One of the main challenges business owners face as they offer a more flexible working model is how to maintain productivity, while supporting a strong work/life balance.
According to figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), before the disruption of the COVID pandemic, only around 12.4% of the UK workforce spent time working from home. That number grew to nearly 50% in 2020 as businesses enabled everyone they could to work remotely.
That figure may grow now that more employers realise that in many cases their business and their employees can function perfectly well regardless of where they are in the world.
Chris Shanks, Head of Technology, First Digital highlights ways business leaders can maintain the productivity of a workforce, while catering for their need to enjoy a good work-life balance.
This year, rightly so, we have focused on people’s physical and mental health and what they needed in order to work from home successfully. But we mustn’t lose sight of what a business needs to remain competitive. Remote or flexible working challenges long-held beliefs about when and how employees perform well, but it takes strategic planning and the right technology to scale in a way that drives performance while maintaining employee culture and wellbeing.
1. Focus on outputs not processes
Working from home, people have learned how to balance their work and family commitments in ways that are easiest and most productive for them. Without the office commute, some start and finish early, while others prefer the regime of office hours. But if the work is good and the teams are happy, that’s the most important thing. So, instead of micro-managing how an employee gets his or her work done, focus on its quality, whether deadlines are being met and if they still contribute fully to the collective business aims. Help remote workers by scheduling collaboration at mutually agreeable times and use technology wherever possible. Providing flexibility empowers teams and builds trust.
2. Encourage collaboration
Working away from colleagues can feel isolating, so encourage project work that allows team members to work together, share ideas and communicate more. Your team will feel connected to each other. Your business will benefit from the sort of innovation that shared ideas and greater communication between team members brings. Real collaboration is when multiple people can work on the same thing, at the same time, all making live changes. Collaboration in the cloud means a document syncs in real-time, so you’re always working on the latest version.
Without the drive, we all have more ‘space’ in our diaries for meetings. Some find this ability to go ‘back to back’ extremely ‘productive’, but another argument is that we now have too many Teams meetings because it’s so easy to pull people in. Teams meetings can run really efficiently if you make them. You can even set a timer to finish the meeting early to give you time back to decompress. Being productive is about setting agendas, prioritising and doing the important things.
4. Build trust
Over the past 18 months, as the realisation came that remote employees could be trusted, businesses have opted for more honest and authentic styles of communications. This transparency is valued by employees and shows them that they’re part of a trusted team. Trust has long been an essential ingredient for building productivity and engagement. It’s also important that remote workers feel connected to an organisation’s goals and have a clear understanding of where they fit into its mission. In turn they will feel less detached, share the common goals and be productive members of your organisation.
5. Speed up your approvals process
Whether you need written acknowledgement from your manager, a formal authorisation from a group of stakeholders, or an official signature from a customer, getting things approved is part of almost every workflow. At First Digital, we use the Approvals function in Microsoft Teams, which lets us manage approvals directly with the relevant colleague. We can start an approval request from a chat, in a channel conversation, or from the Approvals app itself. We select an approval type, add the details, attach files and choose the approvers.
6. Use a Task Manager
Everyone likes a to-do list. The first thing we do is set out our daily tasks. The Tasks by Planner & To Do app in Microsoft Teams brings together your individual tasks from To Do and Outlook with your team tasks from Planner so you can efficiently cross them off your lists. As a management tool, you can assign tasks to people and know when they are done.
7. Give them the right technology
It would be impossible for me not to include a section on why providing the right tech stack for a remote workforce is crucial to its productivity. The only way any workforce can function efficiently is if they have access to everything they need. We encourage clients to use software that makes sharing files safe, secure and simple. This software can work on a range of devices, giving employees the power to work on the same documents simultaneously.
8. Create a Hub
We used to say all roads lead to Rome, now all roads lead to home. But, if you build the right tech stack, your people will come running back. It’s human nature to take the path of least resistance, so use something like Microsoft SharePoint to create a single hub that enables your workforce to get what they need quickly. If they can access files and apps, or get answers to key questions then you won’t have to force their behaviour, it will happen organically. People want to be productive, not wait for someone to send them the file they need to complete a task.
9. Remove the barriers
We have seen many instances where businesses had a physical server located behind a locked server door. During the Covid pandemic, they were in trouble. But migrating servers to the cloud is only one way that cloud technology can remove barriers to productivity. Managing access and process of information is key to streamlining efficiencies. Knowing who to speak to if you get stuck as well as having the right data and software access means you don’t lose time waiting for someone to send them a folder.
10. Create your flexible working policies
Without precedent, so few employee handbooks had effective working from home policies. Everyone is familiar with an IT Misuse policy; ‘don’t do anything illegal on a computer we give you’ is pretty standard fare. But by now, businesses should have implemented policies that reflect their new remote or flexible working practices. Does your video meeting policy outline how employees should behave? Do you expect cameras to be switched on, colleagues to be dressed appropriately and ideally without washing in the background? Does everyone know what to do if a meeting is cancelled? If they are having technical problems, what is the escalation process?