If there's one word that could be used to describe 2020 so far, it's "uncertain."
The Covid-19 pandemic has wreaked immense, unprecedented change over how we live and work, and the way forwards is still unclear. To help manage the second wave of the virus, England has just entered a second lockdown; one that some news reports claim may last into 2021.
With swathes of people instructed to work from home until the foreseeable future, there is at least one reliable forecast: remote working is here to stay.
This means that, just as companies have adapted their business practices to the rise of technology, their leaders must now adapt to the rise of the remote workforce.
The route to home working
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) report that "before Covid-19, one in three of us worked from home at least one day a week."
This figure rose to 60% in July, with 46% - almost half the UK population – working from home on five days per week.
Prominent companies have announced long-term plans for remote working, including Lloyds Banking Group, who recently stated that staff will be working at home until spring 2021 at least. Meanwhile, Deloitte has decided not to renew the property leases on four of its key UK offices, giving over 500 staff the opportunity to work from home full time.
These reports support the recent CIPD finding that "employers expect the proportion of the workforce that works from home regularly to double (to 37%)" even after the crisis is over.
Remote work needs a different form of leadership
Despite some initial cynicism about remote working, 28% of employers have reported a rise in productivity since March. However, this has come at a price to our mental health.
According to a snapshot survey by the CIPD, 22% of employees believe they are likely to lose their jobs over the next year, with many more reporting weaker social connections at work, and increased anxiety.
This points to the fact that leading a remote workforce successfully will not simply amount to ensuring everybody has the right technology in place, then leaving them to it. Fears about the future, and the reduced opportunities for social interaction, will need to be accounted for.
Here are some key factors in leading a remote workforce effectively.
Set clear expectations
Just as you would in the office, set clear expectations for when people should be available, and what work they will be expected to do from home.
Setting clear boundaries will help to establish a level of certainty and control, since the lines between home and work can blur if employees are not travelling to an office.
Encourage informal interaction
Communication platforms like Zoom, Google Chat and Microsoft Teams are ideal for getting everybody together to discuss projects and deadlines.
However, since the days of 'water cooler conversations' have disappeared, it's important to encourage more informal interactions. Virtual coffee catchups or team quizzes will give everybody something to look forward to, as well as helping to boost creativity and social connection.
Hold regular one-to-one conversations
Check in with your team individually, by organising regular one-to-one conversations that focus on how they are, how they feel, and any additional support they may need.
Understand how and where you can refer people for extra help if required, such as your own employee assistance programme, training providers, or external mental health networks.
Offer trust and flexibility wherever possible
Be mindful of the fact that some people will adjust to home working more effectively than others, and that it may take time for everybody to get fully up to speed.
Some may have additional responsibilities, such as childcare, or helping a vulnerable loved one, that need to be managed around their work schedule.
While it may be tempting to monitor your employees' every move, offering trust, compassion, and flexibility in the working day will help to relieve anxiety, as we all gradually become accustomed to our "new normal."
Further information and support
The CIPD website features a regularly updated knowledge hub to help employers manage ever-changing workplace conditions and relationships.
If you would like to discuss your organisation's shift to home working, how to manage a remote team, or how to plan and implement a remote working policy, our team at Viridian HR would be happy to help. Simply get in touch.