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Now in the eighth month since COVID-19 first emerged, it is clear the changes that simply had to happen in the workplace are very much here to stay. So much so that recent Gartner research shows that the pandemic’s reported second wave is now the top concern for executives.

The other emerging risks are also related to COVID and the prolonged and dramatic impact it will have on how to meet future business goals. Those findings are the result of a survey of over a 100 senior executives across a number of industries and geographies. In summary, it shows that the new work model and managing remote work are the key, major challenges facing businesses over the coming months, if not years.

“If you have to monitor employees’ productivity, the issues you’re facing are not related to remote work. Rather, they are related to hiring practices”

New Work Models need new policies

Gartner’s data shows that nearly twice as many employees will work remotely permanently post-pandemic compared to pre-pandemic, with executives reporting that 19% (still seems pretty low to be honest!) of their people will work remotely on a permanent basis, compared to just 10% before COVID-19 and the challenges it has brought to the table. It is also apparent that HR leaders have dramatically levelled up their programmes for monitoring employee productivity, with 73% suggesting they are now involved in some sort of monitoring, compared to less than half in April.

With so many people now working from home, businesses should develop new remote working models. That’s complicated by the fact that there’s more than one type of remote worker and companies need to develop something that fits all three of the following scenarios:

  1. Occasional work from home: Employees with competing personal priorities, such as busy parents, who work from home occasionally but it’s generally restricted to one day per week or three per month.
  2. Work from anywhere: Employees who have the freedom to work from anywhere, at the office, home, a cafe or any other place with a stable internet connection.
  3. Fully remote work: The most advanced remote work culture, where an employee can work from anywhere and in any time zone. This can make sense for companies in the early start-up phase that don’t want to invest in infrastructure.

Three Keys to Remote Work: Clarity, Alignment and Trust

Remote work is not just something that is good only for specific workers, it is key to keeping the organization functioning when many workers are working from home. From a management standpoint, the three ingredients to shifting to a remote working model are clarity, alignment and trust.

People work at their best when their employers communicate clear guidelines and specific rules for working remotely. Although some employers will be comfortable sending everyone home with their laptop and just letting them get on with it, we recommend employers be a little more specific.

That is why employers should create an official written ‘work from home’ policy for their workforce

A good policy communicates expectations around hours of work, reachability, and how and when employees should be in contact with managers or team members. For instance, a policy might require that employees be available by phone and messaging app during regular in-office hours and respond to messages within a certain time frame. It may also require that employees check in with their managers at the close of each workday to share results from the day.

“When it comes to the third ingredient, trust, working remotely might actually need a leap of faith on all sides…”

Employers should also not overlook whether employees will incur reasonable and necessary expenses while working from home and what the reimbursement process should be, if any. There can be reimbursement for these expenses from the likes of HMRC but it is a good practice to cover such costs even if it is not required by law. Without guidance, some employees may overspend on setting up their home office only to find out that those expenses will not be covered. Clarity is important to set expectations and either limit set-up expenses to a certain amount or require pre-approval for purchases that exceed a certain threshold. We often set up such parameters as part of our company Intranet installs – these are incredibly helpful for now and the future

The second ingredient is alignment. Managers should align expectations of what success looks like, how it will be measured and the values employees are expected to uphold. Obviously this is always important, but even more so in a remote working environment when a manager has less visibility into employee work. In a remote context, managers may find the need to shift from evaluating and coaching employees’ work based on activities to doing so based on outcomes. This actually ends up being healthy and empowering in most cases plus it can make managing easier whilst allowing employees to make a call on the best use of their time and tools to achieve their goals

When it comes to the third ingredient, trust, working remotely might actually need a leap of faith on all sides. Managers do not have a direct line of sight into employees’ activities and therefore need to communicate a sense of trust and responsibility to them. This is especially true during the initial transition period. Working from home requires adjustment, and particularly in the middle of this crisis, a lot of people have found themselves at home with their kids, partners, roommates and sometimes very lively pets!

It’s not all about productivity

Not everything in the remote work environment is about productivity. Enterprise leaders need to take the mental and emotional well-being of employees into account to keep the workplace functioning. There are a few things business leaders can do to ensure camaraderie and collaboration don’t suffer, and none of these things involve productivity monitoring.

If you have to monitor employees’ productivity, the issues you’re facing are not related to remote work. Rather, they are related to hiring practices, expectation setting and how employees are managed in the first place. But if you want to ensure camaraderie and collaboration:

  1. Use video conferencing for meetings. Putting a face with a name is important to human relationships. Have mandatory employee events like a company Christmas party or a once-a-month coffee and a beer or two where remote employees join on-premise employees(safely, socially distanced and all that exciting stuff!). If an employee does not live within commuting distance, offer to video them in!
  2. Use a collaboration platform like Microsoft Teams. This will allow teams to have a specific place to discuss different aspects of business. It also allows people to chat and get to know each other and that doesn’t always need to be in a formal manner, just as it wouldn’t be in the office let’s be honest. Emojis and GIFs can’t quite replace the water cooler banter but it helps.
  3. Set up weekly or bi-weekly check-in times. A 15-30 minute block of time to touch base with remote employees ensures they have everything they need to do their jobs. Use this time to check on mental well-being and make sure they are eating, sleeping and taking breaks.

The idea behind these tips is simple: Try not to treat your remote employees any differently than you treat your on-premise employees. It takes your entire workforce to keep business afloat, so there’s no reason to distinguish between who works in the office and who does not

Don’t Overlook Security and Scheduling

For businesses that are not used to remote work, there are numerous factors that need to be put in place before developing a remote working plan. We reckon these are the main ones:

  1. Security: Because of remote work, some businesses have moved toward a model where employees use their own devices for work. Companies need to make sure the necessary security measures are in place to prevent the abuse and misuse of their data.
  2. Communication and task management: Companies need to think about what kind of communication and project management software they are going to use. When teams fail to communicate, it is easy for projects to fall apart. Luckily for companies, there are many solutions that exist for communication and project management so it is just a matter of picking the best solution and implementing it.
  3. Work schedules: In some cases, remote work can go beyond the typical 9-to-5 and give employees the freedom to determine what time and place they will work. For some employees, this is great because they can schedule work around other events going on in their lives. Others might have a hard time putting in their hours and fail to complete projects in a timely manner. Companies need to determine if they will mandate work during a certain time or make work less time-based and more project-based.

If you need any support and guidance in shaping your remote working model and the tools that you need to make it a success get in touch, it’s what we do.

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