Managing a Remote Workforce

The second part of our ‘Building Business Resilience and Future Success during Covid-19’ webinar series took place on Wednesday. In this debrief, we share with you the recording and key insights from Managing a Remote Workforce with Suzie Ruffley, Head of People at Foresight.

Firstly, we’d like to thank Suzie for sharing her wealth of knowledge with us and we hope you and your business clients find her guidance useful.

To view the recording, please click here.

For details on the key insights from our interview with Suzie Ruffley, please see below:

Business leaders and the importance of communication

To be an effective business leader during uncertain times, the key is to focus on communication. The following are a few tips:

  • Share a plan, which can be subject to change, to manage people’s expectations. This is hugely important in terms of people’s mindsets, ability to focus and wellbeing. Your people will be concerned about reduced hours, furloughs and possible redundancies.  Share the current thinking on these areas and how the business plans to navigate the current challenges.  It’s okay that these ideas are subject to change.
  • Ask for feedback. Use free tools such as survey monkey for anonymous comments. Gather insight into whether you’re communicating your messages effectively and find out ways to improve best practices.
  • Remember face to face is best and follow up with email communications.
  • We no longer have daily interaction in the office so daily touchpoints need to replace that. For example, why not start your day with a virtual team coffee and general chit chat?
  • Ask where your employees are working remotely. Do they have the equipment, support and training they need to work effectively?

Follow up after giving any significant comms with a chance to ask further questions.

Ask for questions in advance so you can prepare meaningful and accurate answers.

Common pitfalls business leaders should avoid

Addressing the following pitfalls will help you manage your remote team more effectively:

  • Forgetting to start a conversation with, ‘how are you?’. When asking ‘how are you?’, really delve into the question. The default response will be ‘I’m good thank you, how are you?’ and this will often not be true. During times like these, redundancies, furloughs, caring for others and feeling lonely will be putting strains on households and it will only benefit leaders in the long run if they make their employees feel safe during the tough times.
  • Not giving people time to get comfortable with new ideas. When communicating new ideas and changes, remember you’ve had time to consider and formulate these thoughts. Your team won’t have had the benefit of time and so may react differently to you. Allow for people to get their head around new ideas to move forward together.
  • Not making people aware of the impact the crisis is having on the business. When communicating a change in strategy or roles, share high level information and inform people what their part is to play in helping the business move forward. A transparent approach will help teams work together towards achieving a goal.

How to motivate a remote workforce

Motivation is easy to lose in the current climate; the following are a few tips to help you keep employees engaged:

  • Set clear objectives to define what each employee can do to help the business thrive.
  • Create daily WIP (Work In Progress) meetings. They don’t need to last long, but if someone has spoken about doing something, they are 75% more likely to do it. And if someone has spoken about doing something and written it down, they are 85% more likely to do it.
  • Encourage new ideas and start new projects. Involve people in something they’re not used to working on. This doesn’t have to be new to the business, but diversifying a person's workload can help refresh the challenge for them.
  • Champion training even if it’s a basic online course, e.g. MS Office.
  • Reassess the team structure, roles and workloads and if they are all still fit for purpose. Working together, find out what is realistic to achieve and what isn’t.
  • Take time to recreate some of the social aspects of the normal working environment. A Zoom quiz, bingo or charity challenge – something that isn’t work related to improve relationships and relax with one another.

Best practice for working from home

The following are tips to keep you focused throughout your day:

  • Find a routine that works for you and share it with your colleagues, so they understand your working pattern.
  • Make time for exercise that you enjoy. This can be anything from a walk or cycle to a Joe Wick’s PE lesson or a YouTube yoga class.
  • Look at your week ahead and who you’re speaking to – is there anyone else you need to touch base with?
  • Set personal goals to ensure you achieve them and make lists to tick completed tasks.
  • Move from your desk. For example, use a smaller glass so you increase your walks to the kitchen to fill it up.
  • Create a separation between work and home so you can decompress and start your new role as Mum, Dad, partner or friend. We are used to decompressing on a journey home from work, make sure you are still using time to switch off from work mode.

Resources a company can provide to help their people remotely

Provide resources to demonstrate to your employees you really care:

  • Set up an Employee Assistant Plan (EAP) – these are 24/7 helplines where your employees can talk to trained counsellors and therapists. They are usually only tens of pounds a month, however you can always share the details of charities such as Mind or the Samaritans.
  • If you have an HR team, engage with them.
  • Seek a mentor. This doesn’t have to be someone within your business, someone you admire could be equally supportive and inspiring.
  • Share app information such as Headspace that carve out small parts of your day to focus on switching off.

Managing underperformers

Don’t shy away from a difficult conversation. Underperformance impacts a whole team and the majority of people who underperform know they are struggling and feel bad about it. Consider the following:

  • Create a framework to help manage the workload and focus on priorities. This will typically help ease anxiety for the staff member(s) in question.
  • Where possible/appropriate, extend probation periods.
  • If you feel you don’t have the resource to monitor and work closely with a colleague who is underperforming and don’t want to make the move towards terminating a contract, you can use the government scheme to furlough them which has recently been extended to October.

What can we do now to prepare for future success?

Create a return to the workplace action plan. Make sure a risk assessment has been conducted and think about how you’re going to manage social distancing on your return. Will you triage employees, phase returning to work into those who volunteer, under fifties and people who can get to the office without using public transport? Will you ask employees to work from home a few days a week? Consider the office set up, can you implement a one-way system, how will you manage social distancing in the kitchen and bathroom, will you use government recommended equipment such as protective screens at desks? Will you require employees to wear PPE? And will you need to increase your cleaning rota?

Consolidate what you’ve learned so far. Working remotely has made us embrace technology. Where have you gained efficiencies? What’s working better? Build in how you will work smarter going forward and share best practice with your team.

Consider the opportunities. Ask your team, clients and peers about how Covid-19 has impacted the industry and what opportunities have arisen from it? Will your business model need to change? Has being pushed into working remotely created a better work life balance? Do you want to return to normal? Or is there an opportunity to make the new normal a much better place to be? Keep an open mind.