Over the past few weeks, most businesses across the UK were forced to either close their doors for the foreseeable future or implement a homeworking policy so that their employees can work from home as a result of the social distancing measures that have been put in place by the government.
This may be a new concept for some organisations who did not allow staff to work from home prior to the coronavirus outbreak which means there are a lot of adjustments that need to be made, and not just by the employee.
Employers must now figure out how to effectively manage their staff remotely to ensure that they are productive yet not overworked and still feel motivated and supported even if we are unable to have any face to face interaction.
Here are some key tips for managing remote workers which can be applied now and into the future as we enter a new age of the working world.
Have a clear and thorough policy
When introducing any new process or system of work into the workplace, you need to clearly communicate what it is and how it works in the form of a written policy.
In this instance, it would be a homeworking policy which should outline the following:
- A clear definition of what it means to be a homeworker, or work remotely
- Who can request to work from home, and how they must do so
- The company expectations of employees who work from home
- The employer responsibilities when it comes to homeworkers
Once this has been written up, it needs to be communicated effectively which could be done through inclusion in the employee handbook or on the company intranet.
As with any new workplace policy, you should give your staff the opportunity to pose any questions or raise any queries they may have regarding the homeworking policy and address these as quickly as possible and make any necessary amendments to your written policy.
The most important thing you can do as an employer when staff are working remotely, is to keep an open line of communication with them.
This will ensure that they still feel part of a team which is important for motivation and mental health.
You should try to schedule, at least, a weekly meeting with them even if this is just a ten-minute phone call to check on them, their workload and keep them up to date with any company news or changes.
There are some brilliant free online communication tools available, such as Google Hangouts, Microsoft teams and Zoom, which enable you to have team meetings and share screens so you can still function as you would if you were all in the same space.
Set targets and deadlines
One of employers’ biggest fears about staff working from home, is that they will slack off on their work. However, many studies have shown that homeworking has the opposite effect and most employees will overwork as they feel pressure to overcompensate because they have the benefit of working remotely.
Even so, if you want to ensure that productivity remains high then you should continue to have KPI’s and targets or introduce them if they are not already in place.
These should be realistic and based on the level of performance that each employee has already shown, and these should definitely not be drastically increased just because an employee is now working from home.
KPI’s and targets will also make it a lot easier to monitor your employees’ performance when working remotely.
If they are not hitting their target each month, or their KPI’s are declining from the point that they start working from home, then you could attribute remote working to a drop-in performance and use this to support your decision to retract their status as a remote worker.
Schedule their breaks
As important as it is that you can monitor your employee’s effectively when they are working from home, it is just as important that your employees do not suffer from burn out which is common amongst remote workers. A great way to do this is to schedule breaks throughout the day at an agreed set time.
For example, you can set their lunch break at 1pm every day and put it in their calendar as a reminder, along with a ten-minute break at 10.30am and at 3pm to ensure that they are getting their required regular breaks from their screen.
Not only will this help with your employee’s mental health, but by having agreed upon these times, they will feel less guilty about stepping away from their work and are more likely to take their breaks.
It also ensures that everyone is aware of when remote workers are unavailable, so they are not expected to take meetings, respond to email or answer calls during these times.
Let them switch off
One of the most common downsides of working from home for employees, is that it’s difficult to find a work-life balance when your home is also your workplace.
They may find that they can’t switch off at the end of the working day because it’s all to easy to stay on their laptop and continue responding to emails, or they can’t help but check their work phone on a Saturday to see if anything urgent has fallen into their inbox.
What you can do as an employer to alleviate this burden from your remote workers is enforce a strict ‘switch off’ period that allows all of your employees to disconnect from work at certain times during the week and at the weekend (if these are their non-working days).
For example, let your employees know that they must turn off their work phone at 5.30pm every weekday until 8.30am the following week day and across the whole weekend, and that they are not expected or required to respond to any calls or emails during these hours either.
It depends on their role, and your industry, as to how strictly you enforce these rules, as you may well have an overtime policy in place that allows staff to work extra hours for more money – and they may be happy to do so, or required to do so according to their contract.
There may also be rare occasions where the workload is high or deadlines are tight and staff may prefer to work a little later, or on a Sunday, in order to get their work completed in time.
As a result, you should assess your ‘switch off’ period and rules on a case by case basis and be flexible in your approach to it.
The worst thing you can do to employees when working from home is micromanage them, especially if that is not how you managed them when they were in the office.
You may think that you are being supportive by calling them twice a day, or scheduling meetings every other day, but it could increase their stress levels and make them feel as though you don’t trust them or that they have to work twice as hard to prove that they deserve what is often treated as a ‘perk’ or ‘company benefit’.
You need to find the balance between giving them their independence or space to show that you trust them whilst also ensuring that they feel supported.
Some good examples of this would be, as mentioned above, a weekly check-in call or meeting, an email every morning just to let them know that you are available if they need you or sending a company-wide newsletter every month with all the company updates and news such as new starters, leavers and new policies.
Homeworking is the way forward for most businesses, especially given the current situation with COVID-19 and social distancing.
It can be difficult for both employees and employers to adapt and find ways of working that are right for everyone, so if you need any support with your homeworking policy, homeworking risk assessment or just some advice on common HR issues that arise with remote working, then call us today on 0845 2626 260 or email [email protected] and we can look at how our HR and Health and Safety Consultants can support your business.