By Helen Taylor
THE working world has been steadily changing; technological advancements have played the greatest role, allowing for a more flexible approach to the way some of us work and the place of work.
Despite the opportunities and benefits a more agile approach to the way we work presents, such as increased productivity, low attrition rates and a reduced carbon footprint, the greatest challenge has probably been our own resistance to change. This has resulted in the uptake for agile working not being as fast paced as the potential demands, until now. In the face of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, employers have overnight been forced to evaluate their business continuity plans and consider whether operational efficiency can be maintained in light of a reduced workforce and how this could be mitigated. Remote or flexible working for many businesses will become essential in the coming weeks and strategic plans which would normally be developed over time, have had to be rushed through.
Implementing the capabilities to manage the crisis, such as identifying which jobs can be done from home, what equipment and technology is required, how people will keep in touch, and compliance issues including health and safety, insurance and data protection may be relatively straightforward.
However, workplace behaviours and management style cannot be overlooked. While the initial reaction will be to rely upon the usual trappings that help maintain efficiency, a more flexible approach will need to be adopted when it comes to crisis management in the context of remote working.
Decisions makers and managers will need to come to terms with not having the level of control upon which they usually rely. Can they trust their staff to do the job they were employed to do when working remotely? A shift in attitude may be necessary; a lack of trust will be poor for morale. Accepting in a crisis that most colleagues will aim to do the best job they can, supported by visible recognition when due, will have a greater positive impact on productivity.
To be motivated and engaged, some individuals do not need support from and interaction with their colleagues. Managers, however, need to recognise that this will not be the case for some team members, who may struggle and feel isolated when asked to work from home. It is, therefore, essential to keep the lines of communication open with remote workers and avoid an out of sight, out mind approach. While the aim will be to ensure that productivity is being maintained, enquiries should be made as to how individuals are feeling. Protecting mental well-being will be crucial during a crisis. Employers still have duty to protect the health of their workers even when working remotely.
While remote working may lend itself to a more informal approach to the working day, expectations and boundaries will need to be set. What is the dress code for an important business meeting held online? Do staff have to be at their desk at all times during working hours? What will the approach be to having family members in house? Usually, it is made clear that working from home is for work and not for fulfilling caring responsibilities. If schools have closed, there may need to be some flexibility and acceptance that other family members may infiltrate the new workspace.
The focus on business continuity will of course be key over the coming weeks. If organisations are to make a seamless transition to homeworking to help deliver this outcome, managers and decision-makers will have to work hard to manage and adapt expectations when it comes to getting the best out of their employees.
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