Professional Management of Remote Workers

management of remote workersAre the right things on your agenda?

In March businesses and their managers were thrust into remote working with no planning, no procedures and not much experience – for the most part. We can all live for a while with crisis management but our time for being excused from professional management is over. Now we need to deal with things differently.

We recently published an article about effectively managing your remote workers, which explored some of the pros and cons to homeworking and then looked at how to manage different personalities in a remote team. Now, it’s time to think about how to protect the organisation, manage the staff and get the processes and procedures fit for purpose.

Here are a few issues we’ll be covering in this HR Blast, that will hopefully prompt some internal discussions and thinking. Click the headings in the list below to be taken directly to the section you are interested in.

Insurance and risk assessments

In March the government told everyone to work from home. Insurance companies did not, as a result of this being a government requirement, ask everyone to pay an additional premium for working from home to cover things such as equipment damage or work related injuries nor ask them to notify their insurance company of a change in use of home.

To our knowledge organisations had no particular communication with their insurance companies either in respect of the different approach to where people worked. You might say the risks actually decreased with offices and other workplaces closed, travel stopping and production and service delivery put on hold.

But some risks increased, including musculo-skeletal and eye issues resulting from working at home using inappropriate tables, chairs, inadequate lighting etc. Work related stress also increased. We have also heard of younger family members damaging work equipment or using it for purposes it was not intended and we can’t even begin to imagine the data breaches with people zooming from their kitchens with flat mates and neighbours listening to calls that really should be confidential.

But now the change in government position, with everyone being told to go back to work from 1 August, means the insurance industry does not have to make any more allowances. We are back to the good old days where insurance can easily be invalidated if you say or don’t say what needs to be said!

It’s been estimated around 25% of our workforce has no intention of returning to the office on a full-time basis. Whilst most businesses seem happy with this arrangement, insurance companies do not like the goal posts changing and not being informed about it.

So where does that leave your employees insurance wise? We read that one insurer estimated some 65%-70% of employees are not aware of a need to inform their insurer about their changed use of their home. That’s a lot of insurance policies that may well be invalidated inadvertently if they don’t step in to advise your employees in the next week or so.

You might also take some time to think about how you can guard against a tsunami of claims that may come through in the next 6 months for those musculo-skeletal issues and eye problems that you weren’t aware of as you haven’t been doing a home working risk assessment with each of your employees. Basic H&S stuff you simply can’t afford to ignore, so please get your risk assessments done now. Ask us for a guide/template so you can quickly get going with this.

Workload and productivity

If you sift through the media sound bites about home working creating an awesome and simply incredible surge of highly productive workers, you might just hear a few voices saying the opposite. At Jaluch we have been saying ‘act with caution’ since the very start of this all and are firm advocates of striking a balance of office and home working.

Don’t believe your own hype is the first thing that comes to mind! We all wanted it to work so we turned a blind eye to those instances when it wasn’t working. But now we need to refocus and here are a few ideas:

  1. Start by looking at productivity – easy with those workers whose output is easily measured e.g. outgoing sales calls made, sales achieved, tickets resolved etc. Much harder for others where outputs are less easily measured. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t think about how you can assess or measure going forwards. There is that old saying ‘if you can’t measure, you can’t manage…’
  2. Look to your managers – ask them how they are managing to ensure high and continuous productivity. Ask them what support they needs, where the gaps and issues are. Understand the challenges for your managers. And ask too about the individuals who, in theory, are working, but who have too little work to do. They are not lazy, it’s just that there is no work. What are you going to do about them?
  3. Look to your employees – send out a survey to ask them about productivity during home working, ask about their challenges, ask them for their ideas, involve them in innovating and problem solving. Involving employees in cracking the productivity challenge is critical, you need their input.

Remember that low productivity costs money. You wouldn’t have lots of staff sitting around in the workplace with nothing to do, by now you would have re-assessed organisational needs, reassigned resources to tackle some long term projects, let some go, retrained others etc. You should be doing the same now, so what’s holding you back? Perhaps it’s a case of ‘out of sight out of mind’? How dangerous is that!

Communications

We won’t say much here except it’s generally accepted that you need to communicate more when people are remote working than when they are in the workplace. Most of us will have experienced that communication is much harder in so many ways at present, especially if you are trying to manage a team, make decisions, problem solve, innovate etc.

But which of your managers already had a reputation pre March for not being a great communicator? Do you think they naturally improved during lockdown or do you think you might uncover a real can of worms if you look closely now?

Poor communication impacts business recovery. Can you afford that? How are you going to support your managers who aren’t so great at communication to really get their skills up to the required standard?

New managers

It takes a lot of skill to manage staff – and a lot of confidence and know how to deal with absence, performance, training, coaching, conflict management, delegation, prioritisation, engagement and inclusion etc. But even very experienced managers have struggled to manage all challenges around remote working over the past few months. Inexperienced managers have mostly had a baptism of fire.

We all need to remember that managers (and directors) are seldom born with the skill set, instead it needs to be trained in. Do you have any plans to train and support any newly promoted supervisors and managers so they don’t sink before they can swim?

Inexperienced employees

As with new managers, there is also an added challenge for those who are new to the world of work …

If ever there was a group of employees not suited to working from home, sitting at their kitchen table or on their bed all day as there is nowhere else to work, it is those just leaving education. Do you remember when you entered the world of work and you were shown how to behave, given advice on workplace etiquette, given a routine to help you get established and given an opportunity to work alongside more experienced people – ‘sitting by Nelly’ it used to be called in the very old un PC days!

This lack of learning and strong management in their first year of work could ultimately make them unemployable if they simply have no opportunity to learn the rules of the workplace that the rest of us have learnt. One unfortunate youngster recently said he had expressed concerns in what he believed to be ‘in confidence’ to HR about his role and his struggle to find his feet only to find he was within days ‘let go’ on grounds of not fitting in culturally. Sacked from his first job. He never stood a chance and he didn’t know that HR supports the business over and above its individual employees. He thought HR was akin to a ‘counselling/support’ service. If he’d been in work, rather than isolated at home he would probably have not spoken to HR at all but instead sounded out his colleagues first.

Don’t let the younger workers in your team fall at the first hurdle because you have failed to assess and respond to their specific needs. They might like the lack of commute time, the lack of 7 am alarms and the increased money in their pocket resulting from no travel, but we already know that these employees are missing out on crucial support because you are not getting them back into the workplace quickly enough.

Contractual rights

If you have an employee whose contract of employment says they are office based but they have now been working from home for 4 + months, at what point do you think a contractual precedent is created giving them the perpetual right to work full time from home?

Some of you will have sent a letter out in the early days saying that home working was required but that employees would return to the office soon. A great start that protected your position in respect of place of work, but if you didn’t then send out another later saying that the weeks had turned into months but that still no employee should assume a contractual right to work from home as a result, then you might find you have allowed a contractual change you never intended.

It might not be too late although already some staff could already argue you have created the necessary precedent giving them the right to work from home. Our advice is to take the time to write some letters to all your staff now, clarifying the contractual position around place of work. Who is managing who? It is you, the employer, that should set out the contractual terms, rather than allow them to morph into something you did not intend simply because you were busy on rebuilding your business.

Finally

We have covered a fair bit of ground here, so let’s leave you with a few HR ground rules:

#1 If in doubt, ask! You don’t have to know everything about the law, but you do need to know when you need to get advice or check your approach is correct.

#2 Take a helicopter view – if you spend too much time fire fighting you simply won’t give yourself chance to see the bigger picture or identify any emerging problems on the horizon.

#3 Check the paperwork – you really don’t want the lack of furlough letters, lack of clarity around contract of employment, lack of home working risk assessments etc to bite you in the proverbial in a few months’ time.

#4 Take a holiday – we are running a marathon not a sprint and many in HR are in danger of burn out if you don’t look after yourself now.

How can we support?

If you’ve read this and sensed some room for improvement in your own remote management style, we have developed the perfect course for you.

👉 You can sign up for the ‘Coaching & Managing Remote Workers’ Training Course here.

👉 If you have any trainers in your business (H&S trainers, leadership trainers etc.) we are running train the ‘virtual’ trainer open courses, to really ramp up online training skills, when dealing with remote workers..

👉 For pragmatic, commercial advice on all things HR, employment law, employee relations, furlough, COVID and remote working, take a look at our HR pages.

For specific support managing any especially troublesome or challenging individuals during this period of home working, you don’t need to be held hostage or feel you have no power to manage those who don’t show due respect. Remote workers can be managed and need to be managed to ensure remote working is successful and good for everyone. Call us!