WFH and HR: managing remote working effectively

REX/Harry Atkinson/LNP

With snow affecting areas of the UK, Martin Flick looks at how to manage situations that warrant staff needing to work from home (WFH).

Snow, floods, volcanic ash, tube and teachers’ strikes, swine flu – any one of a host of different events can shut down transport links or create obstacles for employees to get to work, often with little or no warning.

It is hardly surprising, then, that one thought keeping many HR professionals awake is, if everyone had to work from home today, could we support the business and continue to function as normal?

Without the right tools and systems in place, employees will struggle to coordinate work or access the resources they need, so how can HR support managers to help staff work efficiently from home?

Protecting productivity

Last year, the right to request flexible working was extended to all employees, and technology company Citrix predicts that flexible working could add £90 billion to the UK economy.

There may be some initial disruption, but preparing for widespread remote working could actually give your organisation a competitive advantage.

One of the first things to do is to start planning for situations where you might need to rely on the business to continue operating in an entirely digital environment.

As an HR department, how will you deal consistently with lateness due to travel disruption, for example? Depending on different roles, what are the possible alternative ways of working?

It is also about changing the mindset of the organisation. Mobile, data and social technologies have driven agile working to the top of the business agenda. By looking carefully at how roles are designed and people’s output is measured, managers can better understand how technology can facilitate a working environment for each individual. Work becomes something they do, not a place that they go to.

Bring your own device

The emergence of the mobile as the primary communications device for consumers means this often overlaps into the working environment. People want to connect readily via rich mobile experiences at work, just as they do at home. Does your policy on bringing devices to work reflect this or does it discourage workers from logging on?

While providing the right device is crucial, spare a thought for safety and compliance as well. Secure mobile access to email and applications through business-compliant tools eliminates the risk of data being compromised, even when devices become separated from their owners.

It is just as important to be able to unlock the full potential of your mobile devices. For example, collaborative technologies such as video conferencing create a direct and more personal means of communication, regardless of how dispersed or globalised a business becomes.

Cloud control

Business apps also enable employees to complete their tasks at a time that suits them, ensuring a smooth workstream and boosting productivity. HR now has unprecedented access to apps and software through cloud-based technology, meaning companies of all sizes can view data or use programs from any location or device.

This means that people can set themselves up for a day of work from any location, on any device, whether at home, in the office or on the move, and can pick up exactly where they left off. Talk to managers about how they will set expectations and measure performance if staff work this way; it is important to build up trust that the work will get done.

Warm up relationships

Remote working is becoming more and more accepted, but there are still a few businesses whose principal concern has been the productivity of workers outside the office environment. Making WFH work for you involves moving away from a culture of presenteeism where the number of hours spent in the office equates to the amount of work done.

That said, emails are already pinging into people’s smartphones or tablets at 7am in the morning and only stop pinging when they go to sleep. The concept of nine-to-five working is now more myth than reality and companies that fail to recognise the transformation of work will be left behind.

As well as supporting managers to engage staff when they are not at work, HR also needs to make them mindful of the risk of overworking staff. Workers who overwork are more likely to experience stress, which can have a negative effect on performance and productivity.

Small steps

By supporting the business to cater for different working styles or personal preferences, this presents a range of business opportunities, from increasing productivity and opening up avenues for globalisation. It can also open up labour pools to previously marginalised groups such as people with disabilities and working parents.

Preparing for this change can be done incrementally. Simple steps such as enabling employees to work from home for the first hour or so of the day, only travelling into work once the rush hour is over, can have a huge impact on both their productivity and on the quality of their lives. Forming good lines of communication with IT will help this run smoothly.

Whether it is bad weather or another unforeseen crisis, remote working provides businesses with a much-needed layer of resilience. It definitely carries a number of benefits, but remember not to view it as a “nice to have” or an “add-on”. Having systems in place to allow flexible working is fundamental to creating a competitive and, most importantly, enduring business.

Martin Flick

About Martin Flick

Martin Flick is chief executive of Olive Communications.
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