Once perceived as a perk of the job, the mass uptake of working from home will be one of COVID-19’s lasting business legacies.
In their report ‘The flexible future of work’, O2’s business division found that 45% of UK employees polled believe flexible working will permanently increase. Even more telling, 33% expect to increase the amount they work from home by at least three days a week.
This pandemic, then, may forever dispel the stigma that says if you’re working from home, you’re probably watching daytime TV. This point of view had already been countered by some studies showing that, far from slacking off, people who work from home tend to work more hours, not fewer. And now, thanks to lockdown, many more of us have seen how remote working can be just as productive – if not more so – than being at the office.
77% of employees want to continue working remotely after the pandemic.
(Source: Global Workplace Analytics)
At Woven, we’ve long considered remote working a right and not a perk. Since technology became the great WFH-enabler, our take has been: you can work from anywhere you wish, so long as the work doesn’t suffer. Take our MD, Mark, who recently turned WFH into WFB (working from boat) during a trip to the Scottish lochs – and creating a client-winning pitch in the process.
But as we enter a brave new remote-working world, the onus will fall on employers to help their colleagues find their feet and feel supported at every step of this transition.
Looking after your employees
In creating a remote-working business culture, employees must feel that they’re as supported at home as they are in the office or studio.
That means remote workers should have the correct workstation setup, including a seat that supports good posture and laptop risers to ensure people are looking at their screens at eye-level.
Employees working from home should be encouraged to take regular breaks. Without workmates to talk to, we’re likely to spend more time at our screens, which can cause eye fatigue and stop us taking regular mini-breaks. This lack of contact can also pile the pressure on us when something goes wrong, leading us to feel increasingly isolated and anxious.
As a result, it’s vital that managers regularly check in with their team to ensure everything is going well and, if it’s not, what they can do to help. This is particularly important for those who might struggle with their mental health and who run the risk of feeling abandoned during long homeworking spells.
To help counter any problems with transitioning to remote working, employers should:
• Check their colleagues feel the work they’re doing can be done safely and competently at home. This is especially pertinent for those with disabilities
• Make sure employees complete a working-from-home risk assessment
• Talk to their employees about how the business might improve working from home arrangements
• Stay in regular contact with their colleagues so they feel supported and not isolated
• Ensure employees are taking regular breaks away from the screen and not working too many hours
• Write down the agreed arrangements so the whole team is clear on what is expected of them and the business
Creating a positive remote-working culture
If done correctly, remote working benefits everyone.
For employees, it means fewer hours spent sardine-tinned on trains and in traffic jams. It means doing your work when best suits you, so you can achieve a better work/life balance. You’ll also be more productive, as you’ll have fewer disruptions and will be dragged into fewer meetings. And when the day is done, you won’t have a 90-minute commute waiting for you.
At the same time, employers can save money by downsizing office premises and benefit from the increased production that often accompanies remote working. They’re also not limited by geography when it comes to hiring the best talent available. If your people can work from anywhere, then your people can come from anywhere.
So, plenty to enjoy for everyone. But it’s not all pros and no cons. One of the big watch-outs of remote working is that it can negatively affect your internal culture.
People vibe off each other. Human interaction keeps us engaged and motivated, creating a positive environment in which people feel energised and from which the best ideas are born. Being around people also combats feelings of depression, anxiety and loneliness.
So when it isn’t possible to be in the same room as each other, you’ll have to adopt a few new practices to keep the team spirit going:
• Update your values and culture decks to ensure everyone feels part of the same team (Not got values or a culture deck? Then check out HubSpot’s Culture Code for inspiration.)
• Remote workers should try and come into the workplace every week or fortnight, if possible
• Make sure that remote workers are never overlooked for – nor shy away from – team days and nights out. It’s inevitable that some of your team will be more introverted than others, so be sure not to leave them out, even if they usually turn your offer for a post-work pinot down
• Set up virtual water cooler spaces – team- or project-specific chat channels where people can shoot the breeze
• Encourage regular feedback via 1-2-1s, monthly team updates and employee surveys. Be sure not to make this just about work but about your colleagues’ general happiness and well-being, too
In the first stages of the pandemic, necessity was the mother of invention. In responding to it, non-key workers were sent home to keep calm, download Zoom and carry on. But as the lockdown has lengthened, people are realising that remote working isn’t just a response to this awful virus, it’s a harbinger of a more efficient, more flexible way of working.
Business owners are asking themselves whether they need that big, expensive studio and multi-storey office space, while employees are perhaps wondering why their team didn’t take advantage of remote working sooner.
Not that remote working is a magical cure-all. It does present challenges to communication and to a business’ internal culture. It also raises warning flags for those who suffer from mental health issues, and employers need to respond quickly and comprehensively to ensure their workers feel calm, empowered and supported.
But by considering the points in this blog, you and your team will be able to overcome these challenges and create leaner, more responsive working processes that benefit employers, employees and the business’ bottom line.