Homeworking | 5 ways to support staff from a distance

The coronavirus outbreak has exposed how rigid or agile businesses’ working practices are – and has forced employers to adapt to homeworking as a means of remaining operational.

While many will have been embracing flexible working prior to the pandemic, for others, reverting to homeworking will be a drastic change. Aside from the practicalities of setting up from home, if you’ve never tested the waters before, you may be wondering how to keep your team together – and productivity high – once employees are left to their own devices.

Importantly, while there are several benefits to working from home, less direct support, fewer social interactions and difficulty switching off from work can also put a real strain on people’s mental health. As the UK becomes a nation of homeworkers in order to ride out the current crisis, employers should therefore be mindful of the toll this may take on staff.

Here are 5 ways to support staff from a distance:

1. Keep communication going

It might sound obvious, but keeping in regular contact is essential to successful homeworking and ensuring near-normal operations. For some employees, this may be their first experience of working from home, and without open lines of communication, working remotely can create real anxiety and leave employees feeling directionless. It’s important to establish a system of contact, not only between managers and employees but between colleagues, too.

Consider using video chat software such as Microsoft Teams or Skype to set up regular meetings. You may wish to hold a morning meeting to set the agenda for the day, followed by a late afternoon catch-up to check in on progress. This will help to keep everyone informed, productive and working towards shared goals.

Outside of work-related meetings, encourage employees to pick up the phone or video chat wherever possible, even if just to ask how their day has been. These virtual “water cooler moments” are key to staying connected.

Keep in mind that conversations shouldn’t just be centered around specific projects, as there may be some employees who aren’t involved in group tasks. Make a list of these individuals and be sure to check in with them separately, both in relation to what they’re working on and their general wellbeing, so that they feel just as much a part of the team.

2. Keep everyone in the loop

Remote working can be hard to coordinate, and not knowing who’s doing what can lead to crossed wires, confusion and unease. Online workflow tools such as Trello or Monday.com are great for managing teams from a distance, as they allow you to assign ownership for tasks, monitor their status, and give everyone visibility over what’s on people’s to-do lists. This can help to prevent staff from working in silos (i.e. working towards the same objective but not sharing information), which can in turn increase productivity and reducing feelings of being left in the dark.

3. Celebrate successes

A sense of achievement is key to employee engagement and job satisfaction, and being out of office means there are less opportunities for instant feedback. As such, employers will need to find creative ways of keeping morale high through this period of upheaval.

One way to do this is by sharing good news stories, either via email or a shared online platform. Here, you can celebrate your homeworking successes, whether that be finding novel ways to carry out essential business tasks remotely, receiving great client feedback, or things you are doing to support employees’ mental health. Encourage submissions from staff to ensure employees’ efforts don’t go unnoticed just because they are working from home, as well as to give everyone a much-needed positivity boost in tough times.

Peer-to-peer feedback is another way to keep spirits high while your team is dispersed. This can be done through virtual recognition cards, stored in a central location, for colleagues to send to each other to celebrate an employee’s achievement, recognise their contribution to a task, or thank them for their hard work.

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Of 32.6 million people in employment across the UK, only 8.7 million have ever worked from home in their current job. This is less than 30% of the workforce. (Source: Office for National Statistics)

4. Reinforce the importance of work-life balance

When your working and living quarters become one, it can be difficult to switch off. This is a common challenge for homeworkers and will be even more difficult now given the current lockdown restrictions. In the interest of maintaining work-life balance through this challenging period, remind employees to:

  • Take breaks and get some fresh air if they can, observing government guidance on social distancing and the once-per-day exercise limit.
  • Make the work-to-home transition clearer by having a separate work station/room and going outside or shutting the door on this space after work finishes.
  • Advising employees not to beat themselves up if things take longer than usual and not heaping on unnecessary pressure;
  • Understanding that parents will need to combine work with their new role as homeschoolers and finding ways of working that allow them to juggle these demands; and
  • Keeping in touch throughout the day so that any issues can be ironed out, anxieties can be addressed, and staff feel as supported as they would sat at their desks.

Above all, work with your staff. In these unprecedented times, finding ways of working that suit both the needs of the business and employees’ own personal circumstances is essential to maintaining the stability of your team and your operations.