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Last updated: 08.09.20

How can we balance remote working and office work in the long term?

Following our national COVID-19 lockdown and what essentially became a remote working experiment, businesses are now considering what to do next. With social restrictions and measures still in place and the government recommending people still work at home if they can, many are still operating remotely, but they are now beginning to look long-term, and are asking what can we learn from this? How can we adjust?

This is especially the case when it comes to the question of returning to the office. Employees will feel different about this. Those who have enjoyed working remotely may find it hard to return, and question why it must happen; some may be eagerly waiting to go back, and others may be hoping for a combination. This begs the question: how do you adjust your working ways so that you can combine elements of both remote working and office work?

Each business will have their unique issues and challenges when thinking about this and will need to devise a plan which works for them. For that reason, we want to suggest some important areas of consideration, which should hopefully help provide some clarity and structure to your plan.

Decide how remote working and office working will look

For both the options, it is important to consider what the expectations are for each one and then communicate them effectively.

Due to its flexible nature, remote working will vary from business to business. As a company, you will have to decide how remote working will look for you. Here are some questions to consider:

  • How will your remote working policy change, if at all?
  • Will people have the option to work from home fully, if they wish, or will everyone be required to come into work a certain number of days a month?
  • Will hours be flexible, for example, to fit around childcare duties?
  • Will people be able to work from different geographical locations, further afield then you may have considered beforehand?

And when it comes to asking people to work in the office, it is important to consider why you are asking them to, and what they will be expected to do. If there is a specific, beneficial reason that people need to come in the office, they will be more open to it. Maybe it’s for team meetings, a 1-2-1, face-to-face training or a company-wide social event (though making sure it’s in line with government guidelines). But if it’s a matter of trust (or lack of) then consider this carefully (more on this below).

On top of all this, it is important to consider the office setting as well, and make sure it is in line with the government’s working safely guidelines and safe for any employees.

The issue of trust

A lack of trust can be detrimental to a business – it can affect loyalty, productivity, and company culture.

A lack of trust is one reason many businesses were reluctant to embrace remote working. They were worried productivity levels would drop, and so desired visibility of their staff; our current situation is showing otherwise. Therefore, it’s important not to return to the office purely for visibility unless there are valid concerns that the work wasn’t being delivered effectively in a remote setting. If your staff feel they are being asked into the office to prove they are working, that will have a massive impact on their trust in you.

It can be uncomfortable trusting people so completely, as it puts you in a vulnerable position. But being trusted is a huge motivator for people and they will want to deliver. It’s important they know what is expected of them, so be sure to set out clear productivity outcomes: what they are expected to achieve and by when.

But if you feel productivity isn’t high enough, the manager should to try and understand where that is coming from and see if there is any concrete evidence to support it. A conversation should be had to understand why they aren’t producing and then put support in place to help.

How will teams function remotely?

What things will be put in place to help improve team culture, performance management, and team building?

We covered this topic extensively in other resources (see links above), but ultimately it comes down to a requirement for managers to upskill and make sure they adapt their skills to managing remotely. If you need support in this area, have a look at our Leading and Managing Remote Teams Training Package, or buy any of the relevant courses individually.

Consider communication methods

If remote working is decided to be a permanent fixture of the business, communication will have to be considered seriously, and solutions will have to be put in place to help ensure communication is effective, such as:

  • Regular company updates
  • Regular verbal catch-ups – one to ones and team meetings
  • Efficient use of communication tools, with decisions on how they will be used.
  • An understanding of people’s working hours and habits. It may be useful to set expectations (maybe within teams) of when people will be available, or how soon things should be responded to.
  • Consider training or write guidelines for how to communicate clearly and effectively to help ensure cues aren’t misread.

You may have put these in place during lockdown, but have you checked they have been effective? A survey to assess the communication of the company may be worthwhile.

Overall, communication must be regular to reduce a disconnect from the team, and to ensure everyone is happy, functioning, and doesn’t feel abandoned. A lot of visual cues disappear when you work remotely, and you won’t be able to quickly sense how someone is feeling or if they are struggling.

Supporting your staff, including mental health and wellbeing

Remote working can affect people’s mental health – both positively and negatively. It’s important to consider what means you have in place to help in this area, especially if you are going to be rolling out a more extensive remote working style. Make sure managers talk to their team members who may not embrace this or have reservations about it. Find out what they are struggling with and put strategies in place to support them.

As we think this is a hugely important topic, we have created some resources that can help support your staff and their mental health.

Supporting your staff in challenging times

How to support your health and wellbeing whilst working at home

Pros and cons of remote working and how to support your staff

Supporting new starters

Remote working is said to be successful, but this may be down to the fact that teams and relationships are likely to have been well established already. How will that change once people start to change jobs and roles and new members join? Careful consideration must be given regarding new starters, including how they will be introduced and welcomed into the company and their team. The onboarding process may be quite different, especially if it has gone through a digital transformation and is now done remotely, and a lot more attention will have to be given to the new starters to ensure they will settle in, as it will be harder to form relationships. Maybe arrange a number of face-to-face team meetings or socially distanced team away days? Or have regular one-to-ones to begin with, or virtual team building sessions?

Establishing them in the team will be so important – if only to avoid having to go through the recruitment process and onboarding process all over again!

Training staff remotely

Remote working will have an impact on the type of training that is carried out, so you may have to re-think your training plan. Digital resources are useful here, especially as they have proved so successful during this lockdown. As a result, many businesses are considering a digital transformation, and mulling over questions such as, how do we decide what needs to be digitised? Do we need a blended approach? Do we have the skills needed to carry out the digital transformation, or do we reach out to other companies? A first step may be to include your staff members and send out a survey, which is a useful way to discover their training likes, dislikes, needs and wants.

We have packed this article full of information and have tried to help you come up with areas you need to consider when thinking of permanently including remote working. Our Learning Training Consultants are helping many businesses with their re-boarding and digital transformation plans, if you would like to talk with them, contact us at hello@virtual-college.co.uk.