As coronavirus continues to spread, many organisations across the globe are encouraging employees to work from home in order to prevent further outbreak.
The concept of remote working is nothing new (particularly for digital-first organisations). According to ONS statistics, more than 1.54 million people in the UK work from home for their main job – up from 884,000 10 years ago.
In light of recent events causing more and more employees to work remotely, organisations may be realising the benefits – and encountering the challenges – of a distributed workforce for the first time. Here are a few ways organisations can ensure that the practice is as effective as (and perhaps even more effective than) being in the office.
Establish the basics
Not everyone finds working from home easy, especially people who are used to working in a busy or collaborative office environment. Some might find that their motivation slides a little. Others, however, might find that the separation between home and work becomes too blurry, leading employees to take fewer breaks or have difficulty in clocking off at the end of the working day.
Consequently, it’s important for organisations to put some kind of structure in place, as well as to establish basic expectations. Examples of this could be to determine core working hours, daily goals and tasks, and to set times for check-ins and online team meetings.
Of course, flexibility is one of the main benefits of remote working, so it’s not necessarily going to be feasible or welcome for standard working hours to be enforced. This means that transparency is key, as is a focus on goals rather than activity. In other words, it’s important to put the emphasis on deadlines to ensure that everyone is aware of when something needs to be done by, as opposed to focusing on when people are working.
Use the right tools
In 2017, a study by Stanford monitored two groups of employees: one that worked from home for nine months, and one that worked only from the office. Results found that the group working from home were 13% more efficient, with improvements in concentration, retention, and overall happiness levels.
This kind of productivity can only be achieved with the right tools. Fortunately, technology has advanced hugely in the past few years, enabling teams to communicate and collaborate much more effectively.
From file-sharing tools like Dropbox, to more advanced project management software like Basecamp and Monday.com, there are many tools that can aid workflow. Another particularly effective example is Trello, which is a collaboration tool that essentially tells you who is working on what at a glance. For communication, platforms like Slack and Microsoft Teams make conversation with colleagues easy and instantaneous. They can also be incredibly useful for content sharing and brainstorming (by using channels for specific topics).
These platforms also have video conferencing capabilities, which takes away the need for face-to-face meetings.
Offer learning and development opportunities
According to a Deloitte survey, 70% of employees want management to support a better work-life balance, while 60% want a range of flexible working options. This can extend to more than just daily tasks, with employees also keen for learning and development opportunities to be both flexible and accessible.
For organisations, a digital L&D strategy can help to encourage a culture of continuous learning, by allowing employees to access online training anywhere and at any time.
In fact, instead of hampering it, working from home can actually aid professional development. A survey found that organisations who want to invest in L&D cited ‘a lack of time’ for employees as one of the biggest obstacles to doing so. Remote working – which takes away the daily commute, and allows for greater flexibility in daily tasks – could actually promote a more consistent and committed approach to learning. In turn, this could feed back into employee motivation and help to improve productivity.
Maintain community and trust
As well as ensuring that people are getting the job done, it’s also important that organisations foster the same sense of community and belonging that typically comes with working in close and consistent proximity to others.
This can be difficult; however, it’s about ensuring that company culture is not lost through digital communication – but enhanced. Using tools like Slack to check in with employees about things other than work can be helpful, as well as ensuring that events and milestones like birthdays or anniversaries are given the same recognition that they would in the office. Finally, (virus epidemics aside), in-person meetings or regular company events are invaluable when it comes to staying connected and motivated.