While millions or nearly one in four of us according to recent statistics have been working remotely from home for many months already, there is still a significant challenge for HR professionals and managers up and down the country in trying to effectively manage staff, with no immediate end to the pandemic in sight despite the start of the UK’s Covid 19 vaccination programme.
When you consider that organisations with office-based employees, literally had to change their working arrangements and methods of communications to a remote home based one overnight, following the first lockdown in March, it’s not hard to appreciate what a massive upheaval this has been for both employers and employees alike.
Subsequently, not only has this thrown up a lot of issues to do with managing employees remotely, but also some interesting findings regarding the advantages and disadvantages of working from home for both employees and their managers. But ultimately if you’re to get the best out of people working under these conditions you need to know how to effectively manage people remotely, and the best way to do this is through an HR survey.
In this two-part blog series, we will explore how you can use surveys to better manage your remote staff, but before we do that, we will take a look at the pros and cons of working from home.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of working from home?
While the immediate objective behind the shift to remote working for thousands of employers was to keep employees safe and their operations running smoothly, the changing working dynamics has also uncovered some interesting consequences, both good and not quite so good for many organisations and their staff. We’ve outlined some of the more interesting one’s for you to look at below.
- Lower costs: while some staff may normally walk or cycle to the office, many others will drive or use public transport. And when you combine that with the fact that many of them will buy food locally too, it’s not hard to see how much money they can save by working from home.
- Better work life balance: for many employees the traditional nine to five working day doesn’t always get the most out of their talents, as we all have differing energy levels, task durations and personal needs, which can also include having to accommodate childcare. By contrast, remote working can give staff increased flexibility over their working hours, to improve their work life balance and help increase their productivity.
- Eliminates commuting stress: no longer needing to commute into the office not only helps save employees money, but it can also eliminate the stress that many of them experience on the way to work as a result of traffic or crowds, making them feel a lot fresher and productive over the course of their working day.
- Loneliness and isolation: for those that have spent many months working remotely from home, particularly those that already live alone, the absence of colleagues and office banter can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation. And for some the boundaries between work and home life can also become blurred, further adding to that stress.
- Loss of motivation and focus: for some staff being alone and away from their work colleagues, can also make it more challenging for them to keep motivated and remain 100% focused on their work. This can be further aggravated by other distractions whether that’s the noise of household appliances or disturbance caused by neighbours’ activities. Therefore, they need to find ways of helping to mitigate these challenges, whether that’s technologies that help them to better connect with their colleagues, or headphones and white noise apps that reduce noise and help them to concentrate better.
- Poor or insufficient office equipment: from having an adequate chair to sit in and desk to work from, to having the required computing power and number of monitors needed to work effectively. If any of these or other tools that an employee needs to work effectively are not up to the required standard, it can affect an individual’s ability to perform. Given the speed with which employees suddenly had to shift to home working many of them still don’t have the level of resources needed to operate to their maximum.
- Lower costs: there can be significant cost benefits from having staff work from home with employers potentially able to make savings across a number of areas. Firstly, with minimal or no onsite staff, your cleaning services bill is likely to be much lower. And if you usually provide free refreshments such as coffee, milk and tea, there are savings to be made here too. You may even decide that you no longer need to pay for larger premises, especially if you expect some of your staff to keep working permanently from home, even after the pandemic has ended.
- Productivity increases: research suggests that those that telecommute are 20-25% more productive than their office-based counterparts, mainly as a result of fewer distractions from other colleagues and being able to take the necessary breaks when they are needed, which offers major benefits for their employers.
- The talent pool expands: remote working means employers are no longer constrained to hiring just local talent but can expand their recruitment to a much wider geographical area. The benefit of this is that it can increase their chances of finding someone with the exact skills, experience, and personality required to fit their organisation and, in some cases, find new talent much quicker too.
- Reduces their environmental impact: with staff no longer traveling to and from the office, organisations are also able to make significant inroads into reducing their carbon footprint.
- Security concerns: if you’ve never had to manage a remote workforce before, there can be significant challenges in keeping your employees operating securely and protecting your organisation’s and customers’ data. However, with the right technology and security processes in place you can significantly mitigate this risk.
- No longer being able to manage employees all under one roof: managing employees remotely can be significantly harder than when everyone is in one room and you’re able to see how they are performing, or if anyone is struggling and needs more support. There is however a new generation of collaboration technologies that can help with how to manage a team remotely. Good examples include tools such as Slack and Microsoft Teams, which offer a mixture of inbuilt features such as presence, instant messaging and voice and video calls.
- Keeping your teams working effectively with one another: as well as managing individuals, it can also be harder to manage teams remotely to ensure they’re all working and progressing team tasks effectively with one another. Once again, there are some niche online project management tools, from Leapsome and monday.com to Jira and Trello, that can help you with this and keep projects and tasks moving along.
So, now we’ve given you an introduction to remote working, the reasons why so many of us are now working this way, and the potential advantages and disadvantages that this presents for employers and employees, I’m sure you’ll be keen to know more about how to manage your staff remotely. Well, in part 2, ‘How to Manage People Remotely‘, we’ll be exploring this in more detail with a look at the key considerations behind managing a remote workforce and the key role that surveys play in supporting this. We’ll also look to examine the question that many of us are asking, how long will working from home continue? Until then stay safe and stay tuned.