There is a lot of talk about leaders and managers currently as we’re broaching the Back to Business mentality, but what about employees? Life, as we knew it, will not be the same in the business landscape after the past few months. With cultural shifts in the workplace there are challenges for how to treat employees when the time comes to return to work. There is a great opportunity to shift to a more diverse workforce if we make the most of this change too. Have you considered the challenges of managing remote and flexible working?

With challenge comes great opportunity

Good business leaders will have seen the great benefits that the past few months have afforded them. Keep with me here. Now, of course it’s been hugely challenging for most of us with the uncertainty and at times a dark cloud over our futures. But it has allowed leaders a great experiment on a mass scale. Here they’ve been able to witness how their teams adapt, work in different environments and find the gaps for filling and attention. This learning should be the basis of their new structure and work ethic.

Let’s start with the positives. The lockdown has highlighted that teams can work remotely and productively when not physically in a work environment. I very much hope this will instill the inclusion of flexible working as the norm. I’ve spoken at length against the idea that we all need to be sat at a desk for 40 hours a week to be productive. It has allowed team members to excel in this new environment and take ownership of projects, demonstrate leadership qualities and adapt quickly.

As for the negatives, there will be a few. Consider gender equality in the workplace and the generational preferences of your workforce. Don’t forget that home working isn’t for everyone. I elaborated on these points during a discussion on a Covid-19 panel with Enterprise Nation which recently uncovered some interesting perspectives.

Equality, diversity, inclusion – how does this pan out?

For those businesses ready to seize the opportunity of change, there’s going to be many positive ways to increase diversity and equality. Consider the availability of talented people who aren’t in the 9-5 office workforce but work from any location with different hours. The skills from many parents who want to work flexibly, or those who’ve relocated, can be better included in your team. This is much easier without the barriers of travel, conventional hours and spending time in endless meetings.

What are some of the practicalities to consider of having remote and flexible working?

Inductions, training and HR conversations (especially the difficult ones) need more attention and a different focus. The days of two-day face-to-face inductions could be numbered. So instead, you’ll need to plan out how to restructure this content into engaging and manageable sessions. Also, the chance to network is diminished but allowing for space online or working from remote hubs or co-working spaces is great. It allows for this interaction to happen more naturally.

Boundaries and balance

It’s important for businesses and employees to work together to agree how to manage sickness, holidays and how to balance working at home versus living at work. In an ‘always on’ culture it can be difficult to know when and how to switch off. Also, being on holiday means not working and being off sick is OK! Just because people work at home doesn’t mean they have less rights than someone in the office. You might need to work with your employees to help them have clear boundaries. Equally, performance still matters. If there are issues arising, discuss them with your employee and involve HR if needed.

Will you ask everyone to come back?

Consider the roles which need to be in the office and which don’t. Having a huge number of people working at home for over two months, it’s a good opportunity to take stock of what you need. Decide which roles have to be office based, those which are fully remote and which are blended. Ask your employees what they really want, and you’ll likely see an increase in productivity.

How do 120,000 workers socially distance?

In a recent Canary Wharf Estate article they’ve highlighted the steps they’re taking to welcome back a proportion of the 120,000 workers based there. However they’re only expecting 10-20% to return in the coming weeks. This may seem like a real estate problem but depending on schools, childcare, public transport and a general appetite to head into the melee again – these have an impact. Removing soft furnishings, installing ‘one-way’ flows and reducing lift capacity have been addressed but is it be enough to feel safe? Many large companies are already addressing the need for less real estate and making the move to managing remote or flexible working fully.

Managing remotely

As I spoke about recently in my blog on furloughed staff, people can be getting missed here. By not ‘seeing’ your team every day, signs that people are struggling or have mental health issues may not be noticed quickly. Good leaders need to be mindful of this and ensure they are really taking note of their teams. People often put on their best face for an hour on a videocall but you need to know what’s going on. When you don’t see them all the time, subtle cues in body language and behaviour are harder to pick up.

Getting the right amount of support

Some people grow and some diminish when working remotely. So do spend time learning individuals’ character types and try to model your structure accordingly. Is there’s an opportunity for rotating staff and perhaps having two people in the office at one time? Could you focus on that being the two people who are needing the structure and interaction more? Gen Z is the generation with the least appetite to work from home on a long-term basis. Mass internship or graduate scheme intakes may be difficult in the short-term. So would these groups take priority for being in the office?

Employees – ask for what you need from your manager in order to be able to work happily and productively. If that’s more structure, one-to-ones or feedback then ask for it and remember you’re a valued member of a team.

I work with businesses now on managing remote and flexible working as culture is changing quickly. Do get in touch if you’d like to discuss how this could help your business.