None of us has ever had to confront personal or work challenges quite like those we’re experiencing right now. Enforced social distancing has required virtually all of us to find new ways of working. But the disruption to normal life has – for some organisations at least – highlighted an opportunity that could lead to a permanent shift in the way they work.
Although re-evaluating and re-inventing work processes has presented enormous issues for many businesses, some service-based companies have been reminded that they don’t necessarily need employees based in one central location.
Homeworking can deliver a range of benefits. There are obvious financial advantages arising from running a business with a reduced physical workspace – or even none at all. Some global tech companies had already adopted remote models: understanding that productivity is positively impacted when employees no longer have to commute or travel to meetings, and morale and mental wellbeing levels improve as staff have more quality time available for families, loved ones and personal pursuits.
For many businesses now, the realisation that they can operate effectively with staff working from home – and that the homeworking model offers significant advantages, makes it likely they will look to continue working this way – in whole or in part – post-lockdown.
It’s hard to find many positives during this crisis, but perhaps this might be one of them. Could this be the nudge you need to migrate some or all of your team to homeworking?
Are you ready to fully embrace homeworking in your business?
If you’ve previously had reservations about having your team work from home, perhaps the enforced circumstances of the lockdown have made you think again? Or maybe you have already introduced homeworking into your business, and while you don’t need convincing of its benefits, you want to make it work even better for you? You could have made the initial transition without establishing a working from home policy, trusting people to adapt and get on with things. This may have worked at the outset, but perhaps you now have team members who are presenting challenges or not working as effectively as they should?
Our business model here at Organic P&O Solutions has always been based around a homeworking team, and we know from experience that the key to success is flexibility. Here are 5 essential tips for creating an effective homeworking team:
Be aware that everyone in your team has unique personal & family needs
Outside of work, team members will have very different family and home lives. They might have shared or sole responsibility for looking after young children or be carers for elderly or sick relatives. Support networks will vary for each of them, and they’ll have to balance work with personal responsibilities.
To get the best out of your team, you’ll need to identify the needs of individual employees, then help them to find and implement solutions that accommodate their circumstances. At Organic P&O Solutions, we’ve done this very successfully with our own team, including Natalie, one of our home-based consultants.
Natalie’s husband, Nick, has a full-time job in the RAF, and they share responsibility for looking after their two young daughters. From the outset, Natalie was very clear about what she needed to be able to carry out her full-time role effectively – while still continuing to share parenting duties and be there for her girls.
Some employers might dismiss out of hand the idea that a mum of two young children and a working partner could find the time (or energy!) to undertake a full-time job. But we knew Natalie was perfect for the role, and by taking the time to understand how she prefers to work, we’ve been able to meet her needs, so we all benefit.
“I told Tash I needed to be able to function as a single parent so that if Nick is relocated, nothing changes for the girls. Tash completely understood this, and as long as I make my commitments to clients and meet my goals each week, she’s happy for me to decide what I do, how and when”.
“While the lockdown is on and Nick and I are both at home, I’m typically working between 6 am until midday, then doing a couple more hours in the evening. It works well as I’m more productive in the mornings anyway. Nick looks after the girls and helps them with schoolwork. We reverse roles in the afternoon, and I get to do the messy, creative stuff with them while Nick works. Then, when the house is quiet again in the evening, I go back to work.” (Natalie).
All of us in the Organic P&O Solutions team have very different family circumstances, but by having open and honest discussions and testing solutions, we’ve reached outcomes that work for everyone and found ways round our collective and unique challenges.
Family-friendly employment policies are an essential aspect of retaining loyal, engaged, productive teams – for more information, read our blog, 5 ways to make sure you’re a truly family-friendly employer.
Learn to trust your team
For an employer used to sharing the same physical workspace with their team, adjusting to the concept of remote managing can be challenging. As with any relationship – personal or professional, trust is vital.
In our view, team members must be given the latitude to deliver their contributions in their preferred way: working the hours best suited to their situation and temperament – within an agreed timeframe of course. But with that trust, comes the responsibility to own their results, adapt and self-motivate so they deliver. No excuses.
It’s human nature to worry about what you can’t see. But does it really matter if an employee working at home takes five minutes to check their social media during ‘work time’ or get some exercise? We think not. Especially if it means they’re going to get their job done more effectively and be more focused because they’ve taken a short break in a way that works for them.
We’ve had clients question how an employee could possibly work from home if they have to look after their children all day. How could they ever be trusted to be productive, and not put childcare responsibilities first? Our response is always the same. We’ve never let them down or missed a deadline due to our children and when we’re not out delivering for clients, we’re working from home. We’re all parents with differing levels of support, so if we can do it, maybe it’s time for them to think again about what’s being asked of them?
Recognise everyone works differently
If you’re managing homeworking employees, consider the wide range of personality types within a team. Some people enjoy working on their own and will naturally thrive in a homeworking environment, while others may require a higher degree of support and nurturing.
In an office-based team, employees are generally required to work within a structured, 9-5 day. While this rhythm suits some, it can constrain others who may prefer more elasticity in their routine. Many people are more alert, creative and productive and do their best work outside of these hours. I know I am and I always have been.
I spent many years working in the retail sector and remember the difficulty I had making the transition to a ‘regular’ working day. I’d become used to working irregular hours with early morning starts, late-night finishes, and week-end working. Making the switch was hard and I found conforming to a regular office day far more tiring than working longer, uncertain hours. Needless to say, I’m far happier working the way I do today! So, our advice is don’t make assumptions about what works for people. We all have different energisers. Help people find theirs and you’ll see results soar.
Adjust how you monitor individual performance
Monitoring the performance of remote working staff is very different from monitoring performance in an office-based team. When you’re working alongside your employees, you can observe performance first-hand and discuss work in progress, picking up potential issues as they arise.
Technology options abound to make people more accessible but you can’t be there all the time if your team is home-based. To know what employees have been doing, how they’ve got on and what they’ve achieved, the nature of the conversations you have will need thought, a little planning and some organisation.
So, focus on results – and not necessarily on the process or the hours taken to achieve the outcome. Allow employees some flexibility and freedom to complete work in their own way to an agreed schedule – and be prepared to adjust until you find and keep what works.
Ensure you communicate regularly
With team members working from disparate locations and potentially working different hours, finding time to schedule regular team meetings and one to one catch-ups is vital.
At Organic P&O Solutions, as well as being essential for running shared projects, these meetings help us understand how each of us is managing our work-life balance and can inform our planning.
“We get together for a half-hour team video call at least once a week, discussing what’s going on in each of our areas and sharing ideas. It’s not uncommon for us to start with our children present at first. It gives us a window on what’s going on in each of our personal lives and helps us work better together. I’ll also have a weekly one to one call with Tash to talk about what I’m working on and to plan ahead. This is my opportunity to raise any work-life challenges, and if necessary, discuss any adjustments to the way I need to work.” (Natalie).
Can We Help Make Homeworking Work for You?
The business advantages of moving to a homeworking model can be significant, but to be effective, it will require careful planning, sensitivity and consultation with employees.
If you’ve implemented home-based team working into your organisation but have encountered issues, or if you’ve considered introducing it but have held back until now because you can’t see how to overcome particular challenges, we can help. We can work with you to understand your obligations, challenges and opportunities and recommend a strategy that will address your situation and deliver your objectives.