Home working post-lockdown the opportunities and challenges for business leaders

A recent survey of Vistage members has revealed that 74% of employers will look to implement more flexible working policies including continued working from home after lockdown further eases. Alongside ongoing health and safety concerns due to the coronavirus, many businesses are reporting higher worker productivity, while some employees are enjoying a better work/life balance. 

While remote working is not a novel approach to professional life, the increasing acceptance of working from home represents a considerable shift in attitudes. In fact, prior to lockdown only 7% of the UK workforce were working from home. If you’re considering adopting this for your business here are just some of the opportunities presented by working remotely. 

This article explores the opportunities that working from home offers to businesses as well as highlighting the challenges for leaders when managing remote teams. 

Remote working: the opportunities

Cost savings. Property accounts for most businesses' second biggest cost (with the biggest cost being salaries) so, naturally, a reduced need for office space means lower fixed costs. Reducing office space or closing premises altogether would also mean a reduction in utilities costs as well as maintenance and cleaning services and food and beverages. 

Employee wellbeing. Many of us will be familiar with reports suggesting that workers’ sense of wellbeing is enhanced by having control over how and where they work. In fact, a 2019 report from Oxford University's Saïd Business School and BT revealed that workers are 13% more productive when happy

Reduced absenteeism. Allowing employees to work from home can lead to health improvements thanks to lower stress levels and people simply being around less circulating germs and illnesses. 

"Reducing the need to commute should also improve energy."

Productivity. In terms of environment, you and your team may find that working in a quieter space with fewer distractions and unnecessary meetings leads, in turn, to increased productivity and/or less stress and pressure. Reducing the need to commute should also improve energy and stress levels with your team having more hours in the day to do what makes them happy. 

Increased staff retention. Allowing employees to work from home can also improve employee retention. For working parents or those with caring responsibilities, having more control and flexibility over the working day can provide significant benefits, both financially and in terms of wellbeing. Showing that you trust your team to work independently and that you care about their happiness goes a long way.   

Increased talent pool. Offering the choice of working remotely is likely to be very attractive to future employees. It also means you can hire the best people for roles without being limited by geography. For candidates who have spent years enduring a long commute, the chance to work from home will grab their attention when searching for a new role. 

Remote working: the challenges

Naturally, there are challenges to both business leaders and workers when shifting to new ways of working. Here are a few of the main issues to consider and address. 

Maintaining work/life balance. Over time, the boundaries between home and work life may become blurred and negate the positive effects on wellbeing and productivity. For starters, not everyone is suited to working remotely. Employees who thrive on face-to-face interaction with others, or whose homelife may not be conducive to working remotely, could struggle. This could result in poor wellbeing or mental health issues which may slip under the radar for managers and colleagues who aren’t able to notice changes in their own or others demeanour or attitude that would have been more easily picked up in the office. 

Employee engagement. Business leaders and managers may find it’s more difficult to communicate with multiple teams or track employees’ progress and activity, or manage calendars and meetings. Luckily there’s a raft of project management apps available which can help you track and monitor performance and an array of time management platforms that can ensure meetings and calendars are maintained. 

Employee engagement

Nurturing new or young recruits. While working from home might suit experienced workers, newer recruits may struggle. Leaders should think carefully about how they will support workers who do not have a home office or suitable place to work, eg. younger people in shared accommodation. 

"The most important issue here is for business leaders to promote a trusting work culture."

Company culture. Creating and maintaining a sense of corporate identity and belonging is vital for business success and a happy workforce. This challenge can be tackled in numerous ways. For example, you could balance working remotely with regular team meetings or events. Or create ways for staff to meet together online, such as virtual coffee mornings. In addition to progress and performance updates, staff should have regular check-ins with managers, whether in person or remotely, to see how they are doing and generally catch up. But perhaps the most important issue here is for business leaders to promote a trusting work culture, where the whole team understands the importance of honouring their responsibilities.

Having the right technological infrastructure. Ultimately, it is the business leader's responsibility to make sure all staff have access to the right technology and tools to do their job, safely and comfortably - everything that you would expect to supply in the office. This includes all necessary computer hardware, software, internet connection, phone, display screen equipment and anything else the employee needs for their specific role. 

In addition, the employer is still responsible for their team’s health and safety so make sure your staff have an appropriate desk and chair as well as emergency equipment such as fire extinguishers. You can find out more about what you need to provide on the HSE’s homeworkers hub.  

Remote working undoubtedly offers potential benefits to both employees and employers. But realising those benefits requires careful management, if employees are to remain engaged with their work and continue to develop the relationships that knit teams together. There are also specific challenges to consider when it comes to leading a team remotely. 

With such a significant shift in a business model, leaders can undoubtedly benefit from confidential and knowledgeable advice when it comes to making the types of decision that are involved. A group enabling business leaders to meet with like-minded executives and peers, to share experience, gain support and have independent validation is invaluable. 

If you would like to benefit from expert support from a Vistage Coach on implementing and managing remote working, or with any other business challenges, please get in touch. We would love to help. You can also find out more information on our Vistage membership pages

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