There and Back Again – The Return to Homeworking

Matthew Reymes-Cole

Matthew Reymes Cole

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28 Sep 2020

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Well, here we are again. Many employers were hoping the period remote work earlier this year was a one-off. Homeworking isn’t a legal requirement yet. But, there’s a strong possibility it could be if COVID-19 cases continue to increase.

At the very least, it will pay to plan for the transition back to the home-office. The good news is, you’re likely more prepared this time around. That doesn’t mean you’re free of risk, however. Managing the shift to homeworking still presents a challenge. Even more so if you’re facing HR issues.

Here’s how you deal with them…

Managing the transition

First—let’s focus on the technical.

The key question is this: “Can my employees currently perform their role from home?” If the answer is yes—that’s fantastic. If the answer is no, then you need to consider how to remedy the issue.

Ensuring your employees have access to the right tech to do their jobs is crucial. Do they have a computer? If not, can the company provide them a laptop? Will they need a remote connection to a shared drive/digital workspace? Do they have the appropriate software for team calls?

You can reduce the time wasted sorting these issues by planning in advance. Before the employee returns home, establish at least one point of contact with them. Ideally, this would be a phone number, so you can call the employee to discuss any technical issues.

If you have an IT department, they’ll be crucial to this process. If you don’t, it may be worth outsourcing support during the transition period. Also, don’t assume technical issues won’t occur after the initial setup of the home office is complete. Maintain contact with the employee and continue to provide support where needed.

On the HR side, reviewing or creating a home working policy is vital to a successful transition. This will outline your expectations and will clearly communicate them to your staff. The policy should cover everything from working hours, leave policy, points of contact, and remote access. Make sure this is available to all employees so they can refer to it when required.

You should do all of the above while your employees are still in the office. Technical issues in particular will be easier to manage before they impede progress.

For further support managing the transition, speak to a Croner expert today on 01455 858 132.

Maintaining productivity

Once everything is set up, you’ll want to keep your staff productive.

Some employees won’t need any assistance—many enjoy working from home and will stay on task no matter what. Others might struggle with the transition. Luckily, there are ways to manage this.

Establishing and distributing your remote working policy is a great first step.

Next, set clear goals and expectations. This can mean setting targets and providing deadlines, or just reminding staff of the processes and parameters of their role. You should provide specific goals to each employee. This could be a daunting task if you have a large workforce, but there are options to manage this. One easy method is to delegate this task to line managers or team leaders.

Note: Make sure the targets you set are achievable. Nothing kills motivation faster than an unobtainable goal.

Communication

Another important point is connection. Working from home can leave employees feeling isolated and out of the loop. To remedy this you should hold regular check-ins and share what is happening within the company. Holding regular team meetings can also help. Finding a good balance can be tricky however. You don’t want to check in too regularly, as this may be seen a micromanagement and have a detrimental effect on their productivity. Try to keep check-ins light in tone and conversational. Making sure you’re available as a manager is also important. If you’re managing a large team, it’s important each employee has a point of contact above them. Again, line managers will play an important role here.

If employees are particularly struggling with their mental health, provide them with support. This can be in the form of Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), if you have one. If you don’t have access to an EAP, you can still direct them to support services, such as Samaritans.

Finally, you should encourage employees and continually motivate them. Give praise for their efforts and share best practice home-working resources. If available, you can provide training—internally or externally—to increase productivity.

Dealing with HR issues

Finally, we come to HR.

The first thing to acknowledge is that remote working requires a degree of flexibility. This is the case even for roles that you don’t consider to be entirely flexible. While some workers will have no problem adapting to a home office, others may have a less-than-ideal setup. This means your staff could face distractions, limited space, technical issues, and so on. What’s more… these issues aren’t their fault.

So what do we do about it?

Documentation is very important here. Put your new working arrangements into writing and provide it to staff. Make sure you are reachable during working hours, so employees have a chance to highlight any issues they’re experiencing. This is especially true if they have children at home, or caring responsibilities. You should be as flexible as you possibly can. However, when your flexibility has reached its limit, you can refer to your policies and working arrangements.

Recruitment

You can hire new candidates remotely too. In fact, for some businesses, remote interviewing is becoming the norm.

The same processes apply to a remote interview as a face-to-face meeting. Train managers to avoid bias (unconscious or conscious) and treat candidates without discrimination. Not having a face-face interview can actually help with this. If you record the conversation you can compare and contrast candidates more effectively. Get multiple people to review each interviewee and give their opinion, this reduces the chance of conformity bias.

For tips on how to conduct effective remote recruitment take a look at our infographic.

Disciplinaries

There is also a benefit to conducting disciplinaries remotely. Being behind a screen can reduce some of the tension that would be palpable in the room.

This doesn’t mean the process is free of issues, however. For example, the employee has the right to be accompanies to an official disciplinary. This may be somewhat trickier if done via video call. There isn’t anything stopping the employee bringing a friend or colleague with them to the call, either remotely or in person. This person can take notes on the meeting and give feedback, if necessary.

The other benefit to this format is that you have the opportunity to record the meeting. You should always seek the approval of everyone involved before doing this however.

Expert support

Need extra support with any of the issues raised above? Or, do you have an HR or health & safety you’d like our advice on? Get fast and effective advice from one of experts today—call 01455 858 132.

About the Author

Matthew Reymes-Cole

Matt joined Croner in 2007 as an employment law consultant and has advised clients of all sizes on all aspects of employment law. He has worked within management positions since 2017 and currently overseas a team within the litigation department, whilst continuing to support a number of clients directly.

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