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Engaging employees when working from home

Screenshot of the Impact team on a video call
Impact team enjoy Friday drinks

The current circumstances have prompted companies across the globe to implement home-working structures and, while some organisations already had the necessary infrastructure and systems in place to facilitate this, many businesses are having to quickly react and adapt in order to still function. There are a number of things to consider when sending your employees to work from home and, even for those of us who can function with a laptop and decent internet connection for a large portion of our day, it is not just a matter of plugging in and getting started. For a start, employers will have had to ensure the relevant IT security systems are in place to protect sensitive information, there’ll be many GDPR concerns, health and safety obligations and insurance considerations to sort, particularly for those businesses to whom home-working is a completely new concept. Even when all the practical implications are sorted, and everyone has the tools in place to physically do their job it still may not be plain sailing.

 

According to the ONS Labour force survey, over 1.7 million people work from home in the UK, a growth of 173% in the last 15 years, and research has traditionally suggested that home workers are happier and more productive. In fact, The IWG Global workplace survey stated that 85% of businesses (over 15,000 participants across 100 countries) which allowed flexible work location reported a notable increase in productivity. However, today’s situation is slightly different. People are not choosing to work from home as a preference. People are having to adjust to a sudden and new way of working, under extraordinary circumstances and may have a number of physical and emotional distractions in the home- their new ’workplace’. At a time during which business levels are at their most fragile, it is essential perhaps more than ever, to be incredibly mindful of those more difficult to quantify aspects of business- employee well-being, engagement and productivity.

 

“…We are not in the same boat. We are going through a time when our perceptions and needs are completely different. Each of us will emerge, in our own way, from this storm… `We are all on different ships during this storm, experiencing a very different journey.” Unknown Author

 

Much as I dislike using an analogy which is doing the social media rounds, this one seems pretty insightful to me. We are all in very different situations and have varying capacities with which to cope with this extraordinary time. We are all in different boats, with different captains and crews. So, regardless of the size or strength of your business going into this pandemic, it’ll be the skills of the team and it’s leaders that get you through. As a company we at Impact have worked hard to find out what motivates and engages our team, so we are perhaps at something of an advantage but it is only when really faced with a challenge (and boy is Covid 19 a challenge!) that we can really see the strength of our managers and their teams.

 

Many people may have started out feeling somewhat optimistic about the transition to home-working. No commute, home comforts around you, maybe even pets, comfortable clothing, the challenge of setting up a work area, flexible hours- there was a lot to keep us engaged. Employer’s expectations of productivity understandably changed, work loads may have decreased or increased (but definitely changed) and everyone evolved in their own time, into this new way of working. However, here we are, well into our second month of homeworking and some of the novelty has worn off. Where at first, for some of us the prospect of a bra-free day was a novel plus-point (all be it Joe Wicks destroyed that perk pretty quickly in our house), now we need to get smart for those Zoom meetings (at least from the waist up) and actually may be craving some of the other, more vital, aspects of our ‘pre-covid19 working life’. Some of us may be starting to wobble a little, (physically and emotionally!) and, with no set date in sight for the return of a new normality, we might need a little help re-engaging and motivating ourselves to keep on doing our best. Rising to the challenge, here are some of the practical adjustments our managers have made to help their teams navigate their way through this storm and ensure the mental health, engagement and productivity of the team continues to be as healthy as it can be.

 

Communication

We are social-distancing, not isolating. Communicate, listen, be present. Our managers communicate face-to-face, twice daily with their whole team. A morning ‘Teams’ or zoom meeting is, not only gentle encouragement for everyone to get up and get dressed, it also an opportunity to set the expectations for the day, giving everyone a focus as well as have a chat, just like we would in the office. Life is pretty heavy going at the moment, so we still need to talk about Tom Hardy doing Cbeebies bedtime stories or the latest episode of Killing Eve. One-to-one talking is also vital. Everyone is different and the managers know their team and who may need different levels of communication- for some that’s daily, others prefer less often. Most of us enjoy the WhatsApp threads with the funny memes and videos -they definitely have their place and can help us have a laugh when we most need to, but this has to be in addition to real, regular and honest communication. The inspirational quotes are fine, but on their own- well, they’re lazy- not an adequate substitute for a ‘face-to-face’ chat or personal phone call.

 

Share Information

Our business likes to keep things transparent- we share information with each other and keep everyone updated on developments. In our shared offices we are there for each other, witnessing successes (and failures) as they unfold. When working remotely we need to make an effort to keep that going, so we can support each other and continue to recognise and celebrate our achievements. Every win, however small, is worth shouting about.

 

Don’t Micromanage

Our managers set realistic and achievable targets and goals in keeping with our usual workload in addition to a schedule of new tasks which may vary on a week-to-week basis. Exactly when this is all done is pretty much down to the individual. Some companies may need to record computer log on times and closely monitor productivity levels but, ultimately, if your team are engaged and motivated they won’t need close monitoring. The best managers will be able to trust their teams to do what’s needed to keep productive, even when they are not being ‘watched’. It’s important to recognise that times like these re-define our success, so a re-alignment of targets will be necessary.

 

Keep Learning

Take part in webinars, keep researching, keep up your training. This time isn’t just about surviving in business, it’s about making sure we come out of it stronger and fit for the change in business that we will inevitably face. So, by encouraging our teams to keep on learning too, we are focussing on the future, better days (which are coming) which we need to be prepared for. There is no script for where we are right now, so everything we do is a learning curve and an opportunity to build our resilience as a business and strength as a team. Even when business levels are lower we can keep our minds active and engaged through personal development.

 

Encourage Team Interaction

When asked, the one thing most of our team members say they miss the most is the social contact in the office, the general joking around and buzz that we have. Even under ‘normal’ home-working conditions, research shows that about 1 in 5 people say they struggle with ‘loneliness’ when working remotely. We are being told to avoid human contact and this is naturally making most of us crave human contact. So, it’s important that we have the relevant technology and means to keep connected with their colleagues in the safe ways that we can. This may involve a ‘buddy system’ whereby colleagues are encouraged to work in pairs on set tasks or more social challenges scheduled into the week. Which leads me to …

 

Have Fun

Switching off from work is a challenge when the lines are blurred, so it’s important to encourage regular breaks, exercise and downtime. I know of companies who are having Tiktok Tuesdays (where they have to challenge their teams to match their tiktoks), Hump day huddles (just a non-work-related zoom ‘watercooler’ chat on Wednesdays) and others who encourage their staff to take part in online yoga and other exercise sessions. We at Impact tend to do our own thing exercise-wise and have always been an active bunch but we have missed our Friday drinks so have made a point of downing tools at 3 on a Friday and just having a bit of fun. Pub quizzes, bingo, who am I challenges, and a personalised ‘how well do you know your colleagues?’ quiz have given us a chance to pour a drink, grab some snacks and have a chat for an hour like we would at the pub!

 

Be Positive

Positive things will come from this time. We will learn a lot about the capabilities of our teams and ourselves. We can all empathise with each other – these are extraordinary times and we don’t know what others are dealing with besides this. Regardless of our situation, there is no shame in admitting we are struggling or scared. However, the best leaders are human and real but also positive- they can admit that this is tough and keep pushing forward, giving us hope for a positive future and a light at the end of the tunnel. Having something positive to work towards and look forward to must help to keep us engaged and motivated. I’m lucky enough to work with people like this, but you know what they say- if you can’t find someone like this in your organisation, be that person!

About the author

Angela Hooper

Angela has been part of the Impact family, supporting the team behind the scenes, since day one. As a primary school educator and recruiter, Angela has built up brilliant skills in conflict management, strategic thinking and diplomacy – though we’re not sure if that’s because of the recruitment or primary school environments! In between jobs and studying, Angela enjoys being active, travelling and spending time with her family.