In recent weeks, we’ve seen many businesses mobilise their once static workforce into an operation that can work from home. The current pandemic has made a lot of business owners question the wisdom of paying high rent on city centre or business park properties when they don’t necessarily need to. We may have seen the beginnings of a new way of working in some sectors that may have seemed unrealistic before.

That said, we appreciate how difficult it is for business owners to suddenly, perhaps for the first time, have to manage teams who are separated due to the Covid-19 pandemic, some working from home, others that are furloughed and maybe some still working on reduced hours as an essential service. In this second article we are focusing on how Business Owners can conquer this hurdle and manage teams from afar.

Duty of care

The most important thing to remember is that as an employer you have a duty of care for all your employees whether furloughed, working from home, on normal hours or reduced hours. It doesn’t change.

Homeworking

It’s advisable to have a Homeworking Policy in place, even if it’s just a temporary measure. You may even need a lone working policy where you have lone workers working in isolation. The Policy should include detail on why the company is introducing homeworking, what the expected hours of work are, how long it will be in place for and how often it will be reviewed. It’s also an opportunity to remind employees of the importance of trust, professionalism, self-discipline and data protection whilst working away from the office. It may also include clarity on managing conflicting demands, such as work and childcare. A simple and straightforward home working self-assessment to note any potential risks is also recommended.

Sensitive Data

Think about how many people may now have access to sensitive personal and business information in the home!

The provision of work laptops with password protections will reduce the risk of security breaches. To safeguard yourself you should ensure that all employees are fully aware of GDPR in relation to homeworking and that they have confirmed an agreement to that effect.

Employee Wellbeing

You will need to give some consideration to employee health, welfare and general wellbeing. There is a risk, particularly the longer the lock down process continues, that sooner or later a number of employees may suffer from mental health issues. So pre-empt this by offering simple advice of “taking one day at a time” and make sure you’re available if they need to share any concerns so you can point them in the right direction for support.

Promote Employee Assistance Programmes and other internal supports

If you have an employee assistance programme (EAP) or counselling referral services in place, this is the time to promote this to support employees. As human beings we need connection. Our brains are wired that way. So stay connected! Sometimes just a regular check in, reassuring telephone call may suffice. Try to schedule a series of regular catch ups with the team and encourage them to catch up with their team members too by having a chat on the mobile at lunch time for example or if they are more IT savvy a Zoom conference call.

Stay connected

Why not appoint a work champion to make the catch up calls. A start of day and end of day team call could be really effective at setting the boundaries between work and life for you team. It’s a great opportunity to celebrate success at the end of the day and even ask them what they will be doing around their self care that evening. Where you connect via video rather than just phone this helps to personalise interactions. Yes it’s time for everyone to embrace technology and we may just have seen the start of a revolution in how to work differently. Above all keep staff well informed of any changes to the work situation.

Help to educate employees on their wellbeing

You should encourage employees to look after their own health and wellbeing by taking regular breaks, drinking plenty of water, eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly and encouraging them to get some fresh air daily. That will help to keep them more alert, motivated and hence more productive. You could share resources with your team such as helplines for if they’re struggling; top tips; or free resources such as virtual yoga classes or meditation. Make it easy for them to access these things.

Remember you have the greatest influence over your people and you know them the best so cut them a little bit of slack. Allowing employees to take control over their own work tasks and work schedule will assist them to work on a more flexible basis and balance their work with home responsibilities. So trust them to do their work without your supervision. Don’t check up, check in!

You

Don’t forget to recognise the impact of the current situation on you. When we are in ‘panic mode’ (and we may not always realise we are, or care to admit we are), our judgement becomes impaired and we become less logical in our thinking and more emotional. Therefore, regularly work on ‘clearing your head’ when embarking on any aspect of business planning or interacting with your people. Meditation and mindfulness (of which there are many different forms) can be really effective practices in supporting you in achieving a clear head.

Be realistic in your work expectations, targets and time scales. In practice, expectations will probably have changed, so it’s important to manage them effectively with clear communication and it’s essential not to create a fear driven culture. Communicate these expectations clearly as it is likely your people will be pushing themselves to achieve what they would achieve in a normal working day from the office. Remember they are simulating the work environment from home and it’s not always easy to work from home for a number of reasons.

These are changing times…be prepared to modify your work culture whilst still maintaining current work values. Be creative in finding different ways to lift spirits and motivate employees. Thank them regularly for their support and make them feel appreciated.

Values and behaviours

Align the values of the business with those of your employees.  Remember they are juggling their work demands with their home demands and this can create conflict which can add to anxiety and stress levels.  It’s also important to acknowledge that most employees will be safe at home but spending more time than normal with loved ones which may trigger unusual or unexpected behaviour.

If someone’s behaviour is out of character, take their circumstances into consideration.  Essentially people are juggling more than they normally would, and the tendency to strive to be perfect in exceptional circumstances adds to pressure.

Key Takeaways

Keep talking with your people in a supportive manner- you will never be accused of over-communicating as long as it comes from the right place. Have one eye on compliance and remember your duty of care doesn’t stop when people are working from home.

Keep positive, grasp this opportunity to refocus on the business rather than in it and plan for the future, embracing the situation. You may never get this opportunity again!