When our agency went virtual, we considered many remote working challenges and how to solve them. A bold vision and an enthusiastic team is great; but you also need a highly detailed plan and dedicated resources to make it happen.
After our first remote working post, lots of people asked about the challenges we faced. So this blog shares some of our initial concerns and experiences.
Remote working challenges
Agree what’s feasible
Is virtual working right for your entire business? Is it better suited to particular departments, job types or individuals? And are people expected to work at specific premises from time to time? Or for certain hours of the day?
The ACAS homeworking guide provides useful context on whether remote working may be feasible, covering topics such as teamwork, policy frameworks, employee motivation and potential variations to employment contracts. Our job types and flexibility made full remote working feasible and attractive. But for companies with large dispersed teams, virtual work may be more challenging. The same applies for jobs that need a lot of supervision or face to face interaction with other colleagues.
Sometimes factors like mortgage/rent agreements or personal liability for business rates could affect remote working. There are also potential knock-on effects for contract variations and HR policies – such as disciplinary and grievance, and risk management. And what does ‘too sick to work’ look like if you can work from home?
Set clear expectations
It’s important that team members understand what’s expected of them from the outset. Are there core hours that everyone has to work? How will cover arrangements work when colleagues are at meetings? How will individual performance be monitored? What are the rules around securing equipment and workspaces? When should you answer your phone, and when is it OK to switch to voicemail? What are the minimum broadband requirements? If your IT breaks down, who will fix it (and where)?
A lot of this is common sense. It’s important to strike a balance between the very necessary ‘rules’ and areas where people can work out their own priorities. The main element of our culture is trust. And self-confidence and making the right judgement call is vital in the world of consultancy. So these came to the fore in our virtual office set-up. We did put key information and links in central locations though, and appoint a go-to person for any questions about upgraded phone and IT systems.
As a small business we could make change happen quickly; in a larger company, consistency of application would be much more resource-intensive.
There’s no substitute for face-to-face contact. Remote workers must make an effort to communicate with colleagues; that includes both one-to-one conversations and wider team collaboration. Without maintaining relationships, there’s a risk of people becoming disengaged, losing trust and becoming isolated.
Our definition of face-to-face has changed. Where colleagues used to grab a coffee in the kitchen and chat through priorities in our physical office, now the team ‘meets’ on Skype each week. Early chats were a bit like watching The Brady Bunch opening titles; it was a free-for-all with everyone enthusiastically chipping in, and screens constantly zipping from one person to another. Now we’ve settled in, it’s a fairly relaxed ‘round robin’. There are also regular one-to-one meet-ups in coffee shops and other spaces where people can work together comfortably and creatively.
Our colleagues are based around the UK, so meet-ups need extra planning; but that’s time well spent. We meet in artistic or inspirational spaces. Recent sessions included the interactive Play exhibition at Herbert Art Gallery & Museum and visiting the National Memorial Arboretum. The aim is to encourage new experiences, helping colleagues to connect creatively away from the pressure of projects or urgent deadlines.
Share information proactively
Need help finding a file, or working out how to get a job done? In physical offices, just ask a colleague. Work remotely, and you lose some of those softer elements. So agree your ‘go-to’ people for advice on different work processes and systems. And if file locations change, make sure someone has a full list of their new homes.
Review onboarding policies
Starting a new job can be exciting and stressful. There’s no way to watch and learn from colleagues around you; so clarity on workloads, performance expectations and support is more important than ever. New starters must also be comfortable initiating phone, video and email contact.
We’re evolving ways to onboard and develop talent. That applies both to people in early stages of their career, and more generally communicating how we do things. We’ve also found that ‘buddy’ systems work well (where new starters have a named contact they can safely approach for help and advice).
We hope you’ve found this article useful. If there’s anything you’d like to ask, please browse the pages below or contact us for further details.