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Managing a remote workforce

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By Sophie Austin, HR Partner at Monahans, the south west’s leading accountancy and business advisory firm.

‘A change would do you good,’ sang Sheryl Crow. Well, the pandemic has changed everything. Organisations around the world have spent two years reworking how they do business; employees have reimagined the possibilities available to them.

That’s not to say changed ways of working have been a blessing for everyone. Many have struggled to adapt, facing issues of loneliness and difficulties setting boundaries between work and their personal lives when working from home. But, whether through necessity or choice, it can prove highly productive for businesses to allow staff a remote or hybrid system of work.

Take Spotify, the world’s most popular streaming platform, which gives its people ‘the freedom to work where they work best, wherever that may be.’ Implemented in February 2021 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, its ‘Work From Anywhere’ model is based on staff being ‘happier and more productive’, allowing for ‘better ways to communicate and collaborate’, and supporting a better work-life balance. Whether you agree with the better communication bit – which I’ll talk about in more detail below – or not, it has certainly improved staff morale, decreasing turnover (by 15%) as employees have enjoyed increased flexibility and autonomy. And this ultimately benefits the organisation as it is significantly cheaper to retain staff than it is to recruit them, especially in the current financial climate.

Great news for staff. But what about the managers, leaders and HR teams tasked with their guidance, development and, ultimately, their wellbeing? How should they manage a workforce that is spread out across a country, continent, or even the world? How should they help staff through this unprecedented change?

Uncertainty is the greatest cause of issues amidst the new ways of working. We’re in uncharted waters and there’s no rule book or guide. Instead, we’re doing what we can to navigate huge cultural shifts, and learning to do business differently, whilst keeping up levels of innovation and creativity.

For managers, leaders and HR teams, it’s a challenge, particularly if businesses are not moving back to pre-covid working arrangements. We’re used to certain processes, and ensuring these are adhered to, but also having to keep an open mind to the fact that things have changed. We need to be the eyes and ears (and conscience) of our businesses.

With that comes communication as early as possible, engaging with colleagues to understand what they need. As systems change, employees will want to be involved in decision making, so that then can begin to understand how they will benefit. Have you ever been waiting for a delayed train and there are no station announcements as to its whereabouts or the reason for the delay? Frustrating, right? Even knowing that the train won’t arrive for another 15 minutes is better than knowing nothing at all. You want to know what’s going on.

It’s the same in business; staff want to be in the know, so getting them involved in key decisions is crucial to engagement and successful change. Communication also breeds insight and you are more easily able to act in the best interest of colleagues if you fully understand their needs and emotions. This may mean challenging the business if its approach isn’t commercially sensible or appropriate, for example, if forcing people back to the office has no clear benefit.

For managers, it might require a different approach, perhaps coaching them to understand the impact of change and its implications. They need to acknowledge that an adjustment will be needed and talk to their teams more to find out how best they can adapt.

Talking, though, and engagement, is a challenge in itself. It’s harder to engage when doing so remotely, so you need a more innovative approach through collaborative technology. Human connection is essential for collaborative project working, so an element of structure is important, even if this is simply team meetings, lunches or organising a focus for the day. Even informal meetings or time spent together can promote collaboration or spark ideas – this can be the best alternative to learning from one another when interacting face-to-face. Overhearing conversations and shadowing colleagues is a key element of apprenticeships/training so giving younger colleagues these interaction opportunities is important.

Structure in communication is also essential. It can be hard to communicate in different ways with people in a number of places. The same applies to integration and building relationships successfully in the same way that you might if face to face. This needs more thought and structure to ensure that the opportunities for meeting/talking are there.

Mental health is a key consideration too. A workplace should be a vehicle for social interaction. Without this, people can be starved of connection and can feel isolated and alone, so wellbeing strategy and support is critical.

And recruitment … recruitment has become a lot harder! Candidates are now looking for more flexibility, so it’s incumbent upon organisations to think differently and be flexible if they are to secure top talent. It is really important to maintain a dialogue with candidates directly, allowing them to meet their team, arranging informal catch ups before starting, integrating them as soon as possible, and making them feel like one of the team. And talk to those who have joined recently – get their feedback, learn from their experience and the same goes for retaining talent.

 

Please visit www.monahans.co.uk for more information.

www.gawdo.com

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