Recently I have seen a lot of articles claiming remote working is the new normal. It reminds me of conversations I’ve had with both companies that excelled at remote working, and ones that refused to even consider it. I learned a lot from both sorts of conversations. 

I wanted to share some things to consider about your own remote working policy going forward – especially if you are thinking of making changes to it.

If you aren’t considering making changes to it, then you will need to make changes to your recruiting process instead. (And you’ll need to buckle up for a bumpy ride.) I’ll write about why that is next week.

For now, I want to ask you this: what, if anything, are you going to change about your company policy with regards to office working versus remote working?

Remote versus Office-Based working

I don’t see the whole truth in the myriad recent articles heralding the end of office-based working. The thing is, what works for some staff doesn’t work for all.

There are a lot of people who LOVE the office environment. It is a level of social interaction that they value deeply, and for many varied reasons.

Yet you are as likely to have other staff, who LOVE being remote or home-based. For some of your staff, the opportunity given by the government’s home-working edict may have been a revelation.

The proportion of each of these 2 groups is different for every company. There will always be some roles in some companies that aren’t practical or suited to remote working. It’s very easy to get lazy and over-use this reason to not embrace remote working in your company.

I believe the real answer lies in your flexibility and effectiveness as an employer.

I am talking here about companies that could allow more remote working, but are resistant to doing so. These companies may assume once everything is ‘back to normal’ everyone will be back at the office as before. They see no need to change.

If you are one of these companies, I need to tell you this: it won’t go back to normal. Things have changed. It is outside your control, and you will need to adapt. 

So, if you have resisted making it company policy to offer remote working as an option to staff before the lockdown, this is a warning. Your competition will shortly be circling your best staff like sharks. They are waiting for them to stick a toe in the job-search water, and they will snatch them up before you blink.

Making the option for remote working part of your company policy – and making it work well, could make or break your business in the longer term. It’s not the only thing that matters, but it does matter.

This isn’t what I signed up for!

I know. When you hired your staff, remote working was probably never the plan. (If it was, good for you – and for your business too I bet!) 

Both you and your new staff member probably anticipated them coming into the office every day. You probably hired specifically for people who would fit into that pattern. (Did you ever look at a CV and see that the applicant lived 100 miles away, and choose NOT to interview them on that basis alone? I am ashamed to say I have.)

Many businesses have had to scramble and adapt recently to get staff able to work during these lockdown months. These businesses weren’t prepared because they didn’t have appropriate remote-working practices in place. 

Even those that did have some remote working, found full-time remote working is very different to a few days remote every week or month! 

Given where we are now….

If you were hiring now would you hire the same people? Can you look at your current staff and think: “I’m pleased I hired these people to deliver in these difficult times”?

Assuming you would hire the same people, keeping them in your company is paramount. They are a huge chunk of the value in your company.

As I said before, not everyone will embrace remote work. Yet, offering it as an option for staff will likely increase their loyalty to your company – even if they don’t use it. As I mentioned earlier, these are staff you already value.   If you value them, you will want them to remain loyal to you and your company. And you can’t buy staff loyalty – even if you could, the expense would be prohibitive.

Offering even some flexibility on remote working might help you to keep your excellent and well-trained staff with you. The alternative being that your best staff get poached by your competition* who will offer them that.

Note: *’your competition’ here is not only companies in the same business area, it’s ANY company who hires the kind of people you hire. This is likely a much bigger pond than you usually swim in. You aren’t only up against 3 other companies who might want your star developer, you could be up against 3000! 

Going forward, as the economy starts to spin up again, it will be a recruiters’ market with lots of people looking for work.  These job seekers could be looking due to redundancy or just a bit of a re-think of life-choices over the lockdown period.  Either way, the best people will be in high demand… even if those ‘best people’ currently work for your company. 

On the other hand, if the staff you have in place aren’t the sort of people you would choose to hire for remote working, you need to explore why that is.

Which brings me onto the next area for you to consider.

How well do you manage?

Take a look at your company’s management processes right now. People don’t stay with a company only for the money (more on that next week). A great deal has to do with how they are managed.

So, here are a few more questions for you to think about:

  • How well are your managers equipped to manage newly-remote workers? (Is management a deliberate practice aimed at benefitting everyone involved, or a supervisory role to keep everyone in line?)
  • Do your managers have any previous experience of remote staff management?
  • Have you, as their boss, offered them any sort of help at all with being a better manager – whether remote or otherwise? 

Managing staff remotely is a little more difficult than office-based staff management. This is in large par because observing non-verbal behaviour of staff is much easier in the office than remotely. It takes more effort from everyone involved, are your managers ready for this?

Here are some other example questions for you to consider as a management team thinking about extending your remote working policy:

  • How do you know your staff are doing the right work?
  • How do you know they are working at all?
  • If they have a problem with their work, how confident are you that they would come to you to ask for help?
  • Can you remember when you asked for help from your boss
  • Where does their work come from? And is the supply chain for their work robust? ( If there was an interruption to that supply (supervisor off sick for a couple of weeks for example), would they be able to work around it?)

Frankly, these are pertinent questions to ask whether you are office-based or remotely managing your team. When you ask them, do you like the answers?

If you don’t like the answers that come to mind, or if you can’t answer them easily, your management processes might not be as robust as they could be.

And if you can’t manage your existing staff well, they are unlikely to stay with you for very long. 

This, in turn,  will put you on a recruitment treadmill of CVs and interviews to keep on top of the turn over.

Ultimately, this pulls you away from the business of actually doing business!

Luckily, I’ll be writing more on that next week, in case you think recruiting is going to be easier than retaining your staff. (Spoiler alert: It really isn’t!)

In the mean time, if you want to review your management processes and tweak them, or even do across-the-board manager training to develop tailor-made processes for your company and your managers, give us a shout .