The work-life balance offered by flexible working is increasingly popular, but it can also be isolating. How do businesses ensure the physical and mental wellbeing of a workforce they rarely see?
In the last 18 months, we have experienced the largest scale migration to remote working the world has ever seen. Working practices may have changed forever and it’s clear that we must prepare for a more flexible approach typified by a rise in remote or hybrid working.
This increasingly popular model gives employees more freedom over where they choose to work and in general, flexible working offers a greater work-life balance and often improves productivity and efficiency. But it can also feel isolating and in a blurred work/home environment it can lead to burnout and stress as people never switch off.
This presents business owners with a relatively new challenge of maintaining engagement and productivity, whilst also ensuring the wellbeing of its workforce.
Chris Shanks, Head of Technology, First Digital, outlines some of these more common challenges and introduces some next generation Microsoft technology that can ensure you can care for your workforce, no matter where they are.
The Challenges of engaging a remote workforce:
No daily contact
Where people have not been in their offices for a long period of time, or businesses have experienced a high degree of staff turnover – caused by both leavers and new recruits – some teams that have been working together for more than 12 months may never have met in person. Without sharing a workspace, they’ve had to develop relationships, create a team dynamic and build the trust bonds required by a high performing team without having the physical interaction people normally expect.
As teams grow, it presents further challenges. In smaller teams, by necessity, they will communicate more regularly as shared goals – and often shared responsibilities – mean a high degree of collaboration. But in larger teams, with more defined hierarchies, it can be harder for someone – particularly a new recruit – to know where to go or who to turn to with an issue.
If no one knows how to report a problem, how will business leaders even know there is one?
While remote employees can still receive messages, albeit largely through digital channels, it’s difficult to know if these messages actually get through. You can’t expect your remote employees to buy into a culture they can’t feel, or a wellbeing programme they don’t know about. Culture is a huge part of any employee experience and communicating and promoting your mission, vision and values is also more difficult when employees work remotely.
Without regular employee temperature checks, gathering feedback on the mood, thoughts and general wellbeing of your remote team is much harder. The challenge is compounded by a lack of anecdotal feedback gained from regular coffee breaks or watercooler chats. You can’t guarantee that employees will read lengthy emails and complete large surveys, while a change in working pattern to accommodate family commitments, may be a proactive choice or it may be a cry for help.
The Solutions for engaging a remote workforce:
Deliver frequent, more creative communications
Communication has always been at the heart of employee engagement, but it will become even more significant as we settle into new longer term flexible working practices. Less face-to-face interactions means it’s very easy for colleagues to feel out of the loop. Leaders need to be visible and approachable and encourage everyone to use technology to foster constant communication.
Create a hierarchy of channels that reflect the organisational structure – not everyone needs to be in every Teams chat – and ensure that some are specifically for informal communication so that people can be themselves without the fear of not being corporate enough on a corporate platform. Embrace every communication channel you’ve got. People consume information in different ways so use video calls, Teams chats, DM’s and emails or, if you want to go old school, deliver letters through the door to keep everyone up to date and make them feel valued.
You can also use tools like Teams, Viva Topics or SharePoint to create an internal hub so colleagues can self-serve for the information they need, when they need it and your corporate messages can have a home.
Help your employees socialise and feel connected
Thanks to technology, it’s very easy to stay connected with people from anywhere in the world, but there’s a difference between being connected and feeling connected. While your employees might be sending messages via Teams and attending a host of video calls, their emotional connection to your business and the relationships they have with their colleagues are the things that will drive long term engagement and feelings of belonging. Work is just an extension of life after all.
Give employees regular opportunities to connect with each other on a personal level. Schedule virtual meet-ups and events that are designed specifically for informal, non-work-related chats. From casual catch ups over coffee to virtual wine tasting, there are plenty of things you can do to give your employees the opportunity to socialise while using the technology you provide.
Get real-time feedback and act on it
To help people achieve balance, collaborate smartly, and find focus wherever and whenever they need it, we have started to use Microsoft Viva, the employee experience platform built on Microsoft 365 that empowers people and teams to be their best from wherever they work. Microsoft Viva brings together communications, knowledge, learning, resources, and insights into an employee experience that integrates seamlessly into the apps you use every day, such as Microsoft Teams.
Microsoft Viva Insights gives individuals, managers, and leaders personalised and actionable insights that help everyone in an organisation thrive. In addition to new productivity and wellbeing experiences and insights in Microsoft Teams, Viva Insights will, over time, bring the power of Microsoft Workplace Analytics and Microsoft MyAnalytics together under the Microsoft Viva brand.
Use Leadership and Technology to support your remote team
As we move towards a new flexible model for work, technology will continue to play an increasingly important role in helping businesses drive their long-term employee engagement strategies.
Flexible working comes with a range of benefits for businesses and their employees, but the key to making it work is adapting your practices to create a working environment that fosters engagement and prioritises wellbeing.
Employee experience is at the centre of our collective success; people’s wellbeing enables their productivity, innovation, and engagement at work, but we’ve also seen what can happen when the boundary between work and life blurs.
So while technology can provide the platform, engagement is never just about the tools. While technology facilitates communication, the actions and messages delivered by business leaders will continue to play a crucial role in maintaining the wellbeing of a remote workforce.
To find how the First Solution Group can help implement flexible working solutions which transform how your remote workforce operates, book a meeting with us today!
About First Solution Group
The First Solution Group is made up of three businesses. First Solution, an award-winning IT management service and technology strategy company. First Digital, which supports business transformation through the delivery of low investment, high return technology. Plus, First People, a resources company, providing the right leadership, operational and technical skills to support business transformation.
Book a call with our Digital Transformation lead to see how we can help you.