The unprecedented changes being experienced in our communities and workplaces as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic will have profound and far reaching impacts on many aspects of our lives.
The global response has been to isolate, reduce interpersonal contact and adopt homeworking methods wherever possible. Businesses are not running as usual, but there are many organisations that are rising to the challenge of remote working – some are scaling up their already established flexible working practices, others are experimenting with homeworking for the very first time.
Prolonged homeworking is very different to occasional homeworking and requires all managers to re-think the way they communicate and interact with their people. Managers need to accept that many workers will be experiencing high levels of stress and anxiety coping with a variety of challenges. Those with additional parental and vulnerable adult responsibilities are likely to be juggling conflicting work and home commitments. Those with existing underlying mental or physical health problems, may be experiencing additional difficulties and hurdles on a daily basis. Similarly, managers themselves need to recognise the additional strains they will be under whilst adapting rapidly to different work methods and providing motivation and support to a dispersed workforce.
So, how can managers help make homeworking successful for themselves and their staff?
The 10 Don’ts of Homeworking for Managers highlights a number of key areas of concern to help managers take a more proactive approach to managing their teams remotely:
It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer scale and impact of Coronavirus on daily lives, so it is important not to overload employees with long, complicated emails and, wherever possible, connect with staff by using smaller ‘bite-sized’ chunks of information to communicate key messages.
Lots of people are reluctant to turn their cameras on during video calls and conferencing. However, particularly for difficult or sensitive conversations, managers should encourage a visual connection to assist with clear and transparent communication. It’s much easier to pick up important visual clues, even from facial, rather than whole body, language. Visual communications can help spot more subtle changes in behaviour which would otherwise go undetected via audio or written communication.
It’s easy to underestimate the importance of nurturing social interactions when working from home. Isolation, distractions and demotivation can become serious problems for homeworkers, not just for extroverts and those who enjoy interactions with colleagues, but anyone who is not coping with the current levels of change and uncertainty affecting themselves and their families.
Managers should be prepared to try different ideas within their teams to see which mechanisms work well. Some suggestions include: celebrating anniversaries and birthdays in hangouts, creating virtual water cooler spaces, scheduling manager check-ins, offering virtual socials and WhatsApp Groups and even dress-up Fridays.
There is a real danger that the working day for homeworkers can merge into evenings and weekends. This is not necessarily a problem for those who have clear productivity targets and the autonomy to complete tasks, to fit around other demands. However, for those who are new to homeworking, the setting of certain core hours to meet business requirements, will help managers provide a degree of structure, while employees are establishing their home/work routines. Whether boundaries are set by the organisation or the individual, they should be communicated and respected by their manager, other team members and relevant stakeholders.
The current realities of homeworking for many will involve a complicated blend of working, parenting and caring, which can be stressful and exhausting. By working with employees to identify the tasks and routines that are both fixed and moveable, managers can help employees be more effective and efficient with their time.
Managers need to recognise that the investment in appropriate technology and equipment will not only help with productivity levels and company security, but also keep employees safer and healthier. This might include double monitors, headsets, wireless keyboard and mouse, orthopaedic chairs, as well as cloud solutions giving access to shared files and ‘living documents’, plus social networking and collaboration tools from Zoom Pro to Slack and Chatter.
Word of Warning: fast reliable broadband is a problem for many who work in the more rural and remote areas of the UK. Therefore, managers should not assume that all employees will have access to the same level of good connectivity and be prepared, if at all possible, to provide alternative technological solutions.
Tempting though it might be stay in pyjamas, managers should set an example and dress appropriately for work, even if that means dressing slightly more casually than when going into work premises and traditional offices. This will, in turn, help employees differentiate between their work and home time, as well as signpost the transition to others who share their household.
Managers should use a good homeworking policy to ensure their employees are working in safe, appropriate workspaces within a domestic setting. A suitable homeworking questionnaire and risk assessment process will help ensure both the individual and those who share their home are kept safe. This can be supported by other initiatives to encourage homeworkers to schedule breaks and safeguard their health such as: reducing the time spent on sedentary tasks or screen work: encouraging or incentivising regular exercise; healthy eating and healthy drinking; providing online resources to help with mental and physical health .
Data Protection regulations still apply to those who are working from home. Managers have a responsibility to inform and instruct their dispersed employees about cyber security, appropriate monitoring and organisational data protection protocols. Measures are likely to include ensuring that: any equipment being used in the home is installed with appropriate safeguarding software; suitable VPNs or encrypted web access to internal networks are used; multifactor authentication and strong passwords are set up; safe storage, processing and deletion of personal and work data is observed: and IT and social media policies are followed.
Managers have a unique opportunity to experiment with different ideas, technology and innovative approaches. However, managers don’t have to provide all the answers and should be encouraging their teams to generate and try out ideas that could not only enhance the work they do, but the way they do it. This in turn will help lift morale and build motivation at a time when it is needed most.
Although the current situation presents an array of management challenges, the advent of large-scale homeworking, is likely to reform traditional work patterns. The impact of Covid-19 will truly change the way organisations consider flexible working in the future and change the way many businesses are structured and managed.
If you have any specific questions about homeworking or need help with managing your staff remotely, please contact me. And, please do share any good practice and innovative ideas that you are using. Keep safe