Supporting successful remote working

1. Introduction

Many Welsh businesses and workers have been benefiting from working from home for some-time now and not just as a result of the pandemic.  

According to the Office for National Statistics there were 1.54 million people working from home prior to Covid-19 . The pandemic accelerated the need to work differently and has moved home working up business owner’s priority lists and indeed is becoming the ‘new norm’.  

Although it’s important to note that the world of work has been changing for some-time, this video highlights how technology changes expectations, business and future work https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t6vvH-V0wuM.

We’ve seen a seismic shift across more businesses in relation to how they work largely due to the pandemic. As a consequence, many businesses are seeing the benefits of being able to work differently and are considering how they can develop their working practices and offer more flexible working opportunities.  

It is important to note that working at home does not suit everyone for a variety of reasons, neither is every business able to move wholesale to remote working for all employees and activities.  Identifying your business drivers for remote working is key. 

In other words, how will being able to work from home impact and benefit your business? One size does not fit all and some businesses may move wholesale to homeworking, others may combine office and remote working, others may move to mainly home-based with the option to work remotely in other spaces. Identifying your drivers will enable you to decide what is best for your business.

2. Business Benefits

  • Diverse, inclusive talent retention and recruitment – keep the best talent by providing the opportunity for your employees to meet their objective and targets at a time that suits them and the business, therefore reducing recruitment costs. When recruiting it will widen your talent pool as attending a central office can be a geographic restriction for applicants seeking new roles. Remove the necessity of a main office and you increase your catchment area and the diversity of your applicants. You will be seen as an employer of choice.
  • Business outcomes – Remote working offers opportunities to reduce the gender pay gap, as well as improving performance and results from your teams. It also contributes to sustainability commitments you may have made for your business.
  • Employee engagement and loyalty – Employees are more likely to be flexible for the organisation and show more loyalty.
  • Enhanced work performance – Increased productivity and better quality of work, more efficient ways of working.
  • Avoiding negative employee outcomes – More remote working can reduce work-related stress and sickness absence.
  • Financial benefits - less office space required, reduced overheads and recruitment costs.

3. Employee benefits

  • Improved work/life balance - removing the daily commute can give employees more time and reduces time spent at work without spending less time working. 
  • Enhanced work performance - employees can organise and manage their workload better whilst fulfilling their responsibilities outside of work.
  • Cost benefits – less time and money spent on commuting.
  • Environmental impact - reduced road congestion and private car use, helping to improve air and noise quality. 

4. Challenges

Common key concerns for many employers linked to remote and home working include:

  • Security, privacy and maintaining confidentiality – GDPR requirements exist regardless of where your employees are working from. Your policy and processes need to reflect how you are working and employees should be advised how they might need to do things differently in a remote working environment.  
  • Client expectations – where people working from home may not match client office hours.
  • Loss of company identity and team atmosphere – not being in the same space can make it more difficult to create and innovate.
  • Infrastructure – physical and digital limitations can make implementation more difficult, particularly where there is limited mobile signal and slow internet speed.
  • Resistant attitudes – managers and employees attached to the traditional 9-5, five day working week, and negative attitudes towards working from home or remotely.
  • Difficulty in communicating – not being able to have conversations with colleagues as easily as if everyone was in the office.
  • Overworking – where an employee is continuously available and switched on to work whilst working from home.

These challenges are by no means insurmountable. The solutions are rooted in a good organisational culture which is based on trust.

5. Recommendations for overcoming challenges and making remote and homeworking a success

  • Trust - one of the underlying principles of working outside of the traditional 9-5 office-based environment is trust. There is extensive literature available to support this. Of particular interest is Daniel Pink’s book, Drive. Pink talks about Autonomy, Mastery & Purpose, with Autonomy being important in the context of home working. He highlights that if leaders and managers trust their staff to do the job, they are employed to do they will perform better.  For a summary of the book, take a look at this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y1SDV8nxypE.
  • Communication and clarity – plan your communication and agree on what kind of information needs to be shared, as well as who it will be shared with and how/when it will be shared. It’s easy to get swamped by emails and dealing with them can really steal time away from other tasks that need completing. Change your approach to e-mails, e.g. agree that emails will only be used to tell someone something or show someone something, instead of discussing something. Collate all the ‘good to know’ bits of information and circulate it in one weekly FYI email or post it on your social media pages.
  • Communication between managers and staff about workload, expectations and progress of work is fundamental, ensuring that staff feel included in the business and can inform managers when they may be over-worked or unable to complete a task in the allocated time.  
  • Be creative in how you communicate, do not rely on the usual all the time, vary the way in which you communicate, for example, do not always rely on a written e-mail, make a video of what you want to communicate and send that in an e-mail.
  • Producing effective guidelines – clear guidelines, processes and policies provide employees and employers with a framework in which to work.
  • Culture – challenging norms that surround general working practices and more importantly, your own working practices, ensures that remote working/homeworking becomes more widely implemented. Giving staff autonomy and responsibility starts a buzz among teams and enables higher morale and increased focus. People appreciate the flexibility and deliver more effective and efficient outcomes.
  • Leadership – Good management practices, visibility and open communication are important.  
  • Be conscious of your unconscious bias. Everyone has unconscious biases and we usually hear about it in the context of how we view those with protected characteristics such as gender but it can also shape your ideas about family and caring responsibilities which could influence your approach to implementing remote working – and impact its success for your business.  
  • Support good Mental Health and Well-being - No one can fix a problem they don’t know exists, so talk to your employees regularly to better understand how they are. Put support and processes in place to enable them to take care of themselves and create opportunities for connection across the business.
  • Encourage teamwork and collaboration – collaboration with colleagues will help maintain good working relationships, prevent social isolation and ensure people get access to the information they need in order to get the job done. We are very fortunate that we live in a digital age where we have a variety of apps and platforms available that allows you to share your screen and collaborate on a document. For quick wins, ask your employees what apps they are currently using for work and social that you could offer more widely to those working remotely. Could a WhatsApp group facilitate collaboration?  Maybe a private Facebook group could provide a good point of reference for general updates?  Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams are both very popular and offer video conferencing, direct messaging and a raft of other features which are usually available as part of the Office 365 package
  • Share best practice – facilitate the sharing of ideas and good practice and be a role model by highlighting those that work for you. For example:
    • Taking a ‘fake commute’ by walking around the block to get to work, thus creating a feeling of ‘going to work; 
    • No-email Fridays. With home-working comes more e-mails, having a day without any new ones creates a space for focus.
  • Source the right technology for you – Every business is different, so determine what technology you will require to best enable remote working for your business, both hardware and software and make sure that you provide adequate training in the use of any new technology so that employees have the skills they need to make effective use of any new tools As part of considering your technology requirements it is advisable to consider your cyber security and whether any changes will be required as a result of you working more remotely.
  • Monitor output and not hours – Many businesses still measure performance in hours and not output. If you focus on measuring output, you can effectively monitor productivity increases. You’ll be able to see more easily what has been done and, more importantly, you’ll have happier employees. If your employees are achieving their objectives and effectively collaborating with others, then why should it matter what time they logged on and logged off?
  • Help employees set up boundaries at home – encourage employees to have a routine and structure around working at home or away from the office. It will psychologically prepare them for the day and will improve their state of mind. Ask everyone to keep their calendars up to date with their availability so you are aware of when is the best time to contact them.  

Resources, information and guidance

Chwarae Teg is one of many organisation that has a range of solutions & training available. For further information visit: www.chwaraeteg.com/fairplayemployer