MAKESHIFTS - Organisational Learning & Development Consultancy

MakING the shift.

Covid-19: Ensuring Connectivity, Productivity
and Well Being for Home Working Staff.

Challenges and Pitfalls of Remote Working


For staff approaching working remotely for the first time, concerns about loss of opportunities for face to face interaction are very real. Managers may worry that staff wont work as hard or as efficiently from home (although research suggests otherwise). Staff may struggle with what they perceive as reduced access to managerial support and guidance. The options for communication and connectivity will depend on the IT kit and digital tools you have available. Planning to maintain connection between managers and staff is essential in the transition to remote and home working.


Regular patterns of working will have to change, but you can guard against the impact of loss of structure by establishing a structure for checking in and meeting on line. This might include phone calls, emails, instant messaging or video calls. In the beginning, this may have to take place daily to support the transition to remote working in its early stages. By being accessible and responsive to the needs of staff and the daily issues arising from changes in working practice, they build trust, confidence and support the capacity of employees to adapt and become more ‘change resilient’ . Over time, communication needs will reduce as team working patterns settle down into a ‘new normal’ Remember, as a rule of thumb, during times of rapid and unexpected change, communication is the most important tool to minimise distress.


One of the most challenging changes for staff to deal with is the loss of structure and routine around working hours and patterns. We have produced a separate help note for individual staff to help them navigate the challenges of home working . This includes helpful tips for maintaining routines, managing time, prioritising structure and connectivity and looking after well-being. Employees that are new to remote work should keep this in mind, as they may feel compelled to work longer hours and prove that they can be productive from home. Managers can support staff by making them aware of helpful guidance like this, and by encouraging them to create structures that work for them, and for the wider team, in the new climate. Look out for staff overcompensating through over work and encourage them to maintain regular hours and routines.


Email is very limited as a medium for team communication. Explore other options for engagement, collaboration and sharing information. Set up an internal Yammer group if you don’t have one already. Find a social media app that works for everyone. Use Instant Messenger instead of email for quick conversations and team chats. Give people kit and access to video conferencing. Encourage communication and connectivity. Remember to consult with IT about the viability and security of any software you plan to use. It can take time for teams to adapt to digital communication media but in a remote working these tools become essential. Make it fun and have patience as people learn and adapt.


Face to face training options and the facility for more skilled team members to mentor and support others will no longer be an option in a remote working environment. Make use of any existing organisational e-learning resources or identify good quality you tube videos and training notes that staff can access on line. Set up a help desk or identify someone ‘tech savvy’ who staff can message for support and advice. Some tools will allow access to a remote desktop which will allow staff to demonstrate the use of tools virtually in real time. Make it clear that digital upskilling is required and offer options to staff that suit their learning style. Be supportive and encouraging if they struggle.


Set clear expectations for remote team communication at the outset. For example you might guide staff to use IM for urgent messages and video calls for weekly meetings. You might need to set up a new system for file sharing and collaboration on key documents. You might direct staff to forward work phones and include contact details on their online diaries. Make sure your team know how to reach you throughout the day. Ensure staff know what is expected of them and offer support and training in the use of new tools or processes.


Find ways to provide opportunities for social interaction: This is one of the first things staff will miss if they have been used to the comraderie of face to face team working. Include time in team meetings for staff to engage informally about non work matters. Take part in the sharing of jokes and comments in email and messenger threads. Schedule virtual ‘coffee breaks’. Don’t hesitate to arrange groups chats or team skype calls where you feel staff are becoming isolated or disconnected. Manage your own anxiety about team productivity and encourage ideas to promote social well being while working remotely.


Many employees in the coming weeks may experience unanticipated mental health consequences from mandated remote work, and it is important to be aware of this reality. Two causes for concern are isolation and burnout. Offer up front encouragement and emotional support on an ongoing basis. Let staff know that you’re aware that the circumstances are challenging. Ask what you, the team or the organisation can do to make things work. Don’t wait for staff to come forward with issues, enquire openly, ask how they are doing with remote working and allow space for them to share what’s going on for them. Celebrate success and praise effort and commitment. Give thanks. Be available for support and help staff to work through issues and concerns. Seek advice from HR. Make staff aware of other sources of support such as coaching or counselling if needed.


Be aware, that information shared to staff in times of change and crisis can get lost in the maelstrom. Position key documents and guidance somewhere accessible and redirect staff to them when required. Deal with questions no matter how repetitive. If possible create on line forums such as Yammer to open up the conversation and build a resource of frequently asked questions and answers. Share the ways that teams are adapting to the crisis by changing their working patterns and practices so that others can benefit. Pick up on signals that might suggest staff are becoming overwhelmed, check in regularly, work together to implement changes.


Employees look to managers for cues about how to react to sudden changes or crisis situations. If a manager fails to role model the behaviours they expect of staff, there is little incentive for people to step up and extend themselves for the greater good. Be an early adopter. Maintain resilience. Advocate effectively. Listen, acknowledge stress, take concerns seriously but affirm your confidence in your teams ability to adapt. Involve staff in coming up with strategies to make the changes work. Tap into a shared vision, encourage teams to organise around shared values to create an atmosphere of willingness and purpose. Model the behaviours you want to see in staff. ‘Be the change’. Be prepared to receive and act on feedback.


To continue the discussion about how Makeshifts can support your organisational needs during this unprecedented time please contact us. We are currently developing our employee resilience and collective leadership programmes for delivery on line.

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