’s understandable for businesses to try and reduce costs, this will further suppress our economy and lead your customers to also look for the cheapest option.

Therefore, is leaning towards this remote workforce just a way of shooting ourselves in the foot? Honestly, we can’t tell you how to run your business. However, to stay mindful, take five to contemplate the following…

Consider:

  • Creating a fair criterion for the recruitment process
  • Annually publishing your gender pay report
  • Actively planning to reduce any variance found [see above]
  • Mapping your pay against GDP and inflation

 

Effective work

A huge 46% of HR decision makers are concerned that employees won’t be able to carry out their jobs effectively at home. However, almost half this number of employees have the same concern. So why is this?

A great way to measure whether employees can work effectively at home is to determine what ‘effective’ means to you; take some time to document what a ‘good’ job done looks like.

Consider:

  • Outcome-based measurement
  • Clear communication
  • Realistic deadlines
  • Regular reviews

By measuring outcomes, rather than hours spent in the office, you can then begin to measure whether an employee is effectively working at home or not. Be sure to provide clarity on objectives, detail what is expected from employees and what they need to achieve and by when.

If you have not done the role yourself, you may find it useful to have a discussion with employees to discuss what is reasonable within their time constraints. After all, overly ambitious targets often turn employees off and lead to a decline in motivation, job satisfaction and mental health.

 

Lack of control (trust)

By having employees under their roof, many employers feel as if they can control their employees better. At the end of the day, the issue is: do you trust your employees?

Failure to trust your employees can lead to wasted time on micromanagement, a reluctancy to take ownership of responsibilities and a reduction in engagement and job satisfaction – with employees viewing ‘spying’ negatively. Trust them too much and you risk them feeling lost or taking advantage.

Therefore, it may reassure you to learn that only 12% of employees struggle to motivate themselves. In fact, employees that work from home tend to work harder due to concerns that it will be perceived negatively or that their privileges will be revoked.

To combat this, consider:

  • Learning what makes employees tick and ensuring they feel supported
  • Checking in regularly to monitor and ensure progress
  • Clearly communicating expectations
  • Set meetings and PDRs to review progress and rectify any issues.

 

Monitoring

We anticipate that AI and monitoring will be stepped up in the months to come. In fact, it’s already happening before our very eyes!

Employees can no longer log in early, collect the kids from school and pretend they were working all along. Technology can now determine when you touch your keypad and will alert your manager if you haven’t been active.

Your emails may be monitored too – determining your intentions and engagement by unpicking what and how you word your emails.

So, with monitoring expected to greatly increase, how can we avoid upsetting employees?

To avoid upset, consider:

  • Being transparent about how technologies works
  • Explaining why it has been put in place
  • Outlining how technology will be used (eg, in PDRs)
  • Addressing any concerns that employees may have.

Remember: any worker that has been with you for at least 26 weeks automatically gains the right to apply for flexible working. If you deem it appropriate to grant requests and feel this will not impact the individual’s ability to perform, this may provide a more open solution that will stop employees feeling the need to deceive their employer.

 

Need more help?

If you are considering whether a return to the office is essential, safe and mutually agreed, check out the CIPD’s useful resource here. It helps point you towards some useful resources and raises some poignant questions.

If you need some support adjusting to remote working and require some assistance motivating and engaging your employees, get in touch with Crosse HR.

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