In 2019, 1.54 million people worked from home for their main job – up from 884,000 ten years ago. Today, in the grips of a global pandemic, with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson urging everyone to avoid the office, an estimated 30 million Britons are preparing to or are already working from home.
If once there was a general trend towards remote working, it is now (for the time being at least) a government mandate. This sudden need has highlighted companies’ differing relationships with remote working. Some are well-versed in the practice. Tech companies in particular are thought to be trailblazers in this regard, with agile working built into their DNA. For other sectors like education, healthcare, hospitality and travel, it will no doubt be more challenging – even impossible in a lot of instances. Even when remote working is possible, for many, it does not feel as legitimate due to trust issues or a feeling remote working represents a logistical upheaval.
But like it or loathe it, remote working is the new reality and as such we need all think about how best to adapt.
Create interactions and engage people
Working from home can feel less connected. If employees work in silos something of a company’s culture can get lost, as can a clear understanding of the work that needs doing.
However, there are tools to counteract this. Skype for Business, Webex, and Microsoft Teams, for example, all offer video functionality. Many companies also have their own intranets or use platforms like Yammer to stay connected.
Know the technology and agree what you are going to use – and not use
New powerful communication tools enable high-definition and 3D video collaboration, collaborative editing of documents, and universal access to e-mail and live collaboration tools. In the tech space, developers from different organisations can easily work together too on a shared code source and easily deploy on cloud.
However, for many employees new to home working, the vast array of communication channels can feel overwhelming. They may feel uncomfortable with new technologies or processes. For them, we’d advise finding a system and using it consistently. Having the technology available does not mean you have to use every conceivable platform going. Know your options, pick and choose accordingly and ensure employees have all the tools they need.
Of course, it’s slightly different when employees are ripped from their day-to-day working practices by external events that could not have been foreseen. However, be it best practice guides or webinars, don’t just let employees fend for themselves when it comes to new ways of working. This is especially true if a company is proposing radical changes.
Accentuate the positives
Often people find working remotely allows them to better focus on individual tasks without distraction. Others find the time once lost to commuting can now be spent productively or focused on nurturing interests outside of work.
Encourage work-life balance
When employees find themselves working from home, it can be easy to lose something of a work-life balance. A routine that follows something akin to a normal working day, with set start and finish times, can help provide much needed structure, ensure deadlines are met, and that some sense of normalcy is retained during what are unprecedented times.
Nobody wanted to see remote working enforced in this way. But now that it is here – and for the indefinite future – we should all think more about how remote working can work for us.
Jason Hill is Executive Partner at Reply