How Can We Sustain Remote Working Through the Winter?
As we head into winter, leaders must sustain remote working, productivity and engagement while simultaneously protecting the mental health and well-being of their employees.
I spoke with Nick South, Managing Director and Partner at the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) to understand how leaders can learn the lessons from the first UK lockdown to better support their employees through the next six months and beyond.
The starting point of our discussion was a recent survey BCG conducted with 2,000 UK employees about their experience of remote working and how they want to work in future. The report, What’s Next for How We Work in the UK?, explains the short-term and longer term considerations to adapt the way we work for good.
The takeaways from our conversation were that there needs to be two areas of focus.
The first is supporting employees’ mental health and wellbeing. The second is to recognise that a wider shift is taking place in ways of working.
Prioritise Employee Mental Health and Well-being
Everyone’s experience of remote working has been different, impacting the mental health and well-being of employees in different ways. BCG’s survey found that while around 90% of respondents felt their employers had supported safety and job retention, 79% experienced negative impacts including anxiety, loneliness and an increasingly blurred boundary between home and work.
The realities of working remotely impacted different employee groups in different ways:
Income workers earning less that £20,000 a year were almost twice as likely to experience feelings of loneliness, compared with income earners earning more than £35,000 a year
Parents with young children were nearly twice as likely to report feeling distracted while working remotely
Workers aged between 18-34 were more likely to report barriers to working remotely compared with their peers over 55.
As leaders adapt how their organisations work, it’s vital to appreciate that a one-size-fits-all approach isn’t the way forward when designing solutions to support employees and sustain remote working.
Source a broad spectrum of employee experiences and incorporate these insights into developing and piloting new models of working
Continue to test interventions to ensure they remain effective
Enable middle managers to support their teams in a virtual setting
Find virtual solutions to traditional festive activities to bolster team morale and support well-being.
Use This Time to Change What Isn’t Working
In March, there was an optimism that things would be back to normal by the end of the year. Now, more and more leaders recognise that remote working – in some form – is here to stay, and that ‘making do’ is no longer a sustainable approach. Many also recognise that COVID-19 can serve as a catalyst for change such as expediting digital transformation projects that seek to boost longer term business resilience.
Whilst there are several areas ripe for change, a few practical starting points could be:
Process automation: For Finance processes in particular, adopting paper-free workflows for expenses and invoices. Organisations already doing this have found it easier to adapt to a virtual environment and continue to operate efficiently compared with those using manual processes
Upskilling: Training employees to collaborate effectively in a virtual setting e.g. conducting effective Zoom meetings
Onboarding and apprenticeships: Ensuring the onboarding experience is adapted for a virtual environment, and that on-the-job learning is still possible when teams are no longer co-located.
Harder perhaps, will be fostering the right company culture when teams are remote. However, making sure employees have the right tools and support to do their job to the best of their ability is a great first step.
Avoid temporary solutions that, over time, will decrease the organisation’s ability to respond to ongoing change. Instead, prioritise projects design to support longer term business resilience
Create an environment that fosters productivity and engagement, even when teams work remotely, whether that’s formal upskilling or making time to connect virtually for non-work related catch ups
Adapt processes to onboard new employees remotely, and replace on-the-job learning with virtual alternatives to support ongoing development and affiliation.
While no one can be certain about how the pandemic will evolve, leaders that focus on supporting their employees in the short-term and use this period as an opportunity to increase business resilience for the longer term, stand a greater chance of winning in the new reality.
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