If there’s one thing social distancing measures have shown us, it’s that a large percentage of the workforce can work productively and successfully from home.
The traditional perspective that people must be physically present in one set workplace during standard business hours has been turned on its head. Scepticism has been replaced with a new-found awareness that output, performance and job satisfaction have benefited from the recent period of working from home. There’s also now an understanding that remote working is viable for a wide range of roles – more than most managers previously thought was realistically possible.
This could lead more employers to consider a longer-term shift towards remote working, particularly since a significant number of previously onsite employees are expected to ask if they can continue to work remotely once restrictions ease. Yet while we all now know this is possible, the establishment of such hybrid teams is not without its challenges.
So, if one or more of your employees asks if they can continue to work from home once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, or if you are considering making remote working a permanent option for suitable roles, here are five questions to consider.
Forced working from home has been a short-term response to the coronavirus pandemic. It’s unrealistic to expect that 100 per cent of your workforce can continue to work from home 100 per cent of the time. But it’s also unrealistic to think that your entire workforce should return to working exclusively in the one co-located workplace once the need to stay away subsides.
Therefore, think about what ideal daily percentage of your workforce you could support working remotely without impacting client engagement, mental health or team culture. Whether it’s 20 per cent, 30 per cent, 50 per cent or more, you should expect this to become the new norm as people look to continue working remotely.
You may need to consider the minimum home office setup expectations for employees who wish to remain remote workers. For example, is it realistic that employees can work long-term from a small laptop with intermittent internet connectivity on the corner of a kitchen bench? This may have been a band-aid solution for the pandemic period, but once the crisis passes and people can return to their co-located workplaces – where appropriate equipment and infrastructure is available – a more permanent, suitable office setup needs to be established.
It’s also advisable to talk to employees one-on-one about their recent experience of working from home. For those who wish to continue working remotely, determine what worked well and what challenges they encountered. Then resolve how you can overcome these challenges. For instance, perhaps something as simple as supplying an employee with a better headset and quality office chair could improve their home office setup? Or perhaps you’ll need to make more significant investments such as making any temporary infrastructure more permanent.
During these conversations, also ascertain if employees who have been working outside standard business hours during the crisis period are able to resume normal hours. For example, many people have been balancing conflicting family or caring responsibilities with their work duties and were therefore working in the evening once children had gone to bed. Establish on a case-by-case basis if it is possible to resume more regular hours, particularly once children return to school or day care full-time.
Another common caveat for remote working is the establishment of work-life boundaries. Employees who work from home can find it difficult to switch off, so make it clear you expect your remote workers to log off once their working day is done. For many people, it can be especially tempting to do a little extra at night. However, this could deplete their energy levels the following day and, in turn, hurt their productivity. So, encourage your employees to step away from their home workspace at the end of their working day and not return to it until the next day.
Of course, output and productivity expectations and health and safety requirements must also be observed.
Being part of a team where every employee is working from home every day is a very different experience to doing so when some colleagues are back in a co-located workspace. Employees who want to remain remote workers need to understand that they will have less opportunities to interact with their onsite colleagues, which could lead to feelings of professional isolation. They will also have fewer opportunities to gain information or an understanding of current projects compared to their colleagues who are now back working side-by-side in the one office and so benefit from natural, in-person exchanges.
It is important, therefore, to consider how you can bring your hybrid team together to share insights and experience the informal information exchange that typically results from casual conversations between people discussing their day and current tasks. For example, perhaps you could encourage your remote workers to talk to at least one office-based colleague per day. Rather than email, pick up the phone or make a video call and, while you’re talking, ask about their day and what they’ve been working on. The aim is to stimulate the type of natural conversations and information-sharing that typically takes place between people who work together in a co-located space.
It’s also important to create opportunities for distributed teams to come together socially. Regular video calls give your people face-to-face interactions, but once social distancing restrictions ease the virtual Friday night drinks or Monday morning coffee chats may go by the wayside as employees who are back in a co-located workplace instead opt to go out together in person.
Therefore, could you consider scheduling a monthly or quarterly team lunch? Or perhaps you could combine this get-together with a learning or planning opportunity, such as a workshop or offsite development day. If you aren’t sure what direction to take, ask your team. Together you can brainstorm ideas then create a shortlist of ideas that you trial to see what works best.
In a hybrid team, video conference tools and collaboration platforms should remain your modus operandi for regular team meetings and collaboration. This will help minimise any sense of disconnectedness for your remote staff. In addition, encourage all members of the team to dial into these calls from their own device – this will reduce the likelihood of audio issues that occur when several people in a co-located office attempt to crowd around one shared device to call their remote counterparts.
Similarly, just as you did when all staff were working remotely, make sure you maintain regular communication and rapport with your remote workers. Avoid email fatigue by picking up the phone on a regular basis and do not skip planned one-on-ones with your remote workers, who rely on this one regular connection with you to prioritise their work or ask the questions required to move forward with tasks.
By answering these questions, you’ll be able to determine how you can make continued remote working viable for both your organisation and individual employees. Your hybrid team will be productive, connected and work as a collective group because you have laid the foundation for success.
For advice on how to manage the remote members of your hybrid team, see this blog.
Nick Deligiannis began working at Hays in 1993 and since then has held a variety of consulting and management roles across the business, including the role of Director responsible for the operation of Hays in Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory. In 2004 Nick was appointed to the Hays Board of Directors, and was made Managing Director for Australia and New Zealand in 2012. Prior to joining Hays, he had a background in human resource management and marketing, and has formal qualifications in Psychology.