No matter what the shape and size of your business, the chances are that you now have at least part of your workforce working from home, having suddenly been required to do so. While some companies may already be used to operating outside of their regular workplaces, we think that most people would agree that remote working presents a range of new challenges. In this article, MIA Director and Strategic Partnerships Director of Hal Leonard Europe, Tom Farncombe, gives us some top tips for successful home working…
The first point to make is that while working at home brings a range of obvious differences to everyday working life, the following ideas for promoting successful remote working actually cover topics relevant to successful working full stop – for example, how a business communicates, the challenges of management, performance and productivity are measured, and how you look out for your colleagues/staff. We’ve all been forced into this new situation, but try to be positive – there may just be some opportunities to embrace out of all this that will actually improve your business.
A lot of the following points might seem like common sense and are likely to be more or less relevant depending upon your concerns. However, hopefully there’s some food for thought here at least:
- Acknowledge that everything is different now
Don’t underestimate just how different work becomes when it happens outside of familiar circumstances. Thinking through how your business usually runs and responding to the implications of remote working is the key: consider what constitutes ‘normal’ business for you and the extent to which each facet of it has changed. You may need to over-compensate for everyday things in a way which might seem contrived at first, but that will ultimately be beneficial.
- Don’t assume that you will ever return to ‘normal’
Thinking about your new remote set up as being permanent – and addressing any problems as an investment in the future rather than as being temporary pains to be endured – will help you get the most out of remote working. We will eventually return to our offices and shops, but we may well have changed how we work forever. It may even be that this enforced period of remote working will actually help us to reassess and recalibrate standard working methods which have gone unquestioned for too long, or, for instance, bring forward initiatives to modernize our businesses for the digital age.
- Address internal communication needs
As a start, identify those core business functions that everyone interacts with at least some of the time, from reception/switchboard to finance, IT, HR etc. – and make it clear how those functions are to be covered when everyone is located in different places. Make sure contact details are distributed from a single source – e.g., an office manager or director – so that everyone is kept up to date. Don’t let anyone in the team be forgotten from messages just because they were the quiet ones in the office.
- Explore the pros and cons of different communication tools
Video software is paramount. It might be tempting to be firing off messages on your phone, but try and substitute any face-to-face conversations you would have had in the workplace with a video call. Have a daily check in with your team(s), if only to say ‘good morning’; organise regular one-to-ones and encourage line managers to do the same.
Promote inclusivity in large group meetings so that everyone gets to contribute. There’s no reason why video meetings shouldn’t have the formality of a physical meeting (a set agenda and record taking) and also the informal aspects (initial greetings and conversations etc).
Establishing protocols for how different channels should be used can encourage efficiency – having messages arriving at any time and all at once via Email, SMS, Whatsapp, Slack, Teams and Skype can quickly make you feel like you are under siege.
- Establish expectations and metrics for productivity
Set objectives for the day and week with your team and review performance against those goals; this is a good example of how everyday assumptions – e.g., that as you can see that someone is at their desk and answering calls, they must be productive – might be challenged in a remote working scenario. How well do you know what your employees are actually doing, and how well they are doing it?
- Consider wellbeing
The 9 to 5 workplace routine brings a range of things which we unconsciously rely upon which contribute to our general well-being: the walk to the station, listening to the radio when driving to work, regular breaks for drinks and food and so on. Think about the daily grind and what you need to substitute – allocated time for exercise, breaks, a varied and nutritious diet, lots of hydration. It’s easy to slip into bad habits and a sedentary existence if you’re not actively addressing this.
You can’t put a price on Physical and Mental health, and both need to be actively protected.
- Promote Social interaction among staff
Think about all the ways in which a team informally interacts in (and outside of) the workplace and try and replicate those instances remotely. This might mean over-compensating for what we miss during the day – chats while making coffee, team lunches, or Friday night drinks – and making them happen via video. OK, so it’s not quite the same, but by incorporating such moments into the remote working schedule you can certainly maintain a degree of staff connection and keep up morale. Get whatsapp groups going, organise a quiz or play online games together – there’s always a way to keep people part of a team.
Look out for each other. It’s not always apparent how someone is doing over the internet compared to over a cup of tea.
- Keep work and the home separate.
Try to set up a workstation that you can leave set up for work and don’t use it for anything else; the physiological benefits of being able to close the door on work and walk away at the end of the day shouldn’t be underestimated! Also, you’re going to be on video calls a lot – present yourself and dress as you would in person, within reason. Zoom appearances in your dressing gown are not acceptable.
- Think about how you manage your own work
It may have been several years since you or your colleagues studied alone and had to self-motivate and take responsibility for structuring your work. Be disciplined, set goals for yourself, find digital and analogue tools to help you organise yourself. You might need to put the guitars in a different room to avoid distraction…
- Remember the outside world: your customers!
What has changed for your end users? How will you communicate what has changed for you and how it might affect them? Think about the way in which you usually present yourself as a business and what you need to do to maintain external perceptions of who you are and what you represent. Whatever compromises you are experiencing should not impact your customers; don’t become inward facing to their detriment. Considering your customers as you address the issues above will ultimately help you stand a better chance of maintaining their loyalty and support.