9 Things You Need To Consider For Successful Remote Working

In 2015, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed that 4.2 million people in the UK – across a range of sectors – worked from home. At the time, it was predicted that 50% of the UK workforce would work remotely by 2020.

While flexible working practices and remote working have steadily increased in popularity among innovative companies, the predicted 50% figure was not on course to be reached in 2020, until the Coronavirus pandemic.

In April 2020, statistics released by the ONS showed 49.2% of the UK workforce were working remotely due to the restrictions and social distancing measures introduced by the government in response to COVID-19. A significant number of businesses were forced to adopt agile working practices and implement remote working quickly.

For some, this may be a temporary “new normal” until restrictions are completely lifted. However, for others, working from home that was introduced as a measure to help control the spread of a virus may become business-as-usual, with more flexible working practices adopted as a permanent employee benefit going forward.

Research has already proven that remote workers tend to be more productive, with a recent two-year study finding that productivity boosts among remote workers equated to one full extra day of work per week. In addition, the study also found employee turnover decreased by 50%, remote workers took fewer sick days, and the company saved almost $2,000 per year, per employee, on rent due to reducing office space.

However, the research also found that employees who worked from home 100% of the time felt too much isolation. Therefore, for optimum benefit, employers may want to consider a blended or flexible approach to remote working.

While there are many benefits for both employees and employers in adopting flexible working practices, it is important to note that managing remote employees requires specific policies and skill sets that are different from those needed when managing a traditional in-person workforce.

If you have had to adapt to a “new normal”, or intend to implement more flexible working arrangements in the future, here are nine things to consider, to ensure remote working is a success for your organisation:

Communication, Communication, Communication

A permanent challenge for management regardless of the working situation, the general rule is that you can never have too much communication. This is especially true when managing a remote workforce. In addition, a variety of methods of communication is also important, including telephone, video conferencing, in-person meetings, networking events, email, and instant messaging, etc. It isn’t enough to simply provide multiple forms of communication. Specific policies, a handbook, and even training should be provided on when it is appropriate to use different communication channels, and how they should be used effectively and efficiently. Don’t assume that everyone knows how to use Microsoft Teams, or Outlook, or Zoom, or Slack – provide suitable training and guidance to your team.

Introduce a Routine

This is heavily linked to communication - consistency in communication is important – especially when dealing with larger groups of employees or with teams across multiple functions.

Schedule daily, weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly planning or catch-up meetings, depending on the needs of your organisation and team. These will help to ensure everyone knows what is going on in the business, enables priority setting and problem solving, and helps to ensure better productivity for everyone.

Video, Video, Video

When feasible, use video for meetings over phone calls. It may have felt strange and unusual pre-Coronavirus, but by now everyone is used to holding video meetings with clients, video meetings with teams, and attending online webinars with a high number of participants.

Trust Your Employees

Empower your teams and trust your employees to work from home – this is the only way remote working can be truly successful. Micromanaging and checking-in too frequently can breed resentment and distrust - and be a distraction from getting on with the job. Manage performance by measuring outcomes. If your employees are meeting their targets and completing work by deadlines, then they are working remotely effectively.

Agenda, Minutes, Action Plan

Preparation for meetings should be key regardless of whether they are held in-person or remotely. However, it is even more important when managing a remote team. All meetings should have an agenda, minutes should be taken of what is discussed, and an action plan should be created outlining what steps need to be taken next, by whom, and by when. This helps ensure accountability, collaboration, and contribution from all team members.

Explain the “Why”

Working remotely often means employees don’t feel as involved in the decision-making process, or they may struggle to understand why certain decisions have been made. Explaining the why behind decisions is always important but when working in-person individuals are more likely to understand the background to a decision through conversations that are more naturally held in the workplace.

When working remotely, these informal “water cooler” moments are lost. Take a step back to explain the “why” to help ensure all employees feel valued and involved, and so everyone can provide feedback and ask questions.

Help Employees to Unplug

When working from home, it can be difficult for employees to switch off and transition from work-mode to home-mode. To ensure high levels of productivity, prevent burnout, and reduce the potential for work-related stress, it’s important that company policy helps to set clear boundaries and encourages employees to do the same. This could mean a no emails after 5pm rule, no contact on weekends, and ensuring employees aren’t contacted when they are on annual leave.

Ask for Feedback

Making time for regular one-to-one performance reviews is important to ensure the continuous development of employees and can help to boost employee engagement. However, it is also important to solicit feedback from employees on the performance of the company – especially in a remote working scenario – How could the company support employees further? What works well? What could be improved?

Facilitate In-Person, Sometimes

While remote and flexible working practices have become the norm for many industries, spending time together with colleagues can be powerful in helping to build rapport, establish trusting relationships, and boost morale. Occasional team meetings, events, get-togethers, site visits, or field trips can provide the opportunity for human-to-human interaction that can have significant positive benefits and outcomes.

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