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How to implement and manage remote working in your business

Here’s how to keep your operation ticking over while staff are working from home.

Among the many challenges Covid-19 is presenting to New Zealand businesses is the concept of pivoting entire workforces to work from home.

For many, this is uncharted territory. And with such limited time to prepare, becoming a remote office can seem a daunting prospect.

To help, we’ve created this step-by-step guide to setting up and managing remote staff, so your workforce can remain productive while working from home.

Successful remote working is based on executing a solid plan.

How to implement remote working

If you were able to run a trial period, action the feedback by creating guidance documents that you can circulate to the entire workforce. If, like many businesses, this wasn't possible, gather your people leaders and brainstorm the likely problems your staff might encounter. 

As we’ll see below, good centralised communication is essential to a successful remote working strategy, and it’s important this is there from the beginning.

In your remote working guidelines, include:

  • Expected working hours: while it’s likely these won’t change from normal, it’s important to avoid any confusion from the get-go.
  • Breaks: ensure staff know they’re still entitled to the same breaks when working from home.
  • Essential equipment: what can (and should) staff take home from the office? Key to this is making sure employees know they have an adequate internet connection to perform their responsibilities. If you’re going to provide financial support – for example supplementing broadband packages – make sure this is communicated.
  • Responsiveness: now staff can’t tap each on the shoulder, it’s important there are guidelines for internal comms – for example, expected timeframes for responding to emails and messaging systems.
  • Security and client confidentiality: all organisations have data and information they need to protect, so make sure your people understand what’s required of them when working from home.
  • Client interactions: chances are most organisations will switch to video conferencing during the outbreak, so tell your employees how to conduct these interactions professionally.
  • Performance measures: be sure staff understand if there are any changes to how their performance will be measured.
  • Points of reference: it’s a good idea to get all employee phone numbers on file so team leaders can contact them urgently if necessary.
  • Meeting guidelines: because off-the-cuff conversations are more difficult, you might want to up the number of formal catch ups with top level personnel This allows you to keep on top of things, without constantly pestering individuals.

Create clear policy to help your teams navigate remote working.

How to manage staff working from home

Once your team is set up in their home environment, it’s important to:

1. Show trust

Of course you’ll want to keep tabs on projects, but it’s important you don’t become a remote micro-manager.

If you set expectations well, your staff will know how they’re performance is being measured, and will continue to hit targets. We’ve already mentioned the benefits of scheduling regular catch ups with senior personnel, so make use of these forums to gauge where various teams are at.

2. Keep communication lines open

You’ll find some staff take to remote working like fish to water, while others will find the lack of social interaction really tough. It’s important you encourage staff at all levels to keep talking to their superiors about their experiences, so you can find solutions for those who are struggling.

If your organisation has access to online counselling services, make sure staff know – supporting your employees’ mental health is one of the most important things you can offer in this uncertain time.

3. Retain a sense of company culture

As well individual communications, it’s crucial that employees still feel part of a team. This is important not only for your productivity, but your staff will thank you for it – one of the downsides of remote working is the isolation and lack of social interactions.

While company events maybe off the cards for now, you could consider initiatives such as:

  • A weekly company-wide email: if you’re not doing this already, these comms are a great way to keep everyone in the loop and aware of broader business objectives.
  • Encourage social interactions: make sure staff know they can use internal messaging systems for social chats as well as work. Think of this as a digital kitchen where they can catch up with their friends. Again, your performance expectations should stop this from becoming too distracting.
  • Digital awards and recognition: giving shout-outs to staff for great work is a powerful motivator, and creates a healthy sense of competition.

Make use of video calls to keep up crucial interactions with staff.

4. Try to keep a sense of normalcy where possible

There’s nothing normal about Covid-19. When you add the challenge of remote working to this, you’ll likely find many of your staff disconcerted and worried.

While it’s important to keep staff in the loop about developments in New Zealand’s response to the virus, people are already getting fatigued with how it's dominating life. In times like this, work can be a welcome distraction, and a reassuring touch of normality.

Among the things you can continue with are:

  • Personal development plans: show employees you’re still invested in their futures with the company, and their personal growth.
  • Meetings: encourage your people leaders to take recurring catch-ups, like 1:1s, online so they can keep checking in with team members.
  • Projects: while some plans may need to be altered, for the sake of the business and your staff, you’ll want to keep pushing towards your topline objectives.