Practically overnight the COVID-19 pandemic hastened an enormous shift in how people work and what it means to be managing a remote workforce.
As a manager of a reasonably small team (30 people), the COVID-19 pandemic has had an extensive effect on how we roll out our service delivery.
Of course this pandemic has had a global impact, and the challenges faced by myself managing a remote workforce are replicated repeatedly on a local, national and worldwide scale. Many companies reported much initial positive feedback, and seemed pleasantly surprised in how smoothly the transition from office working to working from home went. For these companies, there didn’t appear to be a huge impact on productivity with no initial impediments to staff getting their work done.
Initially, I shared an optimism about complete home working being a way forward for the future well being of staff, with potentially our company being able to offer a better work life balance for employees.
Managing a Remote Workforce in the first lockdown.
The first lockdown had an almost novelty factor. Kids were off school, the evenings were getting longer and the weather was good. We were scared and anxious about what was happening globally and locally. Collectively we feared for our vulnerable family and friends. But somehow there seemed a more community approach for people who were self isolating. Zoom quizzes and virtual dinner dates etc. seemed to be utilized by all and sundry.
Our team comprises 30 staff, and in the first lockdown many staff requested to work from home. We were deemed an ‘essential service’ so we could operate our 5 centres with a skeleton staff each day. Adopting a hybrid approach of staff coming in to the office on occasion to collect paperwork worked well. The schools were closed, so many staff balanced their caregiving duties as needed. With staggered working hours practiced (earlier or later than normal) at their request. Staff seemed appreciative of this flexibility, and the morale in general was good.
However the challenges experienced over the past two lockdowns seem quite different in nature. Initially staff embraced working from home. During the second lockdown, many of those same staff are requesting working from the office either full time, or with a hybrid approach. These requests create challenges about how we maintain maximum health and safety for staff. The management of the anxiety and stresses some staff have about returning to the office and mixing with other members of the team also can be onerous.
What do employees want?
Do all employees prefer working from home? After the initial working from home ‘honeymoon’ in the first lockdown, the feedback I am receiving is that many workers struggle with the arrangement. When working from home some staff report a real difficulty in separating work from home, when the work they are doing is done from home.
Flexibility and choice for staff is crucial. Working from home won’t work for everyone. Being cognizant of this might inform our future choices. Let’s consider all evidence before we rush to terminate leases. Or dismantle any of our physical offices.
The key for staff seems to be an acknowledgement of a work/life balance by management. Coupled with a mutual striving for what works.
The second lockdown seems different.
During the second lockdown, staff are expressing that they are now fed up working from home. They miss the congeniality of the office. Gone is the ability to de-brief their experiences with a challenging customer with their colleagues. Stopping for a socially distant tea break with their colleagues and having a chat is over.
Reporting that when working from home, they miss doing their work, closing the door of the office and forgetting about their work day. Working from home sounds great in theory, but unless you have a crucifying work commute daily, the pros do not seem to outweigh the cons.
Increases of the caring responsibilities for family are common. Many staff reporting that they stagger their work hours over a longer period to facilitate care giving. On paper this is a great solution, but in practice, it appears to be having an effect where people have a much longer work day. Real difficulties are experienced by staff in managing the boundaries of when to switch off from work.
Lack of a suitable home office or work space is also highlighted by some staff. A nostalgic appreciation for their own office work station is often mentioned.
There seems to be psychosocial hazards connected to working from home permanently too. People like, and more importantly need, to feel connected to their work colleagues. In a complete working from home environment, additional occupational stress may result due to feelings of isolation.
Conclusion – Hybrid option seems to the best choice for managing a remote workforce.
In summary, my staff miss the office and they want to come back in. Optimally in a hybrid working environment that suits them. This seems to equate to maybe two / three days in the office, and two / three days working from home.
In practical terms our offices are quite small and hot desking was common place BC (Before Covid). Now with our new health and safety protocol that can no longer happen – at least not in the way of the past – but staff still want the work /life balance of a hybrid arrangement in the office on a part time basis. And they want the reassurance of doing this safely. So they want solutions where they know in advance that their office space won’t be over crowded.
With the Ronspot app this can be easily achieved.
We can ensure that everyone has the ‘return to the workplace’ Covid awareness training. Social distancing can be easily maintained. Formerly crammed together desks can have adjacent desks vacated by use of a solution like Ronspot. It is designed to achieve exactly this. Staff are reassured that on the days when they are in the office there is a formalized safe procedure in place.
These practical solutions seem to be the way to reassure staff and ensure that a seamless effective service can be continuously achieved. Managing a remote workforce is doable, but it takes planning and good tools can help.