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In 2020, approximately 5.6 million people worked from home in the UK. This is a significant portion of the workforce – 17.4% to be exact. With more and more employers witnessing or experiencing the benefits of allowing their employees to work from home, it is no surprise that more people are transitioning to remote working.
Today, we are going to take a look at remote working in more detail, specifically focusing on how to effectively manage remote employees, how to maximise remote team productivity and how to ensure the mental and physical wellbeing of remote employees.
What is remote working?
Remote working is a type of working that enables individuals to work outside of the traditional working environment. Workers can achieve all their assigned daily tasks without needing to be in the office environment. For remote working to be successful, the type of work should not need to be completed in a specific location.
Remote working gives employees the flexibility to work from anywhere and design their working day and schedule in a way that suits them best.
There are different types of remote work.
The main three types are:
1. Fully Remote
Fully remote employees will work completely remotely, with no necessity to go into the office. It could be that only that particular employee is fully remote or that their entire team or company is fully remote. Some companies do not have an office location, meaning all employees will work from home.
2. Flexible Working
A flexible position is one where the employee can work both at home and in the office. It can involve the employee being primarily based in the office and working from home once a week or being primarily based at home and only attending the office for meetings and other scheduled events. Other flexible positions have more of a 50/50 split for remote and in-office working. Since 2014, all employees in the UK have had a legal right to request flexible working, as long as they have been with the company for at least 26 weeks, their tasks can be performed remotely, and it will not harm the company.
A freelancer is a self-employed entrepreneur who works remotely, usually completing tasks and projects for multiple clients. A freelancer usually sets their terms and rates of pay themselves. Freelancing can be done both full-time and part-time.
Working remotely has become more popular than ever, across a range of different fields and sectors. Some of the most common sectors for remote working include:
|Remote Working||Flexible Working||Freelancing|
|Web Design||Accounting and Finance||Writer|
|Customer Services||Project Management||Coding|
|Translator||Data Analyst||Graphic Design|
|Online Teacher||Social Work||Digital Marketing|
|Copy Writer||Healthcare Sector||Journalism|
What are the positives of remote working?
There are many potential benefits to working remotely. Both the employee and the employer can benefit from remote working.
Benefits to the employee:
- Flexible schedule
Working remotely allows employees to work around their other commitments or work to a schedule that best fits them. They can design their workday in a way that also suits the needs of the company. For example, parents can take a break from work to do the school run, while still ensuring they complete their expected tasks for the day.
- Time saved on commuting
According to the Trades Union Congress (TUC), the average worker spent 221 hours commuting in 2018. This was an increase of 21 hours from 2008. Spending an additional hour on top of the working day commuting can reduce productivity, increase stress and tiredness levels and decrease the amount of free time employees have.
- Improved health and wellbeing
Having the flexibility of working from home can help to improve an employee’s health and wellbeing. A flexible working schedule and the absence of a commute can result in decreased stress levels and a better work-life balance.
- Work from anywhere
Remote working is great for people who live outside of big cities. With many companies being based in cities such as London, Manchester or Edinburgh, people from small towns and villages may have fewer employment options. Being able to work from anywhere removes this obstacle.
Benefits to the employer:
- Increased productivity and performance
A more comfortable working environment, fewer interruptions and distractions, the absence of a commute, and flexible working hours are all factors that add together to create an increase in productivity and performance.
- Decreased overhead costs
Working from home can result in saving on costs such as office rental, daily expenses and office supplies.
- Access to a wider talent pool
By offering a remote working option, you won’t be limited to people within commuting distance. Instead, you will be able to hire the most qualified individuals in the country.
- Improved employee retention
Having access to a more flexible working schedule and the option to work from home is something that many employees value. This could result in higher employee retention and fewer job vacancies.
What are the common challenges of remote working?
There are some common challenges of remote working that both employers and employees should make sure they are aware of.
Working from home can be isolating for the employee. Employees may miss out on the social aspect of work which can result in a lack of team spirit or less feeling of belonging within the company.
- Gaps in communication
Employees will have less communication with their supervisors and with each other. Less managerial support can result in employees working less efficiently. It can also be difficult for employees to access information and support.
- Difficulties staying motivated
Distractions in the home, a lack of supervision, and not being in a traditional working environment can all contribute to a lack of motivation.
- Difficulties switching off from work
A flexible working schedule and working from home can be a bad thing for some people. It can be harder to create a work-life balance when you work from home, and it can be difficult to switch off work mode. Some people who work from home find themselves thinking about work more or working over their allotted hours.
- Team leading and management can be more difficult
Being unable to meet face to face and offer direct supervision can make team leading and management more difficult. It can also be difficult to see the progress of a task or assignment and how an employee is progressing.
How managers can support remote employees
Effectively supporting remote employees can help to make working from home more effective and efficient. There are several ways that managers can support remote employees, but it is important to keep in mind that different employees will have different needs. Managers should alter the type of support they provide based on the needs and requirements of the employee.
Some actions managers can take to support remote employees include:
- Perform daily or weekly check-ins: Not only does this create accountability but it also shows the remote employee that you are still available to provide help or guidance. Check-ins can be done individually or via a team call. You could choose to have a set time to check in with your remote employees every day or change it based on your employees’ work schedules.
- Ensure remote workers are not excluded: A feeling of exclusion can easily occur if some employees work remotely and others are based in the office. Ensure remote workers are included in meetings and any decision-making, invite them to social events, and make sure they are made aware of any updates or changes.
- Be flexible with your expectations: Keep in mind that your expectations for a remote employee should be different than an office-based employee. As long as they are fulfilling their tasks and job requirements and are completing their daily hours, flexibility should be given, and an understanding of their different schedules should be shown.
- Provide the same equipment and technology: If any equipment or technology is needed as part of their job role, or is provided to in-office staff, these same allowances should be given to remote workers. Examples include a company phone or laptop, an office chair and computer software.
- Offer encouragement and emotional support: Acknowledging and being aware of stress, anxiety and other emotional difficulties your remote employees may face is important. Checking in with employees, asking how they are coping or if there is anything you can do to help or support them are great ways of showing you care. You should also look for any changes in their communication or work that may suggest they are facing some difficulties.
- Create some rules of engagement: As remote employees are not as easily contactable, creating rules of engagement can help make communication easier for everyone involved. Ask the employee to specify how they prefer to be contacted or if there are any times in the workday where they are uncontactable. Make sure your remote employees also know how to contact you and other members of the team.
- Encourage a sense of belonging: Creating team spirit and a sense of belonging can be more difficult if part of the team is remote. As a manager, you will have to think of ways to bring the team together and create a feeling of trust and mutual respect.
How to manage remote teams
Managing remote teams is different to managing individual remote employees. This is because none of the team will be office based. You need to ensure that individual employees are supported, whilst also ensuring the success, productivity and efficiency of the team as a whole.
Below are some tips you can follow to help you when managing remote teams.
1. Set clear expectations
Employees should know what is expected of them individually and what is required of them as a team. Everyone should be aware of their responsibilities and any tasks they are required to fulfil.
2. Set clear communication guidelines
You also need to make your expectations and guidelines for communication clear. This could include how frequently you expect your employees to communicate with you and others on the team and if there are any times of the day or week they need to be contactable. Finding out or specifying preferred methods of communication and how quickly you expect employees to reply to emails are simple ways of avoiding any confusion or conflict. If you require a daily or weekly meeting, ensure this is communicated. Employees should be given plenty of notice for ad-hoc meetings.
3. Take different schedules into account
One of the biggest advantages of working remotely for many employees is flexible schedules. Keep this in mind when setting deadlines and arranging meetings. Keep flexible schedules in mind when awaiting a response from an employee, as they may not have the same working day as you.
4. Set up a weekly or monthly reporting system
It can be very difficult for managers of remote teams to be aware of what work is being completed and to evaluate productivity. It can also be difficult to see if an employee is struggling with a task and requires additional support. A reporting system helps give you oversight of how a task or project is progressing.
5. Ensure all information is accessible
Information that is easily accessible in the office can be much more difficult to access at home. If this information can be accessed via computer, ensuring you have the highest level of cybersecurity and that employees have access to secure devices, it could allow them to access the information from home, no matter how sensitive it is.
6. Ensure no employees are isolated
If some employees are working different hours, it can be easy for them to feel isolated from the rest of the team. Try to schedule meetings or events at times when everyone can make it and think about any team building activities that can be completed.
7. Delegate responsibilities
When wondering how to manage your term remotely, you may be wondering about delegation. Just because your team is remote, doesn’t mean that some workers won’t have more responsibilities than others. Think about which employees are best suited to which tasks, who can work collaboratively with who and which tasks may need overseeing by certain employees. Make your delegations clear and ensure any delegations are done fairly.
8. Set clear and achievable time frames and deadlines
These could be daily, weekly, monthly or per task. Time frames should be clearly communicated and should be achievable by everyone involved.
9. Ask for feedback
Asking for feedback from employees can encourage them to speak out about things they don’t think are working or things they need support with. It can show them that you care and that their voice matters. You can ask for feedback from the team as a whole or approach each employee individually.
10. Arrange in-person interactions, if possible
This could be in the form of in-person meetings or social events. In-person interaction can build team spirit and a sense of belonging. It can also build relationships within the team and encourage a trusting, positive working relationship.
How to effectively hire employees remotely
Hiring employees remotely can be more difficult, as prospective employees will not have the opportunity to visit the office space, meet with other members of the team and get a feel for the company. Remote interviews can also be more difficult for both you and the prospective employee.
To help you more effectively hire employees remotely, follow these tips:
- Ensure you have a strong online presence, and your brand identity is clear to see.
- Have a clear picture of the qualities, skills and qualifications you are looking for in a prospective employee.
- Provide a clear description of what the job entails, the prospective employee’s responsibilities, information about a typical working day and any information about flexible schedules.
- Plan a list of questions carefully that cover all necessary areas.
- Think carefully about where to advertise the job posting and where to look for prospective employees.
- Evaluate the prospective employee’s fit with the company and how well you think they will work remotely.
- Offer the candidate a virtual trial or assign them a short task to see how well they work remotely.
- Make sure your employment package is attractive and matches what in-office employees receive.
How to promote and manage healthy remote working
As a manager or employer, being aware of and promoting your remote employees’ mental and physical wellbeing is important.
- Build an open and trusting relationship
Your employees are more likely to approach you with any difficulties they are facing or any health concerns if you promote a culture where they will not feel judged or unsupported.
- Hold regular check-ins
Check-ins do not simply need to be about work projects and tasks. Discuss any struggles the employee may face, offer support, and ask questions. Ensuring you acknowledge any achievements and work well done, rather than only commenting on the negatives, can be another great way to promote your remote employees’ wellbeing.
- Take mental wellbeing as seriously as physical wellbeing
Breaking the stigma of mental health is necessary. Show that you, and the company as a whole, take mental health difficulties seriously and offer any support you can. Make any necessary allowances that the employee may need, such as a reduction in workload or an extension of deadlines.
- Allow flexible working
This allows your employees to schedule their working day in the way that best suits them. Shifting your focus from hours worked to goals and tasks achieved can be beneficial for everyone.
- Provide any equipment or resources that would benefit the employee
Just because they are working from home, does not mean you shouldn’t ensure their working life is made easier. Providing office furniture, such as a desk and a supportive chair, can help protect their muscular-skeletal health. You should also ensure any technology is up to date and doesn’t make their life more stressful.
- Be aware of burnout
It can be more difficult to maintain separation between your working life and your home life when your work remotely. Encouraging separation and not expecting communication out of working hours can be beneficial.
How to manage effective online meetings
Online meetings have become increasingly popular, especially with more and more employees working remotely. It can be difficult to arrange for everyone to be in the same place at once, especially if your company does not have an office location or you have employees who do not live within commuting distance.
Effectively managing online meetings is much easier than you may think. Below are some tips you can follow to help your online meetings run more smoothly and be more productive.
1. Prepare a well-defined, easy to follow agenda: You can prepare all the items that need to be discussed and organise them in order of priority. Sending the agenda ahead of time allows your employees to prepare any information they may need to provide and can prevent any confusion or wasted time.
2. Set a time limit: If everyone is aware of the time limit, this will keep all participants focused and prevent time from being wasted.
3. Prepare the meeting space ahead of time: You will likely need to set up the meeting on an online video platform and send out the password ahead of time. Ensure you are logged in before the meeting has started and have checked that there are no issues.
4. Lead by example: Ensure you are dressed professionally, in a room free from distractions, and are well organised. This can show other employees what is expected from them.
5. Ensure everyone is happy with the outcomes: This helps everyone in the meeting to feel valued and heard. It can also help to prevent any issues later on.
6. Share the meeting notes: Sending a summary of the notes, any action points and who is responsible for what can help ensure everything is smooth going forward. Meeting notes can also be beneficial to people who were unable to attend the meeting.
Managing homeworking legal and contractual considerations
Employers must be aware of all legal and contractual considerations and ensure they are abiding by them. These considerations may vary based on the type of remote work that is taking place.
However, some ways you can ensure your company is abiding by all legal and contractual considerations are:
- Check your employment contracts – These should reflect any homeworking arrangements, such as working hours, expenses, data protection, confidentiality and tax exemptions.
- Review your remote working policy – Ensure it covers supervision, including how and how often the employee will receive supervision, communication requirements and how performance will be measured.
- Check your insurance – Does your liability insurance cover employees working from home? If not, you may have to contact your insurance provider to update your coverage.
- Check the employees’ rights and benefits are accurate – Remote workers are entitled to the same benefits as on-site workers. Failure to ensure the same rights and benefits could result in an allegation of discrimination.
- Carry out risk assessments – Any risk assessments you have are not likely to be relevant to the employees’ working environment. Electronic risk assessments can be completed by the employee themselves. They can highlight any risks that may be present in their home and how these can be addressed.
- Ensure data protection and security – The employee may be accessing confidential information at home. Make sure that all data protection rules and laws are abided by and employees are aware of network security, using passwords and how to protect confidential information.