Best ways to work remotely

Best ways to work remotely: Home working success for managers and employees

Love it or loathe it, remote working has been thrust upon us in a way never thought possible before the crazy year that was 2020.  In our guide to the best ways to work remotely we show you how you can wade into this new environment with confidence and career success.

For some companies, such as Twitter and Shopify, the change to remote-first has been no more than an already-anticipated evolution of their working policies.  In fact, Shopify CEO Tobi Lutke declared in this tweet from May that “office centricity is over.”  For other companies though the transition has been harder, particularly where long-standing “in-office” management styles and technology have put significant hurdles in the path of digitalisation.

Just like companies, us humans have also had different experiences during the change to remote working.  Regardless of whether manager or employee, for some of us it has been easy and others a real struggle, depending on our own personal values, past experiences and motivations. 

In this guide to the best ways to work remotely we show you how you can make remote working a success for you and/or your team members through understanding:

  • How to be aware of yourself and how you may handle remote working
  • The good and not-so-good parts of remote working
  • How to take positive steps as an employee or manager to make remote working a success

STEP ONE: UNDERSTAND YOUR OWN/YOUR TEAM’S VALUES AND HOW THEY MAY IMPACT YOUR BEST WAYS TO WORK REMOTELY

The amazing thing about human beings is that we’re all completely and wonderfully unique.    We have different values, motivations, preferences and behaviours, all shaped by our previous experiences and inner selves.

Isn’t it strange then that companies would treat employees exactly the same?

Understanding who you are working with is the first step in making their time in a workplace a success.  This is no different for remote working.  In fact, it has made it even more important. 

Navigating this new, isolated world has meant that employees and managers that previously thrived (or appeared to thrive) may now be on uncertain ground.  Skills such as face-to-face communication have become less relevant whereas organisational skills have risen to the fore. 

Equally, employees driven by social interaction and recognition may struggle more with a remote working environment where their presence is not validated by others.

Being aware of the strengths and values needed for remote working and identifying where employees measure up against these is critical for employee success.  This thinking applies equally to new hires, managers, team members and even company owners. 

A simple values-based assessment can show how each individual employee is driven, and how these values translate into strengths, weaknesses and potential pitfalls when remote working.  Using these assessments means companies can then support and channel employees into the right teams and environments for success rather than failure.  On an individual level, simply being more self aware of danger areas can help an employee navigate their own success story.

At Brighty People we offer a range of strength and values-based assessments for new and existing employees, including specific remote-working values assessments.

STEP TWO: KNOW THE DIFFERENCES IN REMOTE WORKING AND HOW THEY CAN IMPACT

Ploughing into remote working without understanding how it differs to office-based working means your expectations will likely clash with reality, causing unnecessary stress and frustration.  There are fundamental differences to home working that impact people in varying ways. Being aware of these differences means you are one step ahead of understanding areas that could cause stress and how to recognise and deal with them.

VISIBILITY

Most employees like to see some form or recognition or reward for their efforts.  If your values are linked to areas such as success, career or achievement then you may crave this recognition more than others. 

This need for visibility of work does not disappear simply because an employee has disappeared from the office!  A manager still needs to recognise achievements delivered from home and respond appropriately. 

An issue compounded by remote working however is that some employees are better at shouting about their achievements than others.  Without that daily contact/monitoring of work it can be hard for some employees to articulate what they’ve done – and for managers to identify and recognise this.

HOW TO MAKE IT BETTER

As an employee:

Be visible about what you are doing.  This doesn’t mean you need to brag through your daily workload in every Zoom – simply make a note of your daily or weekly achievements and send/talk through to your manager, so that they are aware of what you have been doing. 

As a manager:

Be aware of the achievements of both loud and quiet employees – making time for both.  Implement platforms and processes that allow for recognition of what has been done and escalate/make visible those successes that deserve wider recognition.

PRODUCTIVITY

It is a mistake to think that working from home automatically means increased productivity.  Sure, removing tiring commutes, social distractions and allowing employees to set their daily agenda more efficiently will give back wasted time to the day, but it is the case that some people are simply better at managing their time than others.

Those lacking self-motivation or easily distracted by other activities can easily find time slipping away from what they set out to achieve.  This doesn’t mean that this individual is work-shy, in fact they may end up with a considerably longer working day as they still want to get tasks finished. 

HOW TO MAKE IT BETTER

As an employee:

One of the best ways to work remotely is to understand when you work most efficiently at different tasks e.g. some people find creativity more easy on a morning.  Switch off notifications and emails when you are working on something and try simple focus exercises and mediattion to stay trained on what you are trying to achieve. 

Multi-tasking doesn’t really work; this has been shown in many studies.  Instead, focusing on one task well brings better results and working efficiency. Work in blocks of work and be realistic with what you are planning – plotting out chunks of time from your day rather than a list often puts workload into perspective.

As a manager:

Again, be aware of employees that may struggle with organising their day and maintaining focus.  Key to success here is setting clear goals of what you expect in terms of outputs and catching up with employees on how they are achieving them.  Depending on the individual this could be on a daily, weekly or even monthly basis. 

Finally – trust them!  Don’t be tempted to micromanage as this will waste your time and theirs; if you have set output expectations then it is up to the employee to deliver to them.  It is important to not become fixated on “hours worked” either; think of employee productivity in “outputs achieved” – if they are delivering what you need in a shorter time than expected then this is a bonus that should be enjoyed by everyone.

FLEXIBILITY

This is a GREAT benefit of remote working.  Rather than backward and forward commutes and taking time off work for life admin we can now schedule these in as quick asides to the day.  Something as simple as eating healthily becomes easier with a quick five minutes to throw a fresh casserole into the oven. 

A small downside to this flexibility is that lines can become blurred as to when work and home life starts.  With technology we are always “on” and it is hard to say no to those little pings and red button flashes.  In a recent study on remote working by Nuffield Health it was found that 36% of workers always felt they had to be at their computer to respond quickly.

HOW TO MAKE IT BETTER

As an employee:

If you find work creeping into too much of your home life then assess where you could be more black and white in blocking hours.  Perhaps you could give set working hours to your team and manager of when you’ll be online.  See if you are able to disable notifications outside of this time or simply turn devices off. 

Be honest with yourself about how much time you’ve got in the day too, for both yourself but also for your employer – if you are being paid for 40 hours in the week, then consistently putting in 25 and not meeting goals, this might be a warning sign that home life is creeping into work too much.  Taking a working hour out of the day for chores on the morning just means it has to be added back in later. You could always invest in professional life and career coaching too to help you prioritise and find balance.

As a manager:

Identify how your individual employees want to work.  Some may be night owls and others early risers.  Ensure your technology can cope with their preferred working hours. Volkswagen once had a system where all emails/drives shut down on an evening to stop overwork of employees.  A great concept 5 years ago but this system may now need to be rethought with the advent of more flexible, remote working.

Recognise that those “yes” employees, high achievers and those suffering from imposter syndrome will always give you more.  To ensure you’re implementing the best ways to work remotely, make sure their boundaries of working hours are clear and give them permission and approval to switch off when they need to.  This counts for you too.  If you are consistently working beyond normal hours studies have shown that your team will take this cue from you – you are setting the culture.

Perhaps your company has formal technology that will allow you to see when they have been working on which systems.  If so then check in on this to make sure that there are no long-term patterns of under or overwork.  If not then simple checks of times you’re receiving messages/mails will suffice and, most importantly – regular check-ins with your team will allow space to speak to each other about expected vs. delivered hours.

ISOLATION

Feelings of isolation are a common downside of home working.  For individuals who thrive on socialising with others and face-to-face connectivity the impact of isolation can be hugely negative.  A study on Generation Z found this need for face-to-face social interaction to rain true, regardless of generation.  

In the Nuffield Health study on home working, it was found that over 25% of remote workers said their mental wellbeing was negatively impacted due to loneliness and isolation working from home during the covid pandemic. 

The lack of social interaction can also impact how well some employees perceive themselves to be performing.  People who previously valued themselves on their ability to interact and communicate in person with others have found these competitive strengths swiped from under their feet overnight.

HOW TO MAKE IT BETTER

As an employee:

Talk to your manager if you are feeling lonely.  They can only help if they are aware.  If you are someone who thrives on socialising with others then you are definitely going to find remote working more difficult.  Being honest about this to yourself and your company is the first positive step in tackling your feelings of isolation and finding the best ways to work remotely.

You could also try scheduling some social time throughout the day.  Perhaps people you would normally take a “coffee break” with could have 10 mins for a quick Zoom to talk about the weekend.

Embrace any new technology you are given to communicate.  Although it may seem strange you can still meet some of your social needs online but you need to be committed to trying new things.

As a manager:

Regular check-ins on a 1-2-1 basis with employees is important.  Especially those you know to be struggling.  Identify your social butterflies and make extra time to check they’re doing okay.

Try to schedule in some social interaction time with your teams and/or give permission for team members to do this individually.  There’s nothing wrong with allowing them to use Teams for a quick social catch-up if this is something that happened on the office floor previously.  More formal socials could also form part of your strategy such as online quizzes (grooooooaaaaan!!!) but be aware that some find these more forced that useful.

LACK OF TEAM COLLABORATION

Big, creative, collaborative meetings and workshops have nigh on disappeared from many companies and it has proven difficult to find a worthy replacement.  Without this interaction it is all too easy to become siloed in work when working from home and not look at the bigger team picture.

This not only impacts key company values such as innovation and creativity but can also remove the feeling of team spirit.  A study showed that small disagreements can escalate more quickly into wedges of resentment without the opportunity to deal with them face-to-face in the office.  Being removed from day-to-day nuances in people’s demeanours and the home life changes that may be impacting can make it hard to retain the same level of empathy and kinship.

HOW TO MAKE IT BETTER

As an employee:

Let your manager know if you think your ability to do your work is being impacted by not collaborating with your team well enough.  Issues like this are best flagged and ironed out quickly as they can soon damage project progress. 

If you have a disagreement or area of tension with someone, whack a video call in with them.  This may be the closest you can get to face-to-face and it is always best to clear the air, especially if you are someone who relies on good working relationships to get things done.

As a manager:

Make sure you make introductions and a chance to integrate for new team members – on both a group and a 1-2-1 basis.  Think about the conversations that would happen at work and how you can facilitate these digitally.

Are you able to hold some face-to-face meetings safely?  Some companies e.g. creative, innovative environments may be just unable to recreate the required collaborative team environments that are needed for effective working.  Be smart about scheduling these in for maximum impact and effectiveness. 

TECHNOLOGY

Reliable technology is critical to an employee being able to add value in their role when remote working.  Anxiety and stress can peak when unable to carry out work due to tech issues, potentially leaving an employee feeling useless and certainly not one of the best ways to work remotely!

As more systems have been added for communication, file saving and collaborating some companies have had a sharp shock in terms of the time and resource required for training and support.

HOW TO MAKE IT BETTER

As an employee:

If you are a self-titled technophobe then you should first ask yourself why.  Is it because you are fearful of getting something wrong or do you just prefer the old ways?  You may need to accept that new technology is part of your ongoing role if you wish to continue your career, but this does not mean that you need to integrate it on your own.  Being open and honest with your team and manager about needing support and/or training with new systems is nothing to be ashamed of and will enable you to do your job to the best of your ability. If you lack confidence in yourself in this area or are suffering from Imposter Syndrome you may find it hard to ask for help.  Pick a quiet time and a supportive manager, take a deep breath and just ask.

 

As a manager:

First and foremost, audit the technology your staff rely on and what their individual level of competencies are.  You must support those in need of additional help and training, especially if you recognise that you have employees that may be ashamed to admit if they can’t do something.  Don’t presume this is a generational issue either – often younger generations do not have the previous work systems experience as a foundation to build upon.

If you feel that your company is not offering the right level of support for you and your team when things go wrong then this is the time to shout about that.  Lots of companies are struggling with tech support at the moment after buying in new equipment and systems before realising that the internal resource to support and train people to use them simply didn’t exist.

CONCLUSION?

Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics, said, 

“Seventy-seven percent of the workforce say they want to continue to work from home, at least weekly, when the pandemic is over.” Twenty-five to thirty percent of the workforce will be working-from-home multiple days a week by the end of 2021.”

Regardless of how long the pandemic lasts, the repercussions on how people work will at least stay in part.  All employees and companies should be aware of how this can impact them and their success formula at work and adopt practices and processes that remove negative forces as much as possible.

The first step is understanding how each individual may be shaped by the characteristics of remote working and then working to support them in navigating this environment successfully.

We hope our guide to best ways to work remotely has been useful. If you would like information on how Brighty People can quickly help you to identify how ready your employees are for remote working or any other area of workplace and organisational psychological assessment please just give us a holler.

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