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What employers can do to make remote working better long term

Posted: 11 June 2020 10:30 am
News

Man sitting on couch using laptop for video meeting

Operating your business remotely now? Run through this checklist to make sure you're set up to work efficiently.

The coronavirus pandemic forced many businesses to set up for remote working for the first time. As life slowly returns to normal, many of those firms will choose to continue offering the option for their employees to work remotely.

You might think you've already solved many of the challenges of remote working, but once it's a permanent option, there are additional steps you need to take. Here are five of the most crucial.

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1. Set guidelines and keep them consistent

Laptop, coffee cup, crumpled paper ball, group of stationary objects on table top.
Every business will have different requirements for who can or can't work remotely. Whatever rules you set, make sure they're clearly documented and shared with the entire team. Taking an ad hoc approach can create feelings of resentment amongst other staff members who don't feel they're being offered the same consideration or flexibility.

Make those approaches as specific as possible. Here are some samples of the kinds of rules you might use:

  • Employees can work remotely a maximum of three days a week.
  • Everyone must be in the office for the monthly planning meeting.
  • One member of the sales team must be present in the office at all times.

2. Do a thorough technology audit

Two businesswomen sitting at workstation in office discussing project on digital tablet
Emergency remote working set-ups are likely making use of a mixture of office equipment and kit that staff already had at home. If your business is making the switch permanently, you need to know exactly what everyone is using, and update it when the gear isn't up to the task. This is both a legal requirement under occupational health and safety regulations, and a sensible move to maximise everyone's productivity.

Shifting to remote work also offers the opportunity to re-evaluate your existing processes. For instance, if your business regularly prints invoices and other documents, you may have set up printers for many remote crew. However, if you move to a model where people work remotely some of the time, those printers might not be needed; printing can take place within the office instead.


3. Make sure your business broadband is up to scratch

Team of architects having group project discussion at workstation in office
Coronavirus isolation has seen many people upgrade their home broadband, so they can get through Zoom meetings without constant dropouts. It's equally important, once you're back working from the office, to make sure that your broadband there is also working well. If you haven't been running regular video meetings before, you may need to look at upgrading what's in place. A system that worked OK when everyone was in the office and most collaboration happened in face-to-face meetings may not work so well once half the team is dialling in.



4. Set clear rules around meetings

Woman working at home having a video conference with colleagues
Video meetings are a key enabling technology for remote work, but they can also be abused. Because you're already in front of your computer, it can be easy to be distracted by instant messages, emails or that presentation you've been working on all day. Result? You don't concentrate and the meeting's value dropped. (I've lost track of how often I've had to ask the same question in meetings twice recently, because the person I've addressed it to simply isn't paying attention to what's going on.)

You can minimise that by setting clear expectations around what happens in meetings. Leaving video on means it's easier to spot anyone who is permanently distracted elsewhere. It's also important that meetings have a clearly defined purpose. A daily stand-up can make sense for many teams, but keep it brief. One rule I like to follow: if the meeting doesn't have an agenda set in advance, I don't see the point in attending.


5. Keeping teams cohesive requires ongoing work

Young bearded man sitting on desk in his home office and working on laptop.
All employees need to feel valued, and that can be more challenging when some or all staff are working remotely. Many remote workers "fear not being seen and noticed", University of Sydney researcher Ella Hafermalz found in a 2017 study.

Regular contact with every employee is vital if you want to keep morale high. That doesn't necessarily mean you need massive hour-long meetings with every single employee dialled in. Fast, regular meetings with smaller groups of employees often work better, and ensure that everyone has an opportunity to contribute.

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