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Remote working: keeping up with the team

With COVID-19 forcing many of us into a remote working scenario, how do you keep on top of your team? How do you ensure everyone is checking in with one another and doing their jobs? Realistically, the UK isn’t as well set up for this type of working as many other nations are – but it’s not as difficult to implement as you may think

COVID-19 got its claws into the world at the start of this year, and its rampage hasn’t stopped. Since the middle of March, businesses have been shutting their doors and making many people redundant, while those of us who are lucky to retain our jobs are working from home. Some of us are used to this, but most aren’t, and this pandemic has highlighted just how unprepared many organisations were to have their staff work from home, while also managing them in the usual way.

There has been a lot of noise about flexible working, across all manner of organisations, for the last few years. It has been proven, time and time again, that flexible working – which usually means, simply, allowing staff to work from home or remotely from the office in some way, some of the time – improves mental health and working efficiency, but the UK is miles behind Europe with its implementation. We work longer hours than any European country, and it can’t be ignored that, according to The Guardian, 57% of all sick days in 2017-18 were due to work-related stress or anxiety, while 44% were caused by workload pressure alone.

Finland has been a major driver in pushing the flexible working agenda ever since a law, implemented in 1996, which allows many workers to adjust their working time up to three hours earlier or later than what their employer would normally ask of them. It’s wonderful that a change is happening here, but it’s not a quick one to organise – so what happens when a global emergency forces millions of people out of their workplaces and into their homes?

Why the UK wasn’t ready for flexible working

The unpleasant fact of the matter is that, for many managers, there’s a lack of trust when it comes to their staff. A recent white paper by Robert Walters found that almost half of UK businesses aren’t set up to accommodate their workers if they need to self-isolate for any reason, and the number one reason why – for 60% of survey respondents – was fear that employees would abuse this policy. A further 45% stated it would be too difficult to supervise employees, and 41% claimed that remote working makes it difficult to track performance and productivity.

All of these excuses amount to the same thing: employers want to be able to see what their workers are doing. This is entirely reasonable; not only do bosses need to be able to keep track of what their staff are doing, most staff probably still want to be managed and know that they have support, even when that support comes from afar.

“What COVID-19 has highlighted for many UK companies is that, despite companies having ‘all of the gear,’ we are essentially a while away from being able to ‘push the button’ on remote working,” says Chris Hickey, UK CEO of Robert Walters. “Work needs to be done to build trust amongst employers and employees, as well as ironing out clear working practices and guidelines for those working remotely. As more millennials and gen Z professionals enter our workforce, we can expect the pressure to mount for companies to increase their flexible working practices to be able to accommodate a generation who are more in tune with their wellbeing and health.”

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How professionals feel about smart working:

  • 85% believe productivity is enhanced.
  • 80% feel motivated to work by a tech-savvy company.
  • 78% think co-ordination between departments is enhanced.

How to keep in touch with your team

However managers may feel about their staff working from home, now is the time to give them the benefit of the doubt and trust that they will do what they need to do – especially if you put a solid framework in place to ensure this.

Work management platforms

The rise of flexible working and freelancing has led to a huge spike in the use of work management platforms, which enable tasks to be assigned with specific to-do dates. Work can be scheduled and shared, team members can communicate and individual and team calendars can be updated with what team members are up to. These platforms give managers full visibility of what each team member is spending their time doing, without needing to ask them throughout the working day.

Communication apps

Keeping an open dialogue is another simple way to ensure you’re up-to-date with what staff are working on; an app or website which allows ordinary calls, video calls, two-way messaging and group messaging is best, and many of these are free.

Daily meetings

Making sure all team members are able to join in with a video call at a certain time each day to discuss important updates makes sure that everybody is ‘in the loop’ with what the whole team is doing and promotes a sense of togetherness which can be hard to cultivate when you’re no longer physically together. “Implementing a reporting system, where the home worker lets their manager know what they have completed in that time frame, is vital,” says Alan Price, HR expert and CEO at BrightHR. “In this way, management can maintain a degree of control over employee activities and ask them to justify why tasks are not being completed.”

Change the culture

Creating a work culture where workers are trusted, and which empowers them to work more efficiently, is what will get us through this very uncertain time, ensuring we’re stronger on the other side. For managers, instead of a behaviour-based outcome, focus on an outcome-based mindset; micro-managing when people are working from home simply doesn’t work, so don’t fixate on what they are seen to be doing – think about their end-game output.

“Trusting employees to continue to carry out their tasks as normal is key to a successful transition to remote working,” says Alan. “The best way to approach this is to apply targets to home-based staff in the same way as they are applied to office-based staff.”

Basically, treat your staff as you would in the office – with a few simple steps to connect you – and having a remote team doesn’t seem so daunting.

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