How to ensure your staff can work really effectively at home.
The Covid-19 lockdown is starting to ease. The government, whilst encouraging us to work from home, accepts that some companies want their staff in the office. Some businesses have to have staff in the office in order to deliver what their clients needs. But if you are one of the growing number of businesses now seriously considering moving to remote working, here’s our guide to keeping your staff working effectively.
Discuss it with your team – their opinions are vital
Reducing, or removing, the costs of office space can deliver a real boost to your bottom line, but only if other costs don’t increase and sales don’t decrease. You will need your team on your side if you are going to make the move to remote working, or WFH (working from home) if we’re going to use current terminology.
They have been working from home, or furloughed, since March 23rd 2020, so they should be used to it by now. That doesn’t mean they like it and they may well prefer to work in the office, at least part of the time. Having said that, you will only really be considering moving to remote working if the [forced] experiment has been a success.
Moving into the Cloud means your team really can work from anywhere. At the beginning of the lockdown, something like 30 million companies started using Office 365 in the first month. Being able to collaborate on documents and work in Teams increases productivity and efficiency. Removing a server network from your company also removes Capex from your P&L and assets from your balance sheet.
Softphones or mobile apps – with headphones
Remote workers, whether working from home or elsewhere, don’t want a desk phone cluttering up the place. VoIP solutions for your telecoms allow you to add softphones to everyone’s laptops or mobile apps to their mobiles. Let them use the devices they prefer to have the conversations they need to have with clients, suppliers and all other stakeholders. Headphones will improve the sound quality and stop them disturbing others around them.
Good internet connections – with SLAs
Perhaps the most important factor in whether your team can work effectively from home is their internet connection. It needs to be suitable for what you want them to do. The latest home internet connections may offer download speeds of over 300Mbps, but if the connection goes down, it doesn’t matter how fast it is. The recent Virgin issues across London have proved that.
You may also want to consider adding a good data bundle to their mobiles, particularly if they have a company phone. In the event of an internet outage, using 4G or 5G can provide the internet connectivity they need to continue being productive.
Working from home actually increases the need for IT security. Tools such as multi-factor authentication (MFA) help to keep your company data safe. You can read more about this in a recent article here. Combine this with regular security training and ethical phishing tests to ensure your network isn’t breached.
The right working environment
If your staff are working a five day week from the sofa they are not going to deliver the productivity you need. They are also going to quickly develop a bad back from sitting with a poor posture all day. They also need to be able to concentrate. Working from the dining table when the kids are home is not going to be good either.
Ideally they will have a separate room to work from, but that isn’t always possible. A desk in their bedroom or spare room will be much better than one in a room that is used much more.
We’ve touched on these a couple of times. Microsoft Teams, Gamma’s Horizon Collaborate, Asana and many more make working together more effective, reduce the number of meetings needed and increase productivity. Most have functionality that tells you whether someone is available or not. Connect them to your diary and let people simply flick the switch if they want quiet or downtime. If you do use this function, make sure you honour the “red light”. Calls that start “I know you’re on red, but…” will not be popular.
Let’s face it, most of us are sat at our desks for most of the day. Your typical dining room chair will not do you any good. Whilst ergonomic chairs may not be the most beautiful pieces of furniture, they are necessary. A Herman Miller chair isn’t going to give you any change from £1,000, but both John Lewis and Ikea can provide alternatives that don’t break the bank. Here’s a recent review of office chairs you might find useful.
Remember that you are responsible for the health and safety of your team, even if they are working from home, or remotely. Here’s the government’s latest guidance on the topic.
Regular communication within the team
People are social animals. They rely on social interaction to keep them sane (we’ll look at mental wellbeing in a moment) and happy.
Providing multiple ways for your team to interact will be key to maintaining a happy and productive team. We hold morning meetings using Horizon Collaborate (we are a Gamma Partner) but there are plenty of other tools out there.
Communication isn’t always work related. Gatherings around the coffee machine or water cooler aren’t possible when working remotely, so make sure that your team knows they can talk through the day – about non-work stuff. It is their ability to bond that really makes a team…
Regular face to face meetings
Video or voice calls are useful, but nothing beats face to face. If you have gone to completely remote working, build into your schedule regular face to face meetings. Perhaps once a month, maybe a little more frequently. As you’re no longer paying for office space, there’s budget space to hire meeting rooms or venues to gather at. In the summer, perhaps you can meet in a park or on one of the Thames Clippers?
The best thing about face to face time is the ability to have one to one conversations. You can spread out in twos, or small groups, and talk about the weather, sport, family life – whatever you want and then do the work stuff.
If you don’t want the team in the office, do they really need to work Mon-Fri, 9-5? As long as they get the work done, why not let them work when they want to work? As long as you know whether they are “in work” or “out of work” (refer to collaboration tools section) so you use the appropriate tools to communicate with them, surely all is good. Multiple studies have shown that people are more productive when they can work flexibly.
If you decided to shrink, rather than completely remove, the office, make sure people know they can work wherever they want to. There will be days when the office is packed and others when it is almost empty.
Last, but possibly most important is the mental health and fitness of your team. Absence due to mental health costs the UK £38 billion a year. Much of what is mentioned above will help, but you have to keep an eye out for signs that something isn’t right. With remote workers, this becomes harder as you don’t see them everyday. The good news is that there are a growing number of tools out there to help you, as an owner/director/manager, and for individuals. Apps such as MyArkeo aim to make it as easy as possible to assess your mental fitness and do something about it.
There are a lot of benefits to moving to a remote working business, but it isn’t completely straight-forward. Some of the savings you make from removing office costs have to be re-invested into making sure your team can work effectively together. We hope this guide has given you something to think about.