23 September 2020
All change: Are we ready to work from home again?
If we're set to move back into a state of homeworking, what do we need to be thinking about?
As the Government advice changes from “return to work if you can” to “work at home if you can”, now might be the time to review what we have learned from our last foray into homeworking and act on any lessons learned. Homeworking in the winter could well feel very different from the balmy days of spring and summer with long dark days and limited opportunities for outside exercise if the weather is inclement.
So, as we move back into a state of homeworking, what do we need to be thinking about?
One of the first things to consider, as we go back to working from home, will be ensuring employees' mental health is supported, particularly where people live alone and have got back into the routine of seeing colleagues again. Office conversations, camaraderie, banter, bouncing of ideas, and overhearing discussions where you can offer a contribution are all part of normal office life. The chat in the coffee queue or by the water cooler with someone you haven’t seen for a while, having a birthday card signed by your colleagues or just downing tools for a 5 minute “put the world to rights” conversation will potentially vanish overnight.
Line Managers have a responsibility to ensure the mental wellbeing of their staff, particularly if they have become aware that staff has struggled with the lack of day to day, face to face contact with colleagues during the previous period of homeworking and should make the effort to encourage more interaction between colleagues with topics other than work on the agenda.
Working at home offers the flexibility to accommodate different working patterns, particularly around caring responsibilities. However, do we really look after ourselves in the way we care for others? The tendency to work longer hours, not take breaks, and have an urge to demonstrate presenteeism needs to be addressed, with employees being encouraged to take their lunch breaks, get up regularly and walk around and not work excessive hours, just because there isn’t someone telling them to go home.
If you didn’t get around to putting into place a homeworking policy previously then now is the time to do it. You will need to include such things as your expectations on working hours, equipment to be provided and how it will be maintained, what, if any, expenses can be claimed, health and safety, and data protection.
Communication with remote workers is vital. Make it a priority to diary in virtual team huddles and encourage people to attend. Having cameras on can help you feel connected and see any employees that may particularly be negatively impacted, however not every employee is comfortable being on camera.
Health and safety
With a further period of working from home, is now the time to address working conditions? Not everyone has the luxury of a dedicated workspace, do you need to be making some more enquires about how people are actually working and see if there is any extra support they need to make the workspace more comfortable. Poor work set-ups can lead to muscular-skeletal problems which could be storing up problems for the future.
Is out of sight, out of mind? While we aren’t yet at the big brother stage of virtually monitoring when someone is present and working, we have to rely on trust that our colleagues are pulling their weight. Regular team and individual check ins to assess if workloads are manageable and being progressed as expected will ensure that managers can keep a “virtual” eye on colleagues’ productivity.
But what happens when staff aren’t being as productive as if they were in line of sight? They may be loading the washing machine or receiving a delivery which takes two minutes, but what about when that turns into taking the dog for a walk and that two minutes turns into 30? Where you suspect someone isn’t working as productively as you would expect, start a conversation to find out why. If they are defensive, chances are you’ve identified something untoward and having called it out, the employee should get back on track, but if not, good employment practice doesn’t stop as a result of Covid and you may need to invoke your disciplinary procedure.
For some, the thought of returning to full time home working will be met with a feeling of relief, for others, a feeling of dread. A straw poll of colleagues has identified that the preferred option would be “a bit of both”, however, that doesn’t seem to be an option at the present time so let’s work with what we have and see how we can support our employees to embrace the latest “new normal”.