Remote working has been steadily increasing in popularity, but the pandemic has enforced us to adapt en masse. With little or no warning, it’s very much a case of muddling through. But there are some simple thing you can do to keep morale high and make sure productivity doesn’t fall off a cliff.

  • Have clear working from home guidelines in a ‘source of truth’ handbook so employees can understand everything about what’s expected of them during the working day. It’s impossible to exactly recreate the office or workplace environment, but you can and should work out alternatives to the normal routine, such as who to contact in the event of a problem, the chain of command, when they can and can’t call colleagues. Set it all out in writing so work doesn’t encroach on home and family time and be prepared to update it as people ask questions and get used to this new way of working.
  • Video calls are preferable to audio, as you have much more of a connection with the person and can see the body language. It’s more important than ever to give feedback when people are working remotely, and emails or calls don’t always come across in the way they’re intended. Focus on empathy – if your style is normally abrupt and no-nonsense, be mindful of the fact that people who are already stressed and anxious can perceive that as being personally directed towards them.
  • Microsoft Teams is a great tool for meetings as you can share files, while Zoom is better for coaching and one-to-one conversations. When you are using Teams or sharing your screen, be sure to close down confidential documents and turn off notifications from emails and WhatsApp if you have it on your desktop, so people don’t see personal or confidential information.
  • When you’re in remote meetings, be very clear about the purpose and the outcomes you want to deliver. Agree the order that people will speak and go around them in turn, like a virtual table, to make sure everyone has a chance to be heard and people aren’t speaking over each other. Before you start, name a facilitator and someone to take notes and send summaries, and ensure you end with a clear idea of who’s taking ownership of tasks.
  • Before you start any form of video chat, check your background to make sure it’s not distracting or messy, make sure you’re in a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted, don’t wander around – it’s incredibly distracting for other people – and test all your audio and video before logging in.
  • It’s important to have daily touch points with your team and continue to have one-to-ones over video chat. Working remotely doesn’t mean working alone. Someone can very quickly begin to feel bogged down if they’re being bombarded with emails and new tasks. When you’re working together in person it’s much easier to spot the signs of someone becoming stressed or confused than it is when you can’t see them. Check in, ask questions and be reassuring.
  • Don’t let the current crisis take over every conversation – focus on the positives of the job that’s being done. Be more flexible about when people can take breaks – whether they’re working with family, housemates or alone, it’s a very different routine and mindset. People may be worried about being away from their desk when they get a call or not answering an email immediately – reassure them that they won’t be in trouble, and trust people to do their job without constant monitoring. A positive virtual environment will be a more productive one. However, bear in mind that resources, infrastructure and external pressures will more than likely mean that performance will naturally dip.
  • Keep morale high by ensuring that contact isn’t limited to business talk. In the office the focus wouldn’t be on work 100% of the time, so factor in times for people to get together socially. Set a recurring video meeting for lunchtime, so people can join in and chat to each other while they’re preparing or eating their lunch or sitting in the garden having a break, but don’t force them to take part. Introverts who would normally disappear on their own for an hour won’t want to spend their lunch break online with everyone else, but social people who thrive on being around others will miss the office chat. If you normally have after work drinks on a Friday, set up an online quiz or encourage everyone to switch off from work and sit down with a drink during an online chat before they log off for the weekend.
  • Employers still have a responsibility for the wellbeing of their employees when they’re working remotely, so take the lead. Share resources on exercises that can be done from home or encourage people to join an online class that they can do together before or after the working day or during a lunch break. Give someone the task of researching apps and websites that people can use at home, either together or individually. Set fun tasks and challenges for people to complete – a number of steps in a day, or three different types of exercise in a week. Share recipes for healthy meals that can be made with basic store cupboard essentials, encourage people to share their own tips and ideas. Not everyone will want to take part – but give them the option and make it clear they’re being supported.
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