Posted: 31 Mar. 2020 8 min. read

Future of work(ing from home) – trust, teamwork and technology

If you had asked me about flexible working a few months ago, I would have talked about the benefits a flexible workforce brings to an organisation and how the future of work will be disrupted by technology. But here we are today, fast-tracked into unchartered territory with many of us now indefinitely working from home.

We asked global business and HR leaders in our 2019 Human Capital Trends Report what they believe to be a requirement for a 21st-century leader, and only half said it is to manage on a remote basis. Given the changes that we’ve all had to make in recent weeks, one can imagine how these responses would change if we were to ask this question today. The future of work is here right now and leaders need to take a proactive stance in understanding how work will be done and how that shift impacts the workforce.

While sat at my kitchen table, I’ve put together a few of my best practice thoughts on working from home.

Trust. Until recently, employees with predominantly desk-based office roles, working from home was a choice, a flexible benefit. An employer put its trust in an employee to work remotely recognising it’s not about hours sat at a desk, but about productivity and using time effectively to produce results. This trust is now a two-way street, with individuals empowered to manage their own time and workload without the familiar surroundings and structure of their teams and workplace. The importance of leadership and learning is key in the face of change, and employees are trusting their leaders to be communicating, promoting transparency and leading by example.

Productivity. Our motivation will likely be challenged in the absence face to face and regular management - out of sight, out of mind. In our 2019 UK Human Capital Trends Report, 84% of workers stated that employee engagement and productivity are linked, yet only half of UK employees considered their organisations to be effective at creating a positive work environment. This will only exacerbate with so many working remotely. Only 42% of those surveyed considered their employer to be effective at creating meaningful work, so leaders must now focus on employee engagement - and in turn productivity – to prevent a slump.

One size doesn’t fit all. With longer careers and a multi-generational workforce, employees are more diverse than ever before. Employers need to be sensitive to the challenges remote working brings to colleagues and how they are coping with enforced change. One colleague might be a multitasking parent with their children no longer at school or in childcare. Another may have venerable relatives in their care whilst someone else may be adjusting to the company of their flat-shares 24/7 – so the norm for one person might be completely abnormal for another. Some people’s workloads may have decreased, while for others their workload may have increased significantly. Think how your skills can assist others and offer help.

Connecting people. Working from home, the use of video conferencing for meetings will increase and this should be encouraged. You don’t need existing IT infrastructure in place, there are plenty of free apps on smartphones and PCs to connect people remotely.

Video helps establish presence and connection. The increased use of video is humanising the workforce – allowing colleagues into our homes and seeing a more informal you. It’s ok to have cats and kids and be seen wearing a Nirvana t-shirt from 1994. Not everyone is used to this way of working so share your own tips with colleagues of how you are adapting and what is working, or not working, so we can learn from each other. My team has benefited from video calls that aren’t work focused. How about ‘tea and tattle’ chats mid-morning every other day, perhaps start a book club with regular catch-ups or a virtual team social after work?

Structure. Try and keep to a routine, for yourself and those close to you. If you are used to walking to the station or you cycle to work, try and continue some form of exercise at this time. For those around you, children for example, it’s good to structure their day too. Take a lunch break. Meanwhile, support your team in identifying routines that work for them, which includes being mindful of distractions that may be more likely to occur at home.

Mental health. Some of us may be used to remote working of some kind, but we are in unchartered territory with the longevity expected around COVID-19. A lack of human interaction, feelings of isolation and economic worry can trigger poor mental health. An increased use of technology can also have a negative effect on people as they continue to work when they are not at their most productive. When working from home we lose the natural ‘log off’ moment of physically departing our workplace. It’s important we manage ourselves to actually finish work. Technology has contributed to an ‘always on’ culture, so our reliance on it during enforced periods of working remotely, could have negative effects on our mental health. Please ensure you switch off!

I was surprised to hear young people are the most vulnerable demographic in the workplace as the least likely to disclose mental health problems to employers. During enforced social distancing, make extra effort to reach out to your colleagues and ask ‘are you ok?’ – keep talking and encourage conversation.

Flex. Flexible has taken on a new meaning lately as people adjust to new working practices. Your working pattern might mean there are blocks of time in the middle of the day when you're not working. And that's okay. But when you're used to office hours, it can feel unsettling and leave us feeling guilty for focusing on anything but work during the 'traditional' working day. Speak to your manager about your preferred working hours, and define realistic expectations for response times via email, etc. Share these with the rest of your team so everyone knows what to expect.

Respect others as they also flex their way through work. You can support your teams in by setting clear expectations for outcomes (not hours worked) and be cautious about last minute or rescheduling meetings.

Logistics. When we’re not in our usual work space, we lose things we may have taken for granted e.g. a desk, chair, printer, stationery and even a coffee machine. It’s important we create a space that we are comfortable working in. Keep a connection to the outside world with a window and natural light to break up unnatural screen glare. No one’s priority when furnishing a home is an office desk and chair, but it is important to be comfortable while working. Try sitting on a gym ball, create a standing desk and avoid long periods of sitting.

Home comforts. Think about your cupboard and fridge as the office vending machine - and how many cash payments you’d have to make for ‘just another biscuit’. Try and limit your use of social media especially before bedtime. There's a lot of ‘fake news’ out there and it can trigger anxiety. Perhaps watch a film, read a good book or check out new music playlists.

There are many benefits of working from home. I’d encourage us all to recognise the gift of time that working from home provides by removing daily commutes and workplaces. Use this time for yourself and with others who might need your support. Ultimately remote working is about trust, teamwork and technology to ensure we can stay safe and still work together.

 

For more Future of Work insights, check out our Humanising the Future of Work podcast

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Will Gosling

Will Gosling

Partner and UK Human Capital Consulting Leader

Will is the UK Human Capital Consulting Leader and leads the UK CHRO Transition and Development programme. He advises private sector clients, specialising in the Technology, Media and Telecoms industry, in the areas of organisation transformation, employee engagement and HR effectiveness. Will also leads Deloitte's Digital Leadership research and founded a professional community for digital leaders and talent across the UK. His work has contributed to industry recognition, winning the MCA HR Consulting and CBI Human Capital awards.