Should working from home be at the top of your agenda?

With coronavirus now at a tipping point into community spread, every organisation should be implementing viable continuity plans to see how they can lessen the impact it will have on their business. Senior leaders should be making sure they align to their national Governments’ coronavirus strategy. 

Examples of initiatives already put in place include bridging loans being offered to companies in Germany and Statutory Sick Pay being available to eligible employees in the UK from day 1, rather than day 4. 

But there are simple measures leaders could put in place now, such as remote working, that would potentially limit the chances of spread and allow for productive working to continue. 

Many leaders were previously hesitant about allowing the flexibility to work from home, fuelled by common conceptions about what remote working entails or the false assumption that remote workers are unproductive compared to employees working in the office. In fact, the data suggests, with guidance from employers, the reverse is true. 

Yes, with long-term remote working the question comes up “How can I effectively lead my team when they’re not present in the office?” Short-term it’s not a problem, with the development of video calling options and of course the simple old fashioned “check in” phone call each day. 

But the reality is, driven by digital technology, remote working has grown by over 140% since 2005 (Global Workplace Analytics). Taking a simple common sense approach and providing support is the secret to success. The key elements you need to consider when leading a remote workforce are:

Have the right tools in place

Collaboration is only possible if the right tech support is in place for remote workers. Can they download files, access shared resources, hear and speak clearly on conference calls and get in touch with people easily? These must be present as a precursor for any effective remote working, other than the occasional “disconnected” day off for unexpected emergencies. But even then, the level of technology in widely available platforms such as WhatsApp allows both individual and group interaction in real time. Downloads of Zoom, the video conferencing platform, have soared recently.  

Communication is key

Communication is essential to good leadership and implementation whether your team is based in an office or at home. It’s more important than ever to be an effective communicator with a remote team. Clarity around task implementation has to be better, given the inability of those at home to get the immediate feedback they could in the office if questions arise. This is particularly true of less experienced employees.

Optimising remote working support levels  

Within the office environment, as the team leader, you have the ability to proactively give feedback if you sense employees have a problem. That doesn’t apply with remote working. Experienced employees can move to remote working very effectively; it is the less experienced ones you need to support proactively. So to some degree, the the level of experience will impact the ease with which you can move to remote working if needed. But, also don’t assume it’s you who has to do all the supporting and supervision. Remember that you have experienced team members and so you can get them to help support and supervise the less experienced in a simple coaching process. 

It is also worth asking where employees live. It might be possible to set up out of office “work pods” where two or three employees can come together in one of their homes if this facilitates better outcomes. This could be particularly true where they are working on the same project and where detailed discussion and iterative development of plans is needed. This is always done better face to face – remembering that 80% of human communication is not verbal.   

Build trust

Trust is key to remote working and to how much effort your people give in the office as well. If you have built a sense of trust with the team, the transition to remote working will be much easier. But, the simple act of telling people that you trust them to do what is needed rather than closely supervise, in other words empowering them, is often something leaders are reluctant to do in the office but have to do with remote working.     

The silver lining?

There’s no doubt in the fact that the outbreak of coronavirus is forcing leaders to think about how they, their teams and their organisations work. 

Despite significant investment in technology, many organisations don’t use the full capability their systems give them. Current events are forcing them to do so.  

Leader’s relationship with their people is now likely to be impacted, with remote working forcing increased empowerment and trust.  

Whilst the wider impact of the virus will be significantly negative, maybe, just maybe, in some small way it could drive benefits from greater empowerment to better use of technology that will make organisations better. 

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