Working From Home – how to avoid HR issues with staff

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Working from home helped businesses battle through the pandemic, but managing employees at their kitchen tables can create messy HR situations.

From new policies and procedures to employee engagement and mental health, companies are coming to terms with employee issues that urgently need cleaning up. When I speak to business owners and managers, many still regard their workplace as “in transition”, but the fact is that hybrid/flexible/remote working is here to stay.

According to the Office for National Statistics, the proportion of people with hybrid routines has risen from 13% in early February 2022 to 24% in May 2022. Those working exclusively from home fell from 22% to 14% in the same period. The proportion who planned to return to their workplace permanently fell from 11% in April 2021 to just 8% in February 2022. The data cleared why employees prefer a hybrid model. More than three-quarters (78%) said that working from home gave them an improved work-life balance. More than half said they found it quicker to complete work (52%) and that they had fewer distractions (53%). Almost half also reported improved wellbeing (47%). So how are you managing staff who are currently working from home? Here are a few of the key areas I think you should consider…

Feelings of isolation

Many people have gone from seeing their colleagues and customers every day, to being stuck at home minding the family pet. In these situations, a feeling of isolation can quickly develop which can negatively affect an individual’s focus, productivity and creativity. According to research from Totaljobs, nearly half (46%) of UK workers have experienced loneliness during lockdown. In fact, when asked for reasons, more than a third (36%) of survey respondents said that it was because they lost contact with work friends. Research has shown that remote workers often worry that their boss is unhappy with their productivity, leading to longer hours and wellbeing issues. The trouble is, many people will not want to admit that they are struggling. Businesses need to be proactive to keep their teams happy and healthy.

Working from home expectations

How can an employee understand what is required when they are never in the office? Good management involves going back to basics and providing clear guidelines and personal targets. As well as performance goals, businesses need to be clear about what is expected around availability (i.e. calls and emails), so staff can be reached when required. Managers need to aim for ‘over communication’, so that workers should be in no doubt that changes have been made to policies, structures or objectives. The goal is for a healthy work-life balance, rather than piling on the pressure and causing burnout. For example, remind employees to log off from their machines by a certain time every evening. Tell them to enjoy their weekends and not to worry about work. Extended periods of overwork can lead to stress, absences and poor mental health.

Flexible friends 

Rigid structures and working hours should be thrown out of the kitchen window when teams are working from home. The battle for businesses is to maintain consistency and productivity when people are working irregular patterns. Being flexible still requires accountability and an overall strategy so that tasks still get completed to a high quality. For example, ditch lengthy meetings for short virtual huddles on a Monday to establish the week’s schedule and individual actions.

Tracking projects and movements 

Staff working from home can leave managers with a feeling of losing control. Rather than micro-managing which can have a negative impact on morale, ask your employees to supply a weekly work schedule with deadlines given to each job. This will provide managers with peace of mind while giving individuals a structure to their role.

The new, flexible working environment requires communication, which is where technology can help. Mobile apps allow staff to record progress out in the field, while video calls and shared files in the cloud can nurture teamwork. Whether it’s e-mail, WhatsApp, video meetings or the company intranet — find the platform and the frequency that’s works for you and your people. Whatever system you use, managers need to display an element of trust in their teams. If they are staying in touch and achieving their objectives, why worry?

Don’t be afraid of feedback

No system is perfect, so it is important for businesses to listen to their people to prevent small issues from snowballing into catastrophes. The best managers are good listeners while commanding trust and respect. Ask questions about progress and whether more support is required.

Many businesses hate the idea of staff surveys, but they can provide valuable information if handled correctly. Staff can smell if it’s a witch-hunt and will not participate, causing distrust and resentment. Finally, it is vital for the business to act upon the feedback and to make changes for the better.

Find a reason to celebrate

Don’t be the business owner or manager who forgets to thank their staff. Always be alive to opportunities to celebrate a great piece of work. Whether it’s a round of applause in a virtual team meeting or a box of chocolates in the post, a little bit of recognition can go a long way. The key is make any “well done” personal, don’t do it via e-mail.

Manage your managers

Being in charge can be a lonely place, which has led to some managers struggling with the demands of working from home. The strain of managing the performance of remote staff can lead to feelings of being under pressure and under-resourced. Managers are often loyal, long-serving employees who consider a cry for help as a sign of weakness. They are told to prepare in-depth reports on progress but feel that no-one cares about them. Every business needs to have a plan to take care of their senior staff.

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