We are social creatures, and so the pandemic is unlikely to see the end of the office. However, businesses may have realised the benefits of some staff continuing to work from home, or in a more flexible way.
Some workers are beginning to return to the office as lockdown restrictions are eased, but this won’t be possible for everyone.
Businesses will be looking at how to continue remote working for the long-term. Here, we look at some of the ways to make that possible.
Some business functions, such as sales, will be all set up to more easily monitor the productivity of staff. For others, this might not be as straight forward. It might be wise to consider how to measure productivity going forward, particularly if staff are continuing to work remotely.
It will be important to have a way to measure the effectiveness of any new plans that are implemented for remote working in the future. Goals and KPIs are nothing new, but setting out specific parameters for measuring productivity will help keep efforts on track. This way you will be able to adapt and change accordingly.
Staff working remotely will still need to feel that they are connected, and part of a team. It is easy to neglect the needs of those who are out of sight.
Work out a plan detailing how you will communicate with remote workers to stop them feeling isolated. This might mean scheduling regular online catch ups, inviting them into the office once a week for a face-to-face meeting, regularly checking in on them with phone calls, or organising frequent team meetings.
You will, however, need to be mindful of the so-called ‘Zoom fatigue’ – the tiredness that comes with spending too much time on video calls, which require more focus than face-to-face talk and therefore drains energy quicker.
However, you decide to keep in touch, ensure that remote workers don’t feel left out of important decisions or discussions. Talking to them and asking how they are will help to identify any concerns they might have.
Reasons for remote working
It is vital that you understand why some staff may want to continue working remotely. There could be a variety of reasons, so don’t assume it is because this is what they want. Some staff could be fearful of returning to the office, and may not feel confident that enough has been done to keep them safe. Others may have childcare issues or a medical condition that makes them more vulnerable.
Of course, there may be some who have realised that this way of working is better for them and therefore want to continue working remotely.
Talk to staff individually to find out their reasons. It may be that small changes, or some reassurance, is all they need to feel confident to return to the office. This might be necessary for some staff who are unable to carry out their job at home effectively.
You will need to take the needs of the business into account when making decisions on remote working. Compromising may be the best approach for the short-term. Can you offer a more flexible approach to working, giving staff the opportunity to work remotely for some of the week? Or perhaps those who have concerns, for example using public transport during rush-hour, could start and finish at different times.
Many businesses will conclude that remote working actually increases productivity. If this is the case, then it might be time to consider how to re-purpose the office space to use it instead as a hub, for meetings, group working or conferences etc.
IT and technology
IT and technology are key to ensuring that staff can work remotely. Most businesses will have had to quickly update this when staff were forced to work from home in the early stages of the pandemic. Now would be a good time to review what has already been done and see if any changes or additions need to be made to make remote working easier for staff.
It might be wise to ask staff for their input. Find out if there is anything that could be used to support remote working. There could be aspects that you hadn’t taken into consideration initially, that may be easy and simple to change. This could include investing in new IT equipment, upgrading work kits or buying new software.
At the start of the pandemic, everyone working remotely had to ‘make do’ in order to carry out their job at home. This was acceptable for the short-term. However, if some staff are to continue working remotely for the long term, their comfort will need to be assessed.
Some staff may have an office set up at home. Others may be perched on a kitchen stool with their laptop balanced on a worktop.
Managers will need to assess individual employees’ working environment at home, and decide whether it is acceptable. Workstation questionnaires can be a good way to help with this.
It might not be possible to provide staff with a like-for-like office workstation, but there could be small changes to make remote working more comfortable, such as foot stools or an office chair.
Some staff may be reluctant to return to the office because they are scared. Others might prefer working from home, even though their role is better suited to an office.
It will be tough to enforce office working. However, decisions will need to be made to best suit the needs of the business and individual employees, having taken into consideration all of the above. It’s possible that management or leadership styles may need to adapt as a result, which might mean additional training is required for some.
You will need to decide how to manage the reactions of staff. Are you going to take a tough stance and force staff to work in the office if that suits theirs and the businesses’ needs? Or are you prepared to be flexible and accommodating for the time being, as we move into a transition stage of the pandemic? It’s possible that any new measures introduced now could be in place for the long-term, so consider embracing changes rather than seeing them as a temporary solution.
Whatever approach you take, make sure to continuously monitor and review any changes that are implemented to assess their effectiveness. Don’t be afraid to admit if you don’t get something right, and be prepared to be flexible when necessary.