The traditional perspective that people must be physically present in one set workplace during standard business hours has been turned on its head. There’s now an understanding that remote working is viable for a wide range of roles – more than most managers previously thought was realistically possible. This could lead more employers to consider a longer-term shift towards remote working after Covid-19.
Yet while we all now know this is possible, the establishment of such hybrid teams is not without its challenges. So, if one or more of your employees asks if they can continue to work from home once Covid-19 restrictions are lifted, or if you are considering making remote working a permanent option for suitable roles, here are five questions to consider.
1. What will be your ground rules for remote working after Covid?
You may need to consider the minimum home office setup expectations for employees who wish to remain remote workers. For example, is it realistic that employees can work long term from a small laptop with intermittent internet connectivity on the corner of a kitchen bench? This may have been a band-aid solution for the pandemic period, but once the crisis passes and people can return to their co-located workplaces, a more permanent, suitable office setup needs to be established.
It’s also advisable to talk to employees one on one about their recent experience of working from home. For those who wish to continue working remotely, determine what worked well and what challenges they encountered. Then resolve how you can overcome these challenges.
Ascertain if employees who have been working outside standard business hours during the crisis period are able to resume normal hours. Establish on a case-by-case basis if it is possible to resume more regular hours, particularly once children return to school or day care full time.
Employees who work from home can find it difficult to switch off, so make it clear you expect your remote workers to log off once their working day is done.
2. How many remote employees can you support each day?
Forced working from home has been a short-term response to the pandemic. It’s unrealistic to expect that 100pc of your workforce can continue to work from home 100pc of the time, but it’s also unrealistic to think that your entire workforce should return to working exclusively in the one co-located workplace.
Therefore, think about what ideal daily percentage of your workforce you could support working remotely without impacting client engagement, mental health or team culture. Whether it’s 20pc, 50pc or more, you should expect this to become the new norm as people look to continue working remotely.
3. How will knowledge sharing work?
Being part of a team where every employee is working from home every day is a very different experience to doing so when some colleagues are back in a co-located workspace. Employees who want to remain remote workers need to understand that they will have less opportunities to interact with their onsite colleagues, which could lead to feelings of professional isolation. They will also have fewer opportunities to gain information on current projects compared to their colleagues who are now back working side-by-side.
It is important, therefore, to consider how you can bring your hybrid team together to share insights and experience the informal information exchange that typically results from casual conversations between people discussing their day and current tasks. Perhaps you could encourage your remote workers to talk to at least one office-based colleague per day.
Rather than email, pick up the phone or make a video call and, while you’re talking, ask about their day and what they’ve been working on. The aim is to stimulate the type of natural conversations and information sharing that typically takes place between people who work together in a co-located space.
4. How will socialising work?
It’s also important to create opportunities for distributed teams to come together socially. Regular video calls give your people face-to-face interactions, but once social distancing restrictions ease the virtual Friday night drinks or Monday morning coffee chats may go by the wayside as employees who are back in a co-located workplace opt to go out together in person.
Could you consider scheduling a monthly or quarterly team lunch? Or perhaps you could combine this get-together with a learning or planning opportunity, such as a workshop or offsite development day.
If you aren’t sure what direction to take, ask your team. Together you can brainstorm ideas then create a shortlist of ideas that you trial to see what works best.
5. Should you keep using video calls?
In a hybrid team, video-conferencing tools and collaboration platforms should remain your modus operandi for regular team meetings and collaboration. This will help minimise any sense of disconnectedness for your remote staff.
In addition, encourage all members of the team to dial into these calls from their own device – this will reduce the likelihood of audio issues that occur when several people in a co-located office attempt to crowd around one shared device to call their remote counterparts.
Similarly, just as you did when all staff were working remotely, make sure you maintain regular communication and rapport with your remote workers. Avoid email fatigue by picking up the phone on a regular basis and do not skip planned one-on-ones with your remote workers, who rely on this one regular connection with you to prioritise their work or ask the questions required to move forward with tasks.
Nick Deligiannis is managing director of Hays Australia and New Zealand. A version of this article previously appeared on the Hays Viewpoint blog.
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