With a large number of businesses having furloughed some of their workforce, there is advice out there about the money they can claim. But there’s not a great deal about how, as a leader, to keep your furloughed employees inspired and engaged. More commonly, a recent question I’ve been asked is “how do I manage my team once I have some employees in the office, and some at home?”

Stay home, save lives

This all started with a bit of flurry as businesses adapted to having a 100% remote workforce. Then decisions came around the staffing levels which were going to be needed. We were all in this together, and metaphorically we still are, but there’s soon going to be a disconnect. This disconnect will be between those who worked through and those who were furloughed. Is it fair to be treated differently?

In this blog I explore some of the areas to consider when it comes to keeping employees inspired – whether they’re furloughed or not.

Making difficult decisions

Businesses around the country are still making big decisions when it comes to furloughing staff. In worse cases they are making people redundant or ‘offering’ a pay cut. It’s good to see that many employers are seeing redundancy as a last resort and are furloughing where they can. Even if this means keeping a minimal workforce to run their businesses.

 What can and can’t you do on furlough

The Government has explicitly said that furloughed staff cannot work for their employer. However they can work for other people if their contract allows (check up-to-date legal and HR guidance). Furloughed staff can still take part in training and I would actively encourage this. Teams can be divided in morale  by having a portion of staff on furlough. This drives feelings that they’re not needed and may have been abandoned by their employer. Many employees are naturally asking why a colleague has been picked to stay over them. Feelings of anxiety, low self-worth and stress can be sparked by this usual shift in the workplace. And these feelings are unfortunately easily heightened in this lockdown state.

How to help with morale

A good solution for leaders here is to rotate your furloughed staff to ensure everybody feels valued and part of the team. This isn’t necessarily easy as you need clear deliverables and handovers but it can help with boosting morale and loyalty. Voluntary work is also a great way for employees to feel they have purpose during this strange time. Try to encourage this and keep up to date with what they’re up to as it’s a nice way for teams to stay connected and feel valued.

How to manage in the long term

The guidelines imply that furloughed staff can be rotated, so it’s not just the same people at work while others are not. The guidance states that employees can be furloughed multiple times and each separate instance must be at least three consecutive weeks. Also one period can follow another directly. Furloughing rules and the Job Retention Scheme are explained in detail from government sources, via business support groups and from employment lawyers.

This indicates that, as an employer, you can rotate employees which could help in fairness, recognition and for the workforce to feel valued. It would just take some organisation of which employees are working when and ensuring the handover is clear and smooth.

For the staff still in work, this can really help as they feel that furloughing and working days are shared equally. This in turn gives a feeling of good team morale, camaraderie and support. It’s especially important to recognise the needs of each employee here. Being furloughed might actually be a benefit to someone who needs to fully homeschool but for others it could be detrimental.

Leading remotely

As a leader, there have been many challenges in the last few weeks. Firstly, transitioning your management style through a screen has been a challenge. Then, not only ensuring the workload gets completed but making sure your teams’ welfare and emotional wellbeing are looked after.

It is important that a leader regularly checks in with their furloughed staff and keeps them updated with work developments. They should still feel part of the team and be staying up to date with what’s going on. Inviting them to the team check-ins, online socials, sending a weekly update from you on new projects and news is really helpful. Personally giving them a call to see how they’re doing is also appreciated.

Do you really know what’s going on?

A lot of the time I see leaders who don’t really know their teams which can see them getting unstuck.

remote working

Balancing the needs of remote employees – training, wellbeing and productivity

Take the time to get to know them, what are their circumstances, are they struggling (financially, emotionally, physically) and how can you support them? Everyone is having to cope with many changes right now and there’s uncertainty all around. Working at home, homeschooling, sharing childcare, looking after someone who is ill – these are happening alongside business. Consider how you’ll support an employee who is struggling and seek your own support as well as for them. It’s emotionally draining being a leader who is online all day long – being the face of the business and the supportive employer at the same time. It’s important to take time to look after your own wellbeing as well as that of your employees.

The key here for all leaders of teams is regular communication with your staff and try not to assume anything. Ensure your staff are really OK by doing your due diligence. Make them feel valued, included and supported and I’m sure they will reward you in return.

Balancing productivity with wellbeing and good mental health

I’m working with businesses to help their employees and leaders work productively and take care of their wellbeing. Productivity and wellbeing are very closely interlinked. This training can help open up communication and help leaders really share their strategy for now and the next few months. Employees learn to really focus on what their role demands so they can balance working smarter with home commitments. And equally importantly – they learn how to switch off. Home working shouldn’t mean we’re ‘on’ 24/7. It’s vital for our mental health to have clear boundaries and time to be away from a screen and being on demand. Having a good balance is important to keep your furloughed employees inspired and engaged alongside the rest of your team.

Training for inspiration, learning and engagement

Give furloughed staff some training and inspiration to keep them involved with the team while they are not working. It’s up to them how much they want to dip in, but if you are rotating staff, it’s in their interest to keep abreast of the work goings-on. So when it’s their three week stint, they are present and up to date.

Have you offered them access to online training to keep them engaged, motivated and supported? It’s a good time to let employees explore and learn something new as there are many good courses out there.

Refresher skills and training for those not used to remote working

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said businesses should encourage staff to “boost their skills”.

He urged furloughed employees to “improve their knowledge, build their confidence and support their mental health. This is so they have skills they need to succeed after the coronavirus outbreak”. With uncertainty over the labour market in the months ahead, the adult training is focused on improving skills for online jobs. There’s an expectation that digital skills will need improving with more people working remotely.

Please get in touch if you’d like to discuss how I can help you and your employees stay inspired and engaged. We’ll have a Zoom/ Teams/ Skype video or a good old fashioned phone call which are vastly underused at the moment!