As the world gets used to being in lockdown and more people than ever before are discovering how to work from home, attention is shifting to how we maintain the health and wellbeing of our army of new homeworkers. Jonathan Berry, European Practice Director at international management consultancy Expressworks, offers these expert tips.
“In some ways we are lucky that we are in this situation now, rather than even a decade ago,” comments Jonathan Berry. “Even 10 years ago, plenty of people thought ‘working from home’ was a euphemism for taking the day off. As that has changed, the sophistication and reach of tools that allow remote working have grown past all recognition. We can be much more productive at home than we could be back then. The meteoric rise in the share price of Zoom is one example of how popular this tool has become, but Teams and Slack are adding armies of new subscribers too.
“The problem is there are still many people in our workforce who are not familiar with these tools. People are being confronted with an incredibly complicated set of tools and are being asked to make sense of them in just a few days or even hours. At a time when many people are extremely stressed about their situations, this can be an unwelcome additional cause of anxiety.
“Imagine looking at an airline cockpit for the first time. There are buttons and instruments everywhere, you have no clue what any of them do, and you are worried that pressing the wrong one could be catastrophic. And you are given two hours to make sense of it. Many people facing the new world of digital communications could be feeling the same level of anxiety as most of us would feel in the cockpit scenario.
“One of the best ways for managers to overcome this anxiety is to allow team members to be organic about how they collaborate. Don’t try to be prescriptive. Let them find the ways that work best for them through trial and error. The team will need time to talk about it and discover what works best for them, so a good practice is to add 10 minutes at the end of calls to discuss ways of working and how everyone is feeling.
“Managers trying to replicate business as usual, just from remote locations, will find that productivity over time will decrease. Those who allow an organic evolution of new ways of working may find their team is even more productive than it used to be.
“For people used to working in a busy environment, full of other people, isolation can be a real issue. Isolation can cause people can retreat into themselves, so it is important to make sure you are having plenty of conversations.
“My top tips are to start each day by talking to someone rather than going straight to email and where possible show your face – use video not just voice. Team drinks over video at the end of the day ensures your day has been topped and tailed with human contact.
“The type of manager who tends to micro-manage others will find the remote working scenario stressful for other reasons. The inability to see your team and be hands on with what they are doing will result in a lack of control that some will find deeply uncomfortable. One way around this is to agree a set of outcomes that you expect from your people. This will allow you to judge whether or not they are being productive. Attendance on certain calls, the production of pieces of written work and meeting reasonable deadlines are KPIs that can be easily managed remotely.
“It may not be possible to ascertain whether your team members are glued to their computer screens from 9am – 5pm but shifting to an outcome-based method of performance management rather than a time-based one, could result in a happier team and increased productivity.
“My advice to managers is to trust your people. How they respond to that trust will tell you a lot about them.
“Businesses and individuals are experiencing huge levels of change in ways of working because of the necessary restrictions being imposed on us. We can expect some of these changes to last. Will people be prepared to go back to the lengthy, expensive, polluting daily commute once they have discovered how to successfully work from home?
“Will companies want to continue to pay the huge costs associated with physical offices, when a significant proportion of their workforce can work effectively remotely?
“Coronavirus is having, and will continue to have, a profound impact on our economy. What remains to be seen is how significant and lasting that impact will be and, in the long term, what will be the positives as well as the negatives for businesses.”