Uber joined a long list of companies earlier this month, advising employees that they can work remotely until at least the end of June 2021 and confirming that staff can return to the office if they wish, however, will not be mandated to. Their decision follows similar moves by Google, Apple and Amazon, with Twitter going one step further by giving workers the option to work from home permanently if they wanted to do so.
Whilst this will have an immediate saving for employers on premium office space across the country, what does this really mean for them in the longer term; have we fully explored the impact on working life? What can we expect to change as a result of many businesses not having the confines of an office? How will working from home on a larger scale than ever before change the world, asks Toni Robinson, MD of human resources specialists, NucleusHR.
1. Engaging the Workforce
Many employers have struggled with the difficulties of engaging with a remote team and now it could be a country wide issue. How are you going to stop the workforce feeling isolated, siloed or feeling trapped inside the four walls of their own home?
How will relationships work in the future? Given that we are not going to meet in person as often and reliance on Zoom or Teams takes over, do we as humans need contact with our team members?
There will be some employees that may live alone or rely on their daily interactions with fellow workers. We should consider the mental wellbeing of all staff when assessing the decision to work from home in the longer term.
It is worth looking at regular (bi-weekly) team Zoom meetings to ensure that there is frequent visual contact with the team. Meetings with each individual team member are important too (monthly perhaps). Finally, maybe bi-monthly, a team meeting in person – social distancing permitting.
2. Variance in Productivity
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) have conducted some research which indicates that working from home has not impacted productivity at the majority of employers.
It is possible that productivity may increase by up to 10% by working from home due to not getting constant interruptions, less travel, working through lunch etc.
Will we see the need for a recruitment change? Localised recruitment is almost definitely going to change, as it will no longer by necessary to have someone working in a particular town or city where the office is located – new staff could be located anywhere. This could potentially open up the recruitment market.
If we do see a rise in productivity, will we be able to achieve more with fewer employees, making the need to recruit less, perhaps? And increase the already growing number of redundancies?
How will new starters get inducted to their new employer? How will they live their values? And how will the organisational culture be embedded with new starters? How will they learn to work with their team, having potentially limited interaction? These are all considerations employers will need to assess before onboarding any new staff.
Introducing brand ambassadors as part of the induction process could be a good way of doing this. A professionally written employee handbook that really embraces the personality of the company also becomes ever more important.
5. Training & Development
Will we lose the informal continued professional development aspect of working together? The “you’ll learn that by sitting next to Bob” approach to working life?
The formal training is undoubtedly going to continue, however, it’s the informal listening to how a colleague handled a particular issue, the friendly chats over desks and the ability to ask questions as and when an issue arises, that we could lose if we aren’t careful.
6. Policies and Procedures
Many businesses will already have policies and procedures adapted to allow for staff working from home. However, we should remind those that have had working from home practices forced on them only recently, that the impact on Health & Safety policies such as home working assessments, bring your own devices polices etc. need to be considered to ensure that the business remains protected.
Updating the policies and procedures to reflect home working is going to be vital, particularly now that the initial chaos has subsided. It may be time to introduce a home working policy setting out the ground rules and expectations, from all aspects, including communication (internal and external), wellbeing, health & safety etc.
7. Recognising Rising Talent
It is possible that by working remotely, we may end up missing rising talent and potential. How will we ensure that we recognise that spark in the future?
Performance reviews or appraisals were often overlooked in many businesses, particularly smaller businesses. Is now the time to start thinking about introducing a performance review, giving all employees the opportunity to talk about their successes and desires for future progression?
8. Performance Management
Are we likely to lose track of performance management? There could be a tendency for employees, once the novelty of working from home has disappeared, to not work as hard, perhaps? It is possible that complacency could set in, and employees abuse the trust that has been placed in them. It will be harder to spot that remotely, particularly without well written and agreed Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) and objectives.
The setting of KPI’s will be ever more important and monitoring them will be essential.
The style of management that people had developed and refined over the years will need to adapt to managing a remote workforce. Training your managers so that they have an up to date management skillset is going to be required to enable them to be effective.
9. Potential Burnout
Burnout became a recognised condition by the World Health Organisation only last week, so when home becomes the office, is there is a danger of never switching off? Starting earlier, finishing later, working through lunch; and it becomes easy to pick up that issue on a weekend. The potential for burnout is definitely here, so how are employers going to recognise the signs when we are all so remote?
Ensuring regular contact is in place with each employee, is going to be essential to the success of the ongoing home working model. Managers will also need awareness training in recognising the subtle signs of burnout.
Will we need an advancement of technology to allow us to work from home more easily? Lockdown would indicate not.
But it is certain that the face of technology will change to combat the softer issues related to working from home.
It is also worth thinking about the security of technology with more people working from home. It may certainly be worth investing in some form of Cyber Security Insurance, which will assist in protecting your systems from internal and external bad intentions.
11. Home Relationships
How will working from home more permanently impact on home relationships? We used to see our partners for 3-4 hours a day in the week, now we potentially see them 24/7?
Will we see a rise in homelife issues, that employers may need to support workers with? The days where employers ask employees to leave their personal issues at home when you arrive at work are long gone. The more successful employers support employees through personal challenges, but how do we do this remotely; this is fraught with potential pitfalls.
We all know that we are heading for the biggest jobs recession since the 1980’s, with redundancies reported to the government over five times higher than this time last year.
We are all but certainly going to see redundancies associated with small sandwich shops, deli’s, cafés, and restaurants specifically located to attract office workers, who will not be returning to their offices.
But we will see more redundancies because of the decision to move out of offices and work from home? What about the cleaners? The office cafés? The vending machine companies? It is unlikely the need for these will continue as it was.
13. Pensions and Investments
Given commercial properties make up a fair proportion of pension pots and have done for many years, are we going to see a dip in the value of pension and investment portfolios?
As someone who regularly works away from the confines of an office, I have been able to adapt to home working over the years, but we should not ignore the issues that many now have to face and how we need to support businesses, workers and families through this change.