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Practical guidelines for successful remote working in a crisis

With whole teams now working from home, getting it right is critical. Here’s how to make remote working work in practice.

successful remote working

By Claire Campbell, Consultancy Director, Timewise

The word unprecedented is being overused right now, but it’s fair to say that things are changing at an unrecognisable pace.

In the two weeks since we posted our advice on setting up remote working, the workplace landscape has totally transformed. With schools and offices closed, and anyone who can do so working from home, organisations of all shapes and sizes are having to get used to remote working as a long-term reality.

For employers, many of whom may have had to hastily put some kind of remote working in place, the next step is to think strategically about how to make it work well in practice. From understanding what your employees’ current issues might be, to thinking through how to communicate with a remote team, here are our guidelines for making remote working a success during Covid-19.

Create a clear communication strategy

Aside from making sure your IT systems are working seamlessly, the most critical success factor for remote working is communication. As you can’t physically read people’s moods, grab someone for an informal catch-up, or pull everyone together for a briefing, you need to create remote opportunities to do so.

How to address this:

  • Think through what kind and frequency of virtual meetings would be helpful, with input from employees. As a rule of thumb, video-based platforms are better for engagement than conference calls, and speaking is better than emailing, particularly for more personal situations.
  • Create a schedule of regular communication points. For example: daily check-ins between line managers and staff; weekly team catch-ups to monitor the progress of a project; virtual drop-in sessions for senior leaders to be on hand for questions.
  • Stay true to your workplace culture. If people are used to having opportunities to chat, consider setting up virtual coffee-break sessions to replicate that.
  • Set ground rules for large virtual meetings, so everyone gets their chance to speak. We’ll be sharing more advice on this topic soon.
  • Make sure everyone knows how to use any new tech platforms, and offer training for those who don’t.

Review priorities and objectives

It’s not business as usual right now, so it can’t be delivery as usual either. And while working from home can be highly productive in normal circumstances, that’s may not be the case for some of your employees right now.

The practical impact of school closures is that many remote employees have their children at home. They may not have a dedicated work desk, and may be juggling space and broadband capacity with their partner. So it’s important that leaders and managers understand the constraints their people are working under – and review priorities and objectives accordingly.

How to address this:

  • Explain that you’re aware of the different responsibilities people are managing.
  • Reassure them that you will be focusing on outputs, not hours spent at a desk and that you trust them to do the best they can.
  • Collaboratively review personal and team objectives, based on individual circumstances as well as market factors.
  • Agree what work should be prioritised, and what can wait. Many sectors are in a state of flux at the moment, so this will need to be a rolling review process.
  • Be precise about expectations, and offer check-in points, so people aren’t left floundering at home unsure about what to do.
  • Be prepared to adjust deadlines to accommodate the limits on people’s work time.
  • Encourage employees to block out time on their calendars when they won’t be able to respond straight away, and to work at times that are practical for them.
  • And above all, ask them to put their hands up if they need extra support.

Treat wellbeing as a strategic priority

It goes without saying that stress is a real issue at the moment;  it also takes more effort to keep an eye on staff wellbeing when everyone is working remotely. So it’s vital to put structures in place to make sure everyone is OK, and create guidelines to help them take care of themselves.

How to address this:

  • Be as alert as you can to changes in staff behaviour. If an employee goes off the virtual radar, or is not delivering in line with revised expectations, it may be a wellbeing issue.
  • Make staff feel comfortable about contacting managers or HR to discuss wellbeing concerns.
  • Encourage people to take regular breaks, to take daily exercise and get outdoors if they can (within government guidelines).
  • Set an expectation that staff switch off properly when they’ve finished working; workload creep can be a real issue when working from home.
  • Create a forum for colleagues to share ideas of how they’re boosting their morale, such as online exercise classes, family art classes or meditation.
  • Make it easy for people to set up groups for virtual socialising, such as book clubs or recipe swaps.
  • And, whenever you speak to someone, ask how they are.

Over the coming weeks, we’ll be offering further advice and tools to help you manage the new workplace order. In the meantime, if you need any support from us, do get in touch.

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