Remote Working

8 questions to ask before going remote-first

Lydia Watson

As 2020 begins to draw to a close, the future is more uncertain than ever. Typically, personal and professional commitments would already be filling next year’s calendar – from holidays and weddings, to trade shows and product launches. And while not all of that has been put on hold, understand what ‘business as usual’ will look like is unclear.

For some organisations, that means deciding whether to go permanently remote-first – vaccine, or no vaccine. But there are some questions to ask first.

The trend for remote-first companies in the UK and beyond

Twitter, Facebook, Shopify. JP Morgan, Slater and Gordon, Linklaters. These are just a few of the companies going remote-first, with 50 of the largest UK employers taking the same approach. With world-leading companies setting an example, we can expect employee expectations for flexible work growing.

Will the pandemic force you to go remote-first?

The end, it seems, is not nigh – at least not for this period of lockdowns, and social distancing. The World Health Association head spoke in August of hoping to see the pandemic over “in under two year”.

While the recent news of viable vaccine options is promising, it doesn’t seem like going ‘back to normal’ is something we can anticipate for early 2021 – “it’s not going to be a complete game changer”, David Nabarro, special envoy professor at the WHO, pointed out. With months of mitigation ahead, it’s clear that waiting for it all to blow over just isn’t an option.

Organisations deciding to use this crisis as an opportunity for change, it comes down to making sure they have their bases covered – by asking these 8 questions.

The practical:

1. Are you providing the right tools?

It’s crucial to start with the basics. Organisations can forget to recognise that – and our research saw over half of UK employees feeling they aren’t supplied the tools they need. Working remotely requires a whole new set of tools, where agility at a distance needs to be encouraged, so you need to think about what you need to provide.

2. Will you keep a central office to use for meetings?

Going remote-first doesn’t mean pulling the drawbridge up, double-locking the door, and never meeting anyone in person again. Like many have determined, you may need somewhere to gather occasionally – so consider your options. Will you have a central office, or hire a workspace as and when?

With Covid-19 sticking around for a while in some capacity, that also means working out how you could facilitate office working safely. That could involve accommodating social distancing, or looking into tech solutions to tackle safety concerns – from installing facial recognition security, or voice-activated doors and windows.

3. Is the hybrid approach right for you?

Maybe you need to go a step further, and adopt a hybrid approach. The British Council for Offices anticipate a mix of office and home working – with 62% of senior executives, and 58% of junior employees, preferring a hybrid model. Deloitte Executive Director, Indranil Roy, agrees – seeing a “hybrid workforce and distributed workplace” as the mostly likely future.

It’ll still need careful thought: hybrid working can disadvantage those who stay out-of-office more frequently, with a study finding they “have to do more than their in-house counterparts” to be noticed. Think about creating the right balance, that’s fair for all.

The personal:

4. How will you encourage a work-life balance?

Creating the right work-life balance when working from home is easier said than done. Remote workers reportedly end up doing longer hours at the best of times – and with a shaky economy, and the threat of furlough and redundancy hanging over employees’ heads, there’s a real pressure to perform.

The key is encouraging leaders and managers to be people-focused – focusing on wellbeing above worrying about profits. That could mean setting rules about no out-of-hours emails, or unnecessary overtime, and leading by example – that means being visibly offline over the weekends or in the evenings.

5. How will you stay connected as a team?

Even the biggest advocates of remote working will agree: you do miss that feeling of connectivity. Employers report seeing some staff members both experiencing loneliness, and being less productive – just because it’s harder to get the answers they need. So keeping open lines of communication is key.

That could mean simply mean encouraging your teams to “reframe the way they communicate and connect”, providing tools for easier digital communication – like instant messaging software or video recording – or by having sporadic meet-ups. It’s all about what’s right for your people.

6. Are you considering peoples’ individual needs?

As we talked about before, the reality of remote working is different for everyone. People are using ironboards as desks, coffee tables as chairs, or sharing a kitchen table with multiple housemates – while others are struggling to keep the kids out of their office when they’re on calls, or just needing some home-work seperation.

How could you makes their lives easier? Supply a desk and chair, or access to a shared workspace? Allow ‘camera off’ workcalls where possible, in case they’re working from a less video-friendly location? Just be ready to be understanding.

The purposeful:

7. What’s the bigger picture?

While every organisation is different, and has their own needs and considerations, it’s worth considering the bigger picture. First off, study after study shows that the majority of workers don’t want to go ‘back to normal’. Accepting that remote working is going to be at least part of all our futures is cruical.

What’s also important is the social impact it’s likely to have. Could it finally change things when it comes to gender equity, and the unequal division of home-based labour? As we’ve identified, the pandemic has exposed this imbalance – and the general pressures of balancing childcare and professional life have been brought to the fore.

It could also encourage a more diverse workforce, as people don’t have to move to expensive cities to find work – going some way to solve the issue of working in crowded, overpriced houseshares too. Rightmove has seen a 125% rise in inquiries to move from cities to the country, so remote working could quite literally change the lay of the land.

8. What do your employees think?

This is the single most important question you should be asking. And one you should ask your employees directly: do they feel connected and if not, why not? Do they have the tools they need? What’s their experience of working remotely?

You need to know what they’re saying, and what they’re feeling. And we can help you ask the right questions, and our language technology will uncover the most common things they’re concerned about – so you can make the right decisions.

It’s time to start the conversation

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