Remote WorkAuthor Marja Salenius-Ranki
Best practice and practical experience: an HR perspective
Covid-19 has seen exponential growth in the number of employees working from home. From a human resources management perspective, this brings fresh challenges. What is best practice and how does one keep employees motivated in the completely new working environment?
The increase in home working has seen a surge of media articles and advisories as to how remote work can be conducted efficiently and managed effectively. In this article, I review guidelines gathered from elsewhere and draw on practical experience and surveys conducted among Elomatic employees to discuss the efficacy of remote work, best practices, and what the future holds.
Staying focussed and productive
According to Tsedal Neeley, a professor at Harvard Business School, there are several simple ways leaders can help their employees to remain productive, focused, and psychologically healthy as they work from home during the current global pandemic.
The right tools and technology to operate remotely are naturally needed, Photo © depositphotos/olly18 but Neeley stresses that frequent communication and interaction is more critical than ever. Frequent virtual meetings should be arranged, and managers should really pay attention to their employees’ behaviour. She also points out that it is important that to keep to daily routines, but at the same time to take advantage of the flexibility provided by working from home.
Communication is paramount
When working remotely, constant communication has become paramount. There are some pointers that are good to remember, as virtual communication is very different from face-to-face discussions.
First: Get your video on. There is a massive difference between being connected by video and only having audio available. Having both a visual and an auditory connection boosts understanding. The more channels you have, the better the communication is. Also, video connections lead to more concentrated participants who do not multitask while in meetings – they do not, for example, read or send emails while in meetings.
It is also good to remember to slow down. There is a tendency to make every virtual interaction as fast and efficient as possible. In these times of isolation, communication is important to remain socially, psychologically, and emotionally connected, and not only get work done. Time should also be allocated for small talk and having virtual coffee breaks. Also, do not forget to laugh and have fun from time to time.
Internal surveys shed light on remote work experiences
At Elomatic, surveys have been conducted among employees to gauge how they have experienced remote work and to collect ideas for tips and best practices. The overall theme of the feedback was that remote work is working surprisingly well.
After the first weeks of remote work, the feedback was mainly positive: no need to commute, flexibility of working time, and no interruptions. Employees tips for managing remote work included going for a walk before starting work, remembering to have breaks, writing down goals, having online coffee breaks, taking care of ergonomics, and generally concentrating on positive things.
Most employees feel that their work has been even more efficient while working remotely. Naturally, not all the feedback has been positive. Negative feedback has included the inability to chat with colleagues in the corridors or during coffee breaks, the challenges of working at home with children in the household, and occasional network issues.
After 10 weeks of remote work, 72 % of all managers felt that their teams could work as efficiently or slightly more efficiently remotely than in the office. Challenges included personal time management with increased Microsoft Teams meetings and increased communication needs.
With regards best practices in leading remote teams, managers highlighted frequent communication, one-to-one meetings, the use of chats and shared documents. Positive attitudes and trust were also mentioned. Importantly, all managers feel that it would be possible for their teams or part of their teams to work remotely in future.
Selected results from internal remote work surveys
Work efficiency at office levels or better
Unsurprisingly, 84 % of all respondents felt that there is either no difference (42 %) or they can work even slightly better (29 %) or clearly better (13 %) at home. As the purpose of the surveys was also to collect views on how to continue in the future, employees were asked whether they would be willing to continue with more-or-less permanent remote work with no permanent workstations at the office. Almost 38 % of all employees indicated that they would not need a permanent desk and would like to continue working remotely almost permanently.
They valued time saved not commuting to work and felt that working at home provides more flexibility and freedom. Some employees indicated that they would like to continue remote work but would still like to have their own dedicated workstation for office days.
Developing ergonomics and internet connections at home would improve remote work even further. Negative experiences were related to longer working days and the lack of social contacts and canteen services.
Based on the feedback, it seems that most employees and managers feel that working remotely has been a rather positive experience. It requires new skills and ways of working, active communication and teamwork skills, but no major obstacles were encountered.
Not all sunshine and roses
As always, there are two sides to a coin. According to a study conducted by Lindsay McGregor and Neel Goshi, employees who work remotely are less motivated. It was found that employees that have no choice in the matter, were the least motivated.
It was also found that employees may miss the joy of problem solving together and that decision-making may be more difficult when people are not in the same room. They indicate a higher probability for misunderstanding and that the ability to learn from colleagues and help them develop is impaired without physical proximity. They furthermore point to mental health problems and insecurities about the future that may influence some employees’ wellbeing. These factors are naturally something that HR managers need to keep an eye on.
The Covid-19 pandemic forced many companies into the unprecedented and unplanned experiment of remote work for most of their employees.
From our internal surveys, it seems that both managers and employees are positively inclined to the idea of continued remote work, at least partly. This will require planning on how and to what extent the remote work option will be an alternative once the pandemic is over.
It is still important to work physically together, and one should not forget the value of people truly working sideby- side, brainstorming, developing and innovating new solutions – it is easier when we are in the same room.
Life will most likely not be the same after the pandemic, but fortunately we will continue having brilliant, clever, innovative and kind employees, regardless whether they work from the office or remotely.
Seven top tips for remote work
- Remember to have regular breaks to maintain your productivity and motivation.
- Keep in touch with your colleagues and manager. You can always call and just ask how they are.
- At the end of the day, check your accomplishments and celebrate your wins.
- Check if you are not sure. Don’t be afraid to call to ask for help.
- Set clear boundaries at home – what is work time and what is free time.
- Maintain a regular schedule and stick to it.
- Get dressed – it puts you in the right mood to work.
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