What kind of employer do you want to be after lockdown?
The lockdown forced all professional services firms to suddenly become “high trust”, that is, letting everyone work from home. In its recent Remote Working report, The Times argues that high trust is good for productivity and happiness. Here we want to show that remote working is a mixed blessing for employees and carries some risks for employers which need to be managed carefully. We offer some guidance on how to structure your thinking when redesigning your organisation for the new normal.
The lockdown – anecdotal evidence on productivity and happiness.
Sometimes productivity was up. A number of software companies reported a surge in productivity among its coders during the lockdown. It seems that corporate culture of update meetings, water coolers, team lunches and general noise and distractions was not that great for serious focus. It is likely that most of these coders were young and single. It is likely that they drowned themselves in work since there were not parties or dates to go to.
Mostly productivity was down especially for employees with kids who could not be furloughed. Working with pre-school kids running around the house or interrupting conference calls may have been amusing at first but also draining and frustrating. With customers in similar situations, gaining new business was challenging to all but those providing ‘essentials’. It also became painfully obvious that internet speeds in the UK leave a lot to be desired especially if both parents and kids are trying to stream contents all at once.
Often productivity was down and anxiety up. This applied to junior members of staff, among others, who probably did not enjoy the lockdown much. With little to do and no feedback from their managers, some have felt lower sense of purpose and self-worth. Most juniors probably spent too much time second guessing their superiors (“am I next to be made redundant”) rather than pro-actively asking for direction or acquiring new skills.
Preparing for the new normal with flexi-time and remote working
If home working is a mixed blessing during a forced lockdown, it is likely to be more welcomed if done on a voluntary basis. I refer to abovementioned report from The Times: obligatory face time in the office is an expensive hangover from the past. It is time to acknowledge that but also to understand the risks involved and think about how to weather another episode of a forced lockdown.
Manage risks related to data protection, cybersecurity and compliance.
With remote working the organisational parameter that needs protecting is extended to the homes of employees.
Help your staff secure their home networks
Create a ‘work from home’ policy that includes tips on how to secure home wifi networks against hacking (here the techniques include unique passwords, restricting MAC addresses, guest networks, encrypting the network and hiding your wifi name SSID). Establish a VPN to log into company servers if you have any. Set the basic computer etiquette: locking the screen when leaving the room, switching computer off for the night, encrypting the hard drive.
Stop over-sharing of sensitive data
It is a common issue with small companies: sharing logins to accounts and consequently giving everyone administrative access. Sharing logins goes against GDPR legislation (there is no way to check who did what to the data and who had access to it) and can tempt disgruntled employees from stealing commercially sensitive information from client lists to staff remuneration data. Working from home arguably increases the risk of accidental data loss especially if personal computers are used to access company accounts and the same personal computers are shared with other members of the household. Each employee should have their own account access details with access levels commensurate with their role and “need to know”.
Manage risks related to staff morale, motivation and productivity
- Ensure frequent one-on-one sessions with members of staff that cover both business and overall well-being issues.
- Offer silent screen-share sessions if requested where team members continue to work on their own but can see other team members at their desks. It makes it easier to feel part of a team this way but it is bad for the environment and may involve extra costs.
- Rethink the design and purpose of your main office. We are not suggesting more bean bags and foosball tables but more client and staff meeting areas to improve your internal and external visibility.
- Introduce staff memos and formal management communication if just to share ideas and updates and keep everyone on the same page.
- Encourage staff to enrol to online training programmes to improve computer literacy, cyber security and IT support skills.
- Rethink the purpose and frequency of company staff off-site meetings. If you have not offered them before – take another look. If done without preparation these are just expensive social dos. If done well, they may be inspirational events that improve staff loyalty, sense of purpose and are great to generate ideas or even build prototypes of new products and services.
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