The Covid-19 pandemic has completely changed how businesses operate. Across the globe, companies have had to allow their employees to work remotely, marking a radical shift from the traditional office environment.
This move has physically separated managers from their teams, and employees from one another (in many instances, for the first time ever) and, in a time of a crisis, forced businesses to rapidly adopt new remote-working policies and consider key factors to ensure smooth operations.
Working from home presents new challenges, such as an absence of face-to-face communication, anxiety induced by social isolation, and distractions related to the home environment (such as small children needing attention or too many people in a small space).
Flow managing director Tiffany Turkington-Palmer says consistent and transparent communication is key to successful remote working. “Knowing the path and goals and having everyone on board”, with a clear understanding of “where you need to get to and how this contributes to this success”, is critical, she says.
Here are some tried-and-tested tips for working remotely:
Establish structured daily check-ins
Remote employees are more likely to feel alienated or disconnected than those working in an office environment, according to a study of more than 1 100 employees reported on by the Harvard Business Review. It is therefore important to establish a daily call routine with employees, in the form of one-on-one catch-ups and/or team calls.
“The buddy system established at Flow has worked really well for the company,” says Tiffany. “Having someone to catch up with independently on a personal note, to check in on you, keeps employees motivated and in touch with each other. The company also has regular team meetings, company-wide meetings and staff meetings, all interspersed with fun and games to make sure everyone feels supported.”
Use different technology options for communications
Working together in a bricks-and-mortar office environment means colleagues generally communicate face to face, or via internal emails and telephone calls. Remote working, on the other hand, requires a lot more than these traditional office channels.
Home workers benefit from having a range of communication tools at hand. Video conferencing, for example, has gained much popularity during the Covid-19 pandemic. Flow head of project management Gail Cameron says “a good communication system is key – Google Hangouts, Skype, Zoom, WhatsApp, and so on, all complement our emails to one another” and help staff to facilitate meetings and connect with co-workers and clients.
Visual cues from video conferencing also allow for fun at work, says Gail. “They help keep our spirits up and make us feel like we’re part of a bigger team working together. Daily jokes, weekly Friday-afternoon drinks and dance-offs all give a human element to working remotely and away from everyone,” she adds.
Offer encouragement and emotional support
An abrupt shift to remote working can contribute to loneliness and negative emotions for some employees. Managers need to be vigilant in acknowledging stress, anxieties and concerns raised by their staff as a result of remote working, and should take care to empathise. The onus is largely on office managers to create virtual offices with an upbeat atmosphere.
Flow Communications, for example, has adopted a number of tactics to help maintain a balanced workplace. These include daily check-ins from various employees, the sharing of a daily joke, a daily “culture club” where books and films are reviewed, one-minute workout sessions, dance-off challenges and quizzes to help keep staff motivated.
Everyone in the company has successfully made the transition to working remotely during the Covid-19 lockdown, says Tiffany. Some of the secrets to this success are having a routine, being flexible with time and not watching the clock, and practising self-care.
Find a balance between productivity and accountability
When employees work outside the traditional office environment, there is a risk of low productivity and a lack of accountability. When there is no physical day-to-day managerial oversight, some team members may not manage their time and work-related tasks wisely.
Business applications such as Timesponge – an in-house time-tracking and project-management intranet tool developed by Flow Communications – help managers track all the employees in an organisation. The platform also allows staff to log their time daily, down to 15-minute increments, and enables project managers to track their projects and receive automatic updates via email early every morning.
This is particularly useful for those who do client work, because it gives a clear sense of billable hours spent.