How to adapt to remote working in the long term

Recent Covid-19 announcements and subsequent guidance issued by the Government on easing the national lockdown, have left many employers in a difficult position deciding what’s best to do.

The Covid-19 lockdowns have proven that remote working is feasible for many employers and numerous surveys has shown that a large degree of employees prefer having this degree of flexibility in their working life. Bringing employees back into the workplace brings its own set of challenges, but employers now must consider whether remote working can be performed in at least some capacity in the long term.

For those employers considering a continuation of their remote work practices, there are some key areas that should be considered before any changes are made permanently.

Policies & Processes

You will need to give careful consideration to your existing processes, policies, and contractual implications of remote working. Ensuring procedures and policies are up to date is critical in ensuring remote working is supported and understood by managers and employees.

  • Flexible Working Policy: Remote or hybrid working is a form of flexible working. However, by law, an employer must have a flexible working policy in place, and any formal request should continue to be reviewed through a formal process, regardless of any company wide working approach. Ensure that your flexible working policy is up to date and applicable to the structure of your workplace. You should also consider that the nature of the workplace is changing; employees may want to work remotely from abroad. As a company, it is important that you consider whether your roles can be carried out abroad, taking into consideration; client needs, the employee themselves, data protection laws, tax implications, employment law, communication, working hours, the actual location the employee will be based and what tools and resources the employee can access.
  • Contract of Employment: Any formal working request accepted or permanent change to a company’s working practice such as permanent home working will amount to a formal change to an employee’s existing terms and conditions. There are several updates to a contract of employment required should an employee be permanently home working, and it is important that your contracts are up to date and reflect the work environment accurately.

Wellbeing

Remote working can bring many benefits to our employee’s lives; however, it is not without its problems. By losing the office environment, colleagues who work remotely may experience feelings of loneliness, isolation, loss of team cohesion or struggle to maintain a work-life balance. This can all impact employee wellbeing which in turn leads to higher levels of stress, disengagement, lack of motivation, and loss of productivity. When employees are based in an office, it is easy to be aware of behaviours or actions that may be impacting wellbeing, but if your employees are remote, it is a lot harder to know how employees are feeling. To support the wellbeing of remote workers:

  • Establish boundaries between work and personal time. Everyone has different personal lives and commitments, but it is often hard to separate the line between work and home when working remotely. Communicate the importance of this balance to your employees and check in with employees who may be struggling to switch off or find the right balance.
  • Communicate with employees and establish regular one to ones with your employees, giving them uninterrupted time. Talk to them about both their personal and professional lives and work hard to maintain a strong manager-employee relationship. Treat everyone differently; some employees may want more regular check ins or team meetings (here’s looking at you extroverts), where others are happy to know their manager is just a phone call away should they need them.
  • Provide an Employee Assistance programme which enables employees to contact a confidential helpline if they are experiencing workplace or personal issues impacting their wellbeing, mental or physical health.
  • Offer wellness initiatives such as phone wellness/health apps, gym membership discounts or hold virtual team events where employees can still feel part of a team.

Management Development & Training

Supervising a team is never easy and only becomes more challenging when a team is spread out over different locations. This requires a manager to have a specific skill set to best support, manage, and lead their teams. It might be essential that your managers require additional training specific to managing remote workers so that they have the right skills to cope with leading a productive remote team successfully and they are supported if difficult issues arise. A permanent shift to remote working would not be possible without trust and confidence between managers and employees. Trust in the workplace can be harder to build and maintain when working remotely, especially for any new employee who may have started with a company during lockdown.

For managers to continue to maintain a successful relationship with their employees whilst working remotely, mangers will need to:

  • Set clear expectations on an ongoing basis
  • Have open, honest, and regular communication
  • Schedule regular check in’s
  • Have the trust and confidence that their employees are productive with their time

Employee Lifecycle

Remote working can impact all aspects of the employee lifecycle and it is crucial to identify any areas where a company should amend or update process or policies to enable effective remote working.

  • Recruitment process: It is often hard to establish a connection or really get to know someone during a remote interview, so it is important to get creative with the interview process to truly understand their skills and experience. Where possible, meet the candidate face to face at least once, to help uncover their true personality and whether they will fit in with your company culture. Don’t be afraid to put them through an assessment/job-test scenario to ensure their skills really match their experience.
  • Onboarding: Ensure new employees are given in-dept training on new technologies and communication tools and set clear expectations from the start about role requirements, communication, and deadlines. An effective onboarding process with dedicated time and support in the early weeks, helps new employees feel more valued and increases their productivity and performance, resulting in increased engagement and job satisfaction.
  • Performance Management: When working remotely, the performance of employees may be more subjective and harder to observe. It is important that managers assess their employees’ performance based on outcomes, contribution, and value, rather than time spent in the office. It is therefore important that performance management processes are fit for purpose in a remote environment, managers spend time discussing performance on a regular basis with their employees, and there are mechanisms in place that identify and reward great performance as well as processes to identify and address poor performance.

Summary

The experience for many during the past 18 months has seen organisations forced to adopt remote working practices. For some employers, returning to the workplace will not come soon enough. However, employers may be also facing the challenge of the “new business as usual” where employees will look to work remotely on a more regular basis as their expectations of the workplace have changed and they seek to have more flexibility in their work/life balance.

Working remotely could be an opportunity for a business to put solid flexible working practices and procedures in place to support a new way of working which is sustainable for both employers and employees alike.

If you would like to have a chat with us about how working remotely is impacting your business and your people and how we might be able to help you manage and introduce these changes, or review your existing practices, then book a call with us here:

Book a call with Emma Browning

Book a call with Rachel Sherson