Guide to managing remote workers

Practical tips for managers on managing home workers during COVID-19.

The world is trying to make sense of the new normal way of living and working. As a manager you are learning too and won’t have all the answers, so we have designed this practical guide to help you on your journey.

Here are our top 6 considerations for managers during these times.

1/ Create a positive working culture

These are new and uncharted waters for all of us. It is important that as a leader or employer, you do your best to set the culture around how work will ‘look and feel’ for employees during this time. Reflect on your ‘normal’ working culture and think how to take the positive elements and replicate them in this new world of working. Almost over-night, entire workforces have been forced to move to permanent home working - some employees may be feeling uncertain and vulnerable, particularly as they grapple with how to balance work with a myriad of other responsibilities.

So it is vital that you are clear about your expectations, encourage open conversations and encourage employees to share their views. It is vital to find ways to motivate employees during this time, for example providing clear tasks and manageable outcomes that directly support business priorities. Employees need to feel supported and trusted. People generally want to do their best, so as a manager you need to get into a mindset where you assume trust and believe that employees will be productive and deliver the agreed outcomes.

Covid-19 is already creating huge challenges for businesses, but if your organisations can instil a supportive work culture, employees are more likely to pull out all the stops, pull together, adapt and innovate.

Something to think about

  • Forget the Mon-Fri, 9-5. One of the things that home working does is remove the confines of Monday-Friday 9-5 working patterns. This enables you to focus on outputs and let go of measuring hours worked. If employees are clear about what they need to achieve, you should make every effort to afford them the flexibility to work at times that work for them. This has never been more relevant than during these unusual times when children may be at home or elderly relatives need extra support. Let people start work at 7am, work in short stints with long breaks in between or work over the weekend. Give employees autonomy and control but do watch out for the mental health and wellbeing of employees. Of course, if your business needs to operate during core hours you might have less flexibility, but you should do whatever you can to give employees some control, for example self rostering. If you run a business with time sheets, is there a way to relax this during this period?
  • If COVID-19 has changed things operationally for your business, then there could be a development opportunity to give employees the experience of new roles and responsibilities. Or perhaps there is now greater time for employees to access training. Be open to finding these opportunities, offer employees the support to make a success of them and there will be lasting benefits to your organisation.

2/ Build great team communication and collaboration

Good communication that enables employees to connect is crucial now more than ever, as it keeps people motivated and helps prevent feelings of isolation. You need to decide which combination of communication channels will work best for you, your team and your customers. Remember to offer training and support for employees to ensure they know how to effectively use the technology and get the most from it.

You are now no longer seeing your team face to face, so you should be prepared to spend more time communicating on an individual and a group basis to ensure that effective working relationships are maintained. If you tend to use face to face team meetings to share information, you will need to rethink how information will be shared. For the foreseeable future all meetings will now take place virtually – this is entirely different dynamic to face to face meetings, for example it is difficult to read non-verbal cues virtually. However virtual meetings can work really well as long as everyone feels included and anyone chairing virtual meetings understands how to run them effectively.

Currently the Government advice is for everyone to ‘stay at home’, therefore every day might feel the same, but you do need to encourage your colleagues to switch off. And you as a manager need to lead by example on this. On a day to day or weekly basis, you could agree specific times when employees can be contacted or are available for meetings. This not only helps colleagues know when they can connect, but helps employees take reasonable breaks. Regular whole-team meetings are important to maintain good communication, so find times that are suitable for everyone. And finally, always try to use video based technology to communicate so you can see, not just hear, one another, it really does make a difference to keeping teams connected and communicating well.

Something to think about

With everyone now working remotely, colleagues will miss out on day to day social interaction which helps them get to know one another personally. Understanding one another at a human level helps people to bond and strengthens relationships. With a little effort and some gentle persuasion to try something different, you can recreate this personal interaction, and have some fun with it, using chat platforms such as Teams, slack or WhatsApp. During these times human connection has never been more important, particularly for people living alone and now working ‘alone’. These informal conversations will not only support the wellbeing of colleagues, but will also help employees stay motivated and productive. Some people have had team meetings with a theme i.e Wear a Hat or had Friday drinks virtually.

3/ Use technology effectively

Social distancing means work for many now solely takes place in digital spaces, but there is much more to this than just applying digital tools and technology. It is about thinking about new behaviours and making sure everyone has the knowledge and confidence to use any of the tools available to them. It is vital that teams can still collaborate effectively so collaboration software, such as Microsoft Teams, will become the backbone for your business enabling team members to work together easily, share documents, message each other and comment on work, wherever they are. Chat software such as Whatsaap is a great way for remote workers to connect informally with colleagues and stay involved with everyday conversations.

With rapid technological advances in recent years, we have never been better prepared to work remotely than now. There is a plethora of software and hard-wear available to allow people to work remotely almost seamlessly, and for many the use of this technology has already become part of their everyday life.

Video calls: Available through Skype, Zoom, FaceTime, Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams and others. Video calls are increasingly sophisticated and affordable, and allow remote workers to pick up on the visual cues not available in telephone calls.

Collaboration software: Slack, Yammer, Microsoft Teams and HipChat let team members work together easily, share documents, message each other and comment on work wherever they are.

Over the coming weeks and months, you will become an expert in digital collaboration and digital communication and you will find innovative ways of working that you never imagined possible, and will change the way you work forever.

Practical considerations:

  • Do employees have laptops, power suppliers, mobile phones, etc?
  • Do employees have adequate broadband plan to enable them to work remotely?
  • Do people know how to contact IT support?
  • Do people know how to use all the technology effectively and can you provide training and support?
  • Does everyone have a way of talking to their colleagues or customers?
  • Do your people know where to securely store documents?
  • Does your organisation understand information security and data privacy rules?
  • Do you have plans in place for when technology fails?

Something to think about

Most work done at home will be low-risk, desk-based work and employers are responsible only for equipment they supply. You may wish to ask your employees to self-certify that their place of work, while at home, is safe and secure. Be clear upfront how and what you will supply to remote workers, including office furniture, stationery supplies, computers, phones and broadband – and what the arrangements will be for items that may be for personal use as well as work. You should also discuss with remote workers what precautions they should take to protect sensitive information, for example, there may be shared family access to a computer used for work.

4/ Ensure employee wellbeing

The wellbeing of employees is increasingly becoming a key business priority for many organisations. Employers are investing time and money into proactively supporting employee wellbeing and are beginning to realise the benefits this brings, not just for their people, but also for their business. Now, more than ever, it is vital to look after employee wellbeing as workers adapt to new ways of living, while navigating their own personal worries and challenges that coronavirus brings.

It is important that you have regular one to one conversations with your employees and you create space in these meetings to talk about non work related things. Managers should in particular watch out for signs of anxiety, overwork or loneliness.

You should be aware of where to signpost employees who need further advice or support, such as your employee assistance programmes and any other well-being resources you have available alongside outside support such as Breathing Space and the Samaritans. Make sure employees know what is available to them and how to access this support. Share resources and tools with employees about successful home working. We have a guide for employees which you might find useful.

It is vital that you keep checking in on people’s workloads and stress levels and offer support where possible. Homeworkers are more likely to work too much than too little, because they don’t have a commute or cues and conversation from colleagues to break up the day. Managers should be alert to signs of overworking and the risk of burn-out, and encourage employees to take regular breaks. Employees are also likely to be juggling home working with other responsibilities, so If you can, adjust targets for employees who remain working and be flexible with deadlines.

And of course good communication at all levels is paramount - isolation and loneliness is a key concern, during the coronavirus crisis therefore communication between colleagues is paramount during this time, so pull out all the stops to find ways for employees to stay connected.

Sadly of course some of your employees may become ill with COVID-19 and you should be familiar with your sickness policies. As a manager you should also keep up to date with official government health advice during the crisis.

Something to think about

Wellbeing should remain a key business focus during this time and where possible wellbeing initiatives should continue to run. For example, you could offer online mindfulness sessions, virtual fitness classes, healthy eating advice, etc. If you don’t have much of a budget for this don’t worry as there are many great free offerings out there right now with many individuals and companies making health and wellbeing content available free of charge. This doesn’t all need to fall to the manager of course, you should encourage employees to share content, share ideas and share their own stories about how they are keeping well. This is time to get creative about what you can do and how you do it.

5/ Manage performance and outcomes

You should continue to work with your employees to agree on clear and concise individual objectives, and as manager it is still your role to monitor performance. Practically you will need to adapt to carrying out one to ones and performance reviews, by video calls and by using collaboration software.

You should take time to talk to employees about what you each expect from one another during the coming weeks and months as you work through the coronavirus crisis. However, these are unpredictable times and above all else you need to be realistic and flexible. By actively listening and showing that you trust your employees, good performance is more likely to be maintained.

But yes of course you should continue to set clear, specific and measurable objectives as long as they are achievable and realistic. Employees are more motivated when they know what they have to deliver and by when – and be trusted to achieve those objectives. When tasks and expectations are clearly defined, employees have the freedom to manage their time and workload within those objectives. Meanwhile you can concentrate on outcomes, rather than being concerned about when your employees are working.

Remember that some people are better suited to home working than others and that some people will already be experienced in home working, meanwhile for others it will be completely new. However, the current coronavirus crisis has forced your employees to move to home working regardless of their personal attributes. Be supportive and understanding as your employees adapt. The successful remote worker has particular qualities and attributes, which you might want to start to foster in the team. These include good communication skills, a positive working relationship with colleagues, motivation and the ability to work independently. As well as a clear understanding of their role and objectives, good time management and organisational skills and confidence in using technology to work collaboratively and stay connected.

Something to think about

During this time, you should continue to offer employees access to training and support. There is a plethora of e-learning tools out there and you can still organise peer-to-peer support, mentoring and coaching which will all help employees maintain good performance.

6/ Support people who have children at home due to school/nursery closures

Due to the coronavirus crisis, schools and nurseries are now mainly closed and parents will also no longer have access to informal childcare, such as grandparents while social distancing measures are in place. This means that if you have employees who are parents they will be facing a reality of working at home with their children in the house. In normal circumstances we would not advise that homeworking is used for regular childcare, but of course these are not normal times.

Assuming you have working parents who can and want to continue working at home, then you need to have ongoing open and honest conversations with them about what is possible and adapt their workload accordingly. You really do need to be realistic about people’s workload and set achievable outcomes and most importantly you need to be flexible and adaptable as circumstances can change day to day, for example a child takes unwell.

You can also encourage the team to work together to find a way of ensuring business continuity against the backdrop of their own personal circumstance, for example if someone has slightly older children in the house they might feel more able to provide continuity during normal office hours as their children can mainly look after themselves. Meanwhile a colleague with a toddler is going to struggle to get much work done when they are about and may feel that they can work for a few hours in the evenings.

It is absolutely vital that your ‘door is open’ and that employees feel empowered to talk to you about their proposed working arrangements and be adaptable as things will change week to week, day to day. This way everyone’s expectations are managed. There is no silver bullet here and it really does come down to common sense, good leadership, trust and open conversations and good communication.

SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT

Working at home and juggling childcare is likely to feel overwhelming, and exhausting, for your employees. There are lots of good resources out there to support parents during these times and you should encourage your employees to share internally with others, anything they have found that has helped them to navigate the situation. We have a guide for remote workers and will be running virtual coffee mornings for home workers – a safe place where your employees can come and share their challenges with others and hopefully find some solutions – you should encourage your employees to stay connected to other working parents. If you already have a parents network in your workplace make sure they have the resource to continue functioning during this crisis, as this may be a lifeline for your employees.

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