An introduction to remote working
Remote working goes by many names: smart working, mobile work, telecommuting, telework, or just working from home. A handful of companies, like Impala, Basecamp, and GitLab, have been successfully functioning remotely for a while now. But, for many, the shift to remote work was abrupt and forced upon them by unprecedented external circumstances – the coronavirus pandemic.
COVID-19 impacted our lives in many ways. The way we work, socialise, exercise, carry out basic activities – it all changed. Even from early in the pandemic, it was clear big changes were coming. In April 2020 in the UK, 46.6% of people in employment were doing some of their work from home, with the vast majority (86%) of these homeworkers stating that this was because of the pandemic. Although a shift towards greater freedom of choice in working patterns was already happening, COVID-19 definitely gave it a huge push.
Now, many companies – from big corporations like Microsoft and Facebook to SMEs – have decided to stay fully remote or offer their team members the possibility to work from home if and when they want. But how do both companies and employees get the best out of their (new) remote working environments?
Without a doubt, a remote work setting has many benefits, but it comes with challenges too. You might have struggled with a few during the pandemic. Ben’s ultimate guide to remote working is here to help you and your team. It’ll help you get the most out of remote working, learn how to navigate the challenges, and how to pick the right strategy and tools to create a high-functioning remote or hybrid team.
Why work remotely?
Start by asking why you or your team want to work remotely. What are you hoping to gain out of it and are you ready to make the necessary adjustments? While making this decision, you need to take into account the impact on both employers and employees.
For companies, although you might need to hire and onboard without meeting in person, remote work does offer:
A larger talent pool
Increased employee retention
You’ll notice throughout this guide we focus on employees. After all, all employers rely heavily on their staff – so having more people available and being able to keep staff happier is all good news. There’s the potential to save a lot of money too. Not only will you have limited or no office costs, there’s some suggestion that remote work improves productivity and efficiency. There have been a lot of studies on this subject, with a 2013 study by Stanford University professors and scholars being one of the most cited. 16,000 call center employees volunteered to work from home over nine months, and in this time performance increased by 13%. Other studies have followed, revealing that:
of remote workers feel more productive
rate their own productivity as good or excellent when they’re not in the office
attribute this improved productivity to fewer distractions
attribute this improved productivity to a less noisy work environment
No study, test or survey could have created the same environment as the coronavirus pandemic. If you’ve been working from your makeshift office at all during the last year or so, you’ll know how you’ve felt. Many of us have been putting in our hours and getting work done all while dealing with the consequences and concerns of a global pandemic. It’s impossible to talk about remote work without discussing COVID-19, but it’s important to remember that circumstances will improve, making the possibilities of remote work even greater.
Remote working can also have a knock-on effect on the amount of sick days taken (it did during the pandemic), although it’s not necessarily clear if employees are healthier, or just that people feel willing to do some work at home while feeling unwell.
Employers do have the responsibility to make sure employees are still taking breaks, holidays and sick days while remote working. The added flexibility may feel like a huge benefit, but employees shouldn’t feel like they have to earn it by putting in extra time. No matter where they’re based, it’s an employer’s responsibility to ensure the wellbeing of their employees – more on that later.
What’s for sure, though, is that remote staff avoid the time-consuming and stress-inducing daily commute and have the advantage of added flexibility to their schedules. They can also save money by working from home.
Employees have really enjoyed the additional time and flexibility while remote working during the pandemic. For many, it would be tough to return to the office full time. Slack’s Future Forum research of 4,700 knowledge workers found the majority never want to go back to the old way of working.
Of course, some tasks are arguably more effectively or easily completed in person. For example, onboarding, training or team collaboration. But COVID-19 upended office work as we all knew it. We learnt to adapt and use new tools to recreate in-person activities. Perhaps that’s why it’s no surprise that the majority of knowledge workers surveyed (72%) would prefer a mix of remote and office work – a hybrid approach. Only 12% want to return to full-time office work.
The shift because of coronavirus is huge and consequential. As Stewart Butterfield, CEO and co-founder of Slack, told the BBC: “people are making new choices about where they want to live and creating new expectations about flexibility, working conditions and life balance that can’t be undone.”
One of the key takeaways from their research is that remote work is a net positive. When compared with traditional office work, the remote workers they surveyed reported higher levels of satisfaction for work-life balance, stress and anxiety levels, productivity, and work in general. This only has benefits for their employers.
Remote working models
When it comes to remote working, it’s clear there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. There are different remote working models which may suit various companies. The set-up you choose may depend on things like the industry your company operates in, the number of employees, the current location of employees, future hiring requirements, and so on.
Here’s a summary of the main remote working models you could consider:
No centralised office, all employees work completely remotely.
- No office cost
- No time zone restrictions
- More flexibility
- Worldwide hiring opportunities
- Increased need for proper documentation, which is a good practice
- Freedom for employees
- No/little opportunities to meet in person
- Difficult to create a strong company culture
- Difficult to schedule company-wide meetings
- Not possible/difficult to adopt other models in the future
A hybrid company will have an office available, but all employees have the flexibility to work from home or the office.
- More flexibility for employees
- Ability to meet in person
- Easier to create and maintain company culture
- Great for testing the benefits of remote work without fully committing
- Remote workers might get sidelined
- Time zone restrictions
- Some office costs remain
- Restricted hiring pool if occasional office presence is required
There are several office hubs around the globe, all working together as one company. Either with or without a headquarters. Employees are free to choose from which office they work and/or work from home.
- Ability to create different company cultures
- Better customer support coverage
- Increased need for proper documentation, which is a good practice
- Slightly bigger hiring pool
- Difficult to create a strong overall company culture
- Operationally challenging
- Frequent travel for leaders
- Difficult to schedule company-wide meetings
Establishing and maintaining company culture
Creating a strong company culture in any work setting is probably one of the larger challenges leaders and managers face. And in a remote workplace, something that already appeared intangible has seemingly lost the last bit of its foundation.
It’s also easy to dismiss culture as a bit of a buzzword. But every company has a culture – whether it’s heavily advertised on the website or just an unspoken understanding. It’s a hugely important aspect of a company and the type of environment it offers for its employees.
There are plenty of definitions or explanations of company culture, but it’s easiest to think of it as the personality of an organisation, determined by what the workplace stands for and used to guide what’s expected of employees. However you come to understand culture, remember one thing: it has the power to make or break a business. After all, employees are a huge asset to any business. They deliver work, grow teams, drive strategy – and more. But if your employees are unhappy, it’s unlikely they’ll do more than the bare minimum.
With a culture that promotes transparency, honesty, and recognition, employees can be happier. And if you can win over your employees with the right workplace culture, you’re much more likely to win in the marketplace.
That’s because loyal and passionate employees will go the extra mile. A study from the University of Warwick confirmed this:
Happy workers are
more productive than the average employee
Unhappy employees are
less productive than the average employee
Company culture in a remote setting
If you asked them to explain it, it’s likely there’ll be some common themes across different businesses’ cultures – whether they’ve officially confirmed their culture in writing anywhere or not. But it’s definitely better to guide the culture you want by having a company mission, vision, and core value statements. You might just opt for one, all three, or perhaps you’ll have different names for your statements. The important thing is that you’re sharing and promoting the same message across the company. Regardless of organisational size or remote working set-up, this consistency is important.
Company mission, vision, and core value statements
The first step in creating a strong remote company culture is having clear, inspiring company mission, vision, and core value statements. These can have a strong impact on your team, foster a strong work ethic, and create cohesion to guide everybody in the same direction. So, what are they?
A good mission statement is a short description of the organisation’s purpose, goals, and the sort of products/services it provides to help find solutions to specific problems. It’s a simple yet powerful statement that acts as a guiding light for company culture. In modern working culture, a clear purpose has become incredibly important to employees. Overall, a good mission statement explains in less than 100 words:
What you do
Why you do it
How you do it
Try to answer these questions when creating a mission statement. And aim to make it concise, outcome-oriented, and inclusive. Take a look at the following examples for some inspiration.
We grant the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions to enrich the human experience with hope, strength and joy.
Our mission is to unlock the potential of human creativity – by giving a million creative artists the opportunity to live off their art and billions of fans the opportunity to enjoy and be inspired by it.
To connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful.
While a company mission statement creates a sense of purpose in the present, a vision statement communicates where the company wants to be in the future. Vision statements function as roadmaps that guide each action of a company. A good vision statement should be:
Not too far in the future
People can’t see that far into the future
As uncomfortable as it may be, it should be clear if you succeeded or failed
Here are some examples of vision statements:
To be the most creative organisation in the world.
Create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce.
To accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.
A company’s values represent its desired behaviours and attitudes. Typically, they would be formulated by a leader in the company and passed down through time. But there’s no reason why you can’t get employees involved in setting company values.
When a company transitions to remote work, it might be necessary to reformulate the values to reflect the remote working culture. Some examples of important company values could include:
When you’ve successfully formulated the company mission, vision, and value statements, they can be broken down into actionable and measurable goals. That’s where employees from across the company can get involved. Goal setting can seem like a daunting task, but it helps to create alignment within the company, and encourages employees to feel connected to the wider business goals and mission.
OKRs (Objectives & Key Results)
An increasingly popular goal-setting methodology is the implementation of OKRs (Objective and Key Results). Companies like Google, Spotify, and LinkedIn use their OKRs to manage and grow their businesses. And for good reason – they can be incredibly effective.
In a nutshell, OKRs are a goal-setting framework that helps define and measure goals. They can be used at all levels of a company, from board to employee. In a remote setting, having clear goals is arguably more important as it helps everyone stay on the same page. You can encourage collaboration and ensure colleagues are regularly sharing progress on their OKRs. It’s important to share in each other’s success. Without providing an opportunity for employees to shout about what they’re up to, these achievements may become lost.
As well as being reported on often, objectives should be:
Linked to the company’s mission
Have 3-4 key results
Key Results should be:
Difficult but not impossible to achieve
Have actionable to-dos (can be limitless)
Examples of great OKRs:
OKRs are meant to be challenging, ambitious goals. A typical completion rate for OKRs may be somewhere between 60% and 80%. A lot of them may be aspirational goals, or moonshots, with a lower completion rate. The idea is that even if employees fail to reach their ‘moon’, where they end up will still be a huge achievement. They are a high-risk, high-reward type of OKR. Google even has its own “Moonshot Factory”, dedicated to chasing these big dreams.
So far, they’ve built self-driving cars (now a standalone company, Waymo), internet balloons (Loon), delivery drones (Wing), contact lenses that measure glucose in the tears of diabetics (Verily), and technology to store electricity using molten salt (Malta).
Your organisation may not be looking to deliver innovation on this scale, but moonshots offer an exciting opportunity to drive change that matters to your employees.
They can also choose to set commitment-style OKRs, or roofshots. One day we might look back and wonder what we did without delivery drones, but roofshots are more focused on the near-term company milestones which are essential to get done. For example, if you needed to release a new product, that would likely be a roofshot, not a moonshot.
However you and your employees choose to use OKRs, the benefits can include:
- Increased team engagement and motivation
- Tracking the progress of company, team, and employee goals
- Quantifiable results
- A focus on the results, instead of hours
- Transparent and aligned objectives
It’s clear to see that this alignment can be really powerful within a team that may be spread across multiple locations.
KPIs (Key Performance Indicators)
Very similar to OKRs, KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) are measurable values to demonstrate how effectively a company is reaching its vision. They are quantifiable, results-based statements that measure progress on goals and objectives.
The structure of a KPI includes:
Matches with measure and time period (usually a numeric value)
A data source
Clearly defined where and how each KPI is tracked
Different KPIs have different reporting needs (should be at least monthly)
KPIs should be developed in relation to Critical Success Factors (CSFs), key objectives, the company strategy, and company vision. A Critical Success Factor is a necessary qualitative element to achieve an objective. For example, customer relationship building to achieve sales objectives, high productivity to achieve operational objectives, or sustainability to achieve higher customer satisfaction. If you’re making the move to remote work, you may even be able to monitor the change in your KRs as employees adjust to a new way of working.
How to implement KPIs
- Identify measurable business performances areas
- Establish a target you wish to achieve
- Compare current performance with target
- Write a KPI that will help you achieve that target. KPIs should be SMART:
Specific – be clear about what it measures and why
Measurable – must be measurable to a defined standard
Achievable – the company should be able to deliver this KPI
Relevant – must measure something that matters and improves performance
Time-bound – achieved within an agreed time frame
- Review KPIs regularly
OKRs vs. KPIs, what is the main difference?
A great analogy to understand the fundamental difference between the two is that your company vision is the destination, OKRs are the GPS, and KPIs are the car dashboard. Ideally, you have both. For some companies, it might be difficult to allocate the necessary resources to implement them and measure them regularly – but if you’re working remotely, it’s a great way of gaining oversight and having distributed employees working in alignment.
Enhancing employee engagement
The great thing about goal setting is that it encourages employee engagement. When rolled out correctly, workers can really get behind shared aims. Your employees are your greatest asset. Keeping them engaged can truly make a difference to how successful your company is. A disengaged employee is only going to have a bad attitude and be unproductive. It all has a knock-on effect on your bottom line. In fact, according to Gallup, an employee with low engagement costs 18% of their annual salary, or £1,800 for every £10,000 they make. The formula is simple:
So it’s key to keep team members engaged and connected with the company, the team, and their work. In a remote setting, maintaining engagement becomes one of the biggest challenges for leaders and people managers. Goal setting is just one of the ways to maximise engagement.
Engagement strategy roadmap
First and foremost, to improve engagement, you have to listen to your employees. Create an environment where they feel comfortable being honest and you can begin to gauge where their current engagement levels are. They have to have a safe place to talk in order for decisions to be made about what’s needed to enhance or maintain engagement. That’s where our recommended roadmap starts:
- You need to know what your people need. The only way to find out is to ask. One efficient way of doing this is by distributing a survey. This is especially important if you recently made the transition to remote work.
- Depending on the responses, it can be useful to schedule 1-on-1s with several team members to get a more in-depth understanding of desires and/or issues.
- The survey(s) and 1-on-1s will provide you with enough data to identify what needs to change, what is missing, and what can go.
- Write an engagement strategy that addresses the above points.
- Make use of the right tools to make your life easier.
5. Create casual opportunities
- Use video conferencing for gatherings.
- Create fun communication channels.
- Ask team members to put in ideas as well.
6. Create a social calendar
- Invite everybody to a special social calendar, so they can stay up to date.
- Team members can opt-in to help you determine which activities are popular.
7. Schedule virtual check-ins
- To build and maintain relationships, have regular check-ins with all team members.
- Use video calling to make it engaging.
8. Send out annual employee engagement surveys
- These surveys are longer and therefore often have a lower response rate.
- Capture a moment in time.
9. Send out pulse surveys
- Regularly send 2-3 questions to gauge how employees feel.
- Start by focusing on the weakest areas of your work-from-home-surveys.
10. Repeat the process
Employees know that surveys give them a voice – so keep listening. When trying to maintain the engagement and happiness of employees, there should always be an emphasis on reviewing and learning from what’s working well and what isn’t. You may want to replace tools, renew the activities in the social calendar, or refresh the virtual check-ins. When it comes to employee engagement, it’s important not to stand still. It’s an ongoing task.
Luckily, there are plenty of tools which can help you. These include:
Company culture is about more than completing OKRs and working towards a shared vision. You’ll have noticed the suggestion to create a social calendar in the engagement roadmap above. We spend a huge amount of time with our colleagues – whether that’s in an office or on video calls. It’s nice to get along with them.
But you do have to create opportunities for people to socialise naturally. Don’t just rely on collaboration on work projects, otherwise some employees may never interact. Regular social opportunities organised by the company can have a great impact on working relationships.
For remote workplaces, you’ll be heavily reliant on virtual events. Fortunately, it’s a booming industry with lots of exciting opportunities to socialise virtually. You’ll easily find providers who offer online video games, board games, or game shows. Alternatively, you could create your own. This allows you to include a bit of a personal touch. For example, you could recreate the game show ‘Through the Keyhole’ by asking team members to send anonymous photos or videos of their homes for others to guess.
Some other interesting ideas include:
Shared cooking or drinking experiences
Shared crafting experiences
Virtual book, film, or music clubs
Sometimes simply creating breakout rooms for smaller groups to catch up in before a larger meeting is enough. You just want people to have a chance to talk about things other than work.
An obvious downside of remote teams is the lack of face-to-face interaction with colleagues. Nevertheless, it can happen in the form of smaller and shorter meetups or larger company retreats. It opens up the possibility for employees to get to know each other much better, which in turn increases cohesion and a sense of belonging.
You could organise a company retreat which focuses on something work-based, such as a hackathon. Or you could just make it fun. If it is possible for you to organise some in person, just remember the following aspects:
It could be anywhere, but choose a site that is easily accessible for everybody
Try not to overlap with celebrations, either cultural or familial
Look for a place that holds everybody, has a good internet connection, and provides a sense of privacy
Be respectful of people’s time
Perks and benefits
Developing a great employee benefits strategy can have a great impact on your company culture, employee wellbeing, and overall productivity. Of course, social opportunities and company retreats can be great perks, but there are plenty of other things you should be covering. Benefits can get a bit of a bad reputation when they’re hollow gestures, such as ping pong tables and free drinks, so it pays off for companies to explore and reassess their offerings.
After all, it’s something employees notice. According to MetLife Employee Benefit Trends Study 2020, 69% of employees say having a wider array of benefits would increase loyalty to their employer. The report also found that:
Ask yourself if your company offers enough benefits and if those benefits are fit for purpose. For example, if you’re new to remote working, it may be time to consider offerings such as a work-from-home allowance for office equipment or wellbeing services. Whether you’re based remotely or in an office, one-size-fits-all approaches are becoming outdated.
Types of benefits
Depending on the country, some benefits are mandatory by law. In the UK, these include:
20 days, plus bank holidays
Maternity or adoption leave
Up to 52 weeks of maternity leave, paid up to 39 weeks
Request for flexible working
After 26 weeks of employment, employees can request job sharing, working from home, part-time, flex-time, or compressed, staggered, or annualised hours
Paid from fourth day up to 28 weeks
One or two consecutive weeks of paid leave
Minimum contribution of 3% from the employer and 5% from the employee
Salary sacrifice benefits
These benefits enable employees to save for various products and services, with money taken out of their gross salary. In the UK, there are basically two types of schemes:
Benefit in Kind (BIK) exempt
allows employees to save up to 47%. E.g. cycle to work, workplace nursery, EV scheme & payroll giving.
allows employees to save up to 12%. E.g. techscheme, gymflex, car maintenance scheme.
Non-mandatory benefits or perks
Now we get to the interesting part. Benefits which go above and beyond the standard are your chance to really stand out and make an impact on the lives of your employees. It’s a great chance to attract and retain talent and increase employee wellbeing. You can, of course, choose which benefits to offer your employees, or you can place the power in their hands.
Increasingly, companies that want to go above and beyond are offering employees a flexible ‘allowance’ to give them control over their benefits. In a remote setting, there’s a huge case for this approach. Some benefits can rely on employees being close to certain facilities, or they might simply assume what employees will enjoy. Using a budget instead of specific benefits is a way of overcoming those challenges.
It also means rewards can evolve over time and offer something beneficial when it’s needed. For example, in our Benefit Outlook Survey, the top five new benefits companies are planning to add are arguably linked to the reality of life during a pandemic.
What new benefits are you adding over the next 12 months?
By adopting a flexible approach to benefits and rewards, you can adapt to different situations that arise, as well as reward employees as individuals.
After all, different benefits respond to various employee wants or needs. The most well-received rewards packages are likely to deliver a variety of benefits. Let’s take a look at some of the core areas perks can influence:
Health and wellbeing
Employers should be invested in having happy, healthy employees. And there are various ways benefits can be used to support the health and wellbeing of any team members, including:
- Private healthcare
- Online fitness classes
- Home office equipment
It’s rewarding for any employee to be supported in their own personal and professional growth – whether that’s for career development or to gain valuable life skills or assets. Examples include:
- Training for learning and development
- Financial wellbeing skills
Giving back and having fun
You can simply reward your staff with a bit of fun. It’s a perk to get something for free any day, but there are various ways you can use benefits to give back to your team:
- Retail discounts
- Additional holiday allowance
- Days off for special events, such as birthdays
- Allocated days for volunteering
These are just some examples of benefits you can offer your employees. Whether we’re operating in our professional or personal lives, we’re humans. An essential human need is recognition. Benefits can be used to recognise employees for a great job, but they also simply acknowledge that it’s a win-win for businesses to support and invest in certain aspects of an employee’s life. For example, equipping them with the right set-up to work comfortably from home, or providing them with financial support if they’re unwell. Offering the right benefits can ultimately create motivation to perform, and directs behaviours aligned with the company mission, vision, and values. So it’s perhaps no surprise that 30% of businesses are planning to increase their benefits budget, according to our survey.
As workplace environments continue to evolve, it’s also becoming clear that people value benefits differently. Here are the benefits different age groups want to see (in order of preference):
Of course, people of different ages are at various stages of their careers and will place different value on perks. That’s understandable. To maximise the value of your benefits for all employees, think about the following:
- Regularly consult your employees to see how they feel about their benefits
- Think about how age and other demographic factors may influence which benefits would be prioritised
- Summarise your company’s employment package and the value of benefits in a concise, user-friendly document
- Investigate what your competitors are offering and stay ahead of the game
- Don’t see benefits as a substitute for competitive salaries
- Consider allocating individual budgets to allow people to choose which products and services work best for them
For more in-depth information about benefits, take a look at Ben’s Guide to UK Benefits.
Wellbeing matters. If you treat your employees like robots, ignoring all of the emotions, requirements, and even limitations that humans have, you’ll end up running them into the ground. They won’t hang around for long. Wellbeing simply means the state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy. How one person enhances their wellbeing may be different from the next – for example, we all have different hobbies which bring us happiness. One person may run; another may knit. But there are some common themes when it comes to wellbeing.
An older, but well-cited, study found that when four basic needs were met, employees were “vastly more satisfied and productive.” The study was a result of The Energy Project teaming up with Harvard Business Review to conduct a survey of 12,115 workers. The four needs identified are:
Try to answer these questions when creating a mission statement. And aim to make it concise, outcome-oriented, and inclusive. Take a look at the following examples for some inspiration.
Employees need opportunities to renew and recharge their energy.
Being valued and appreciated at work is important.
Staff need the time and space to get their work done in a way that suits them.
Employees respond well to doing more of what they enjoy, and feeling part of something worthwhile.
All of these could be described as factors which contribute to wellbeing, so it helps to prove why it’s so crucial that employers take an active role in employee wellbeing. Ultimately, employee wellbeing and engagement are interconnected. If team members are engaged, it contributes to their wellbeing – and if team members are healthy, they are more likely to be engaged.
If done correctly, giving team members the possibility to work from home can increase employee wellbeing and engagement. That’s largely because it benefits people in the following ways:
Better work-life balance
Remote workers have a lot more flexibility and freedom with their time. Whether they decide to exercise or socialise more, the point is they have that choice. They’re no longer restricted by a long and stressful commute. A better balance between work and life can help employees meet those four basic needs on their own terms.
More time with family and friends
Employees who work from home have the opportunity to pack in more quality time with their loved ones. For people who have a family and kids at home, this can have a huge impact.
Being at home can help people make healthier choices. They can make their own lunch, rather than buying something processed, or choose to go on a long walk before work.
Potential cost savings
Commuting costs money. Depending on how people travelled to their office before, working from home could save them thousands each year.
Of course, as we’ve said throughout this guide, humans are individuals. But many people would love to enjoy these benefits of remote working – and more. For employees, it could be incredibly frustrating being forced back into an office after they’ve proved they can get the job done at home. In fact, 56% of employees have a job where at least some of what they do could be done remotely. Here are some more statistics:
of employees want to work from home at least some of the time
of employees would change jobs for the opportunity to work remotely full time (47% of Millennials and 31% of boomers)
There’s good news for these employees, though. Almost all 50 of the UK’s biggest employers questioned by the BBC have said they don’t plan to bring staff back to the office full-time. The coronavirus pandemic has created real change.
However, if no proper work structure is in place, working remotely can have a negative impact on employee wellbeing. For many employees, working remotely from home was a relatively new experience. National and global lockdown restrictions forced businesses to move quickly. It wasn’t the ideal scenario for rolling out remote working. Employees may have been working in uncomfortable workplace set-ups, dealing with new distractions, and potentially juggling childcare when the schools were shut. Lockdown burnout was a real issue.
But as things slowly and cautiously return to normal, for those companies who choose to continue remote working – either in a fully or hybrid set-up – there needs to be a real focus on ensuring employees are set up for success at home, not burnout. The financial cost of burnout is high. For companies, the lost hours and additional turnover cost (searching, hiring, and training) has an estimated cost of 33% of the annual salary of that employee. This means, for example, that the turnover of an employee making £34,000 costs £12,000. For society, the costs are enormous too. The Harvard Business Review estimated that burnout costs £90 to £135 billion in annual healthcare spending.
How to prevent burnout
One of the things to be wary of when working from home is having the boundaries between life and work blurred. In 2020, people working from home during lockdown spent more time on their jobs and were less likely to take time off sick, the Guardian reported.
This isn’t good news for businesses. It’s not a sustainable approach to work. It’s when people start to let work creep into their free time, and try to work through illness or poor wellbeing, that burnout can set in. But, in a remote setting, the symptoms of burnout might be hard to spot. So what can you do to prevent it among team members?
- Make sure the work environment is transparent, communication is open, and that the workload is manageable.
- Ensure realistic timelines to give people sufficient time to complete tasks.
- Ensure 1:1s with managers aren’t just focused on workload, but include a personal check-in. It’s not just work that can cause stress; employees have lives outside of the workplace.
- Help employees set healthy boundaries between life and work by setting clear expectations on working hours and response times. Ensure managers are setting the right example by following these guidelines too.
- Encourage an open, honest environment where employees feel comfortable admitting that they’re struggling.
- Make sure it’s commonplace to show appreciation within the workplace.
- Try to help everyone foster healthy behaviour outside of work (e.g. exercise, healthy food, meditation). Think about the role work can play in this.
Besides setting up a good company and leadership structure that fosters employee wellbeing, there are measures that each employee – and people in general – can take to keep their body and mind as healthy as possible.Although you can’t influence what your employees choose to do, there are ways employers can support employees to make better decisions. For example:
We all need around 7-9 hours of sleep per night. But it’s quite common to struggle to get plenty of rest. Work can be a distraction, so it’s important to make sure it doesn’t interrupt employee downtime. Having clear expectations around when employees are working and when they’re not can help. Try not to make it common practice for employees to check emails late in the evening.
Why not host company exercise classes? You could choose to do HIIT sessions, or try things like yoga and meditation. It can boost morale and create a chance for natural interaction and support within the team.
Be sure to check in with employees to find out if they’re fully supported in trying new things within their role.
Sufficient social interaction
Sufficient social interaction. Offices are surprisingly social places. People chat while making hot drinks, and enjoy in-person meetings. If your team works remotely, you have to intentionally create opportunities for people to socialise. After all, it is important for teams to get along. Try to organise regular things to look forward to.
Remote workplace set-up
To further support remote employee wellbeing, you need to investigate their workplace set-up. It might be inviting for team members to stay in pyjamas all day and work from the couch. However, we want our brains to understand it’s time to be productive, and therefore this should be the exception rather than the rule. A dedicated workspace is the way to go if we want to be productive when working from home.
Think about which set-up will make team members most successful at their job. The goal is to create an environment that triggers the mind into work mode. Think about things such as where should/can employees put their desk? Do they need a second screen? At what time do they work best – morning, afternoon, or evening?
To help you get started, take a look at this checklist and add additional items if you feel your employees would benefit from more. It’s a good idea to set aside a budget to help employees get set up properly at home.
You could also provide guidance on how to choose a good desk location, considering the following:
Employees can be professional at home. We’ve all experienced or seen some kind of accident on video calls during the pandemic. From kids bursting in, to the doorbell going, we’ve become accustomed to certain interruptions. But over time, and if remote working is here to stay for your business, you can help employees to get the right set-up to create an ideal environment for productivity.
Tips for your employees working from home
We’re all guilty of letting bad habits creep in. Working from home does require a bit of discipline. Employers can provide working from home budgets and set clear expectations on communications, but it is down to employees to make it work for them. It helps to share advice on creating the ideal working environment, such as:
We all procrastinate from time to time. But it’s important to try to reduce the number of things that could distract you from your work. You can try to:
- Find a quiet room or zone to work from
- Be ‘offline’ from communications for a certain time in order to focus
- Install browser extensions to block unwanted websites
- Dedicate time for a lunch break so that you return ready to focus
- Turn off all unrelated work notifications (social media, personal email, etc.)
Dress for work
Not only is it important if you have frequent video calls, but it does generally make you feel more productive and in the right headspace for working.
Create a work schedule
Routine can make all the difference to your day. Don’t just get up and turn on your computer. Have some breakfast, and get ready for the day in the same way you would if you were travelling to an office. Make sure you also schedule regular breaks and have a clear end to your working day.
Plenty of people find time tracking helps them to stay on schedule and get an overview of productivity. You can learn a lot about what’s eating up your time and reassess how to prioritise your schedule.
Practical advice for implementing remote working
So, you think remote working is a great idea and you want to look after your employees. You’ve got plenty of ideas, but still aren’t sure how it’ll work in reality. You’re not alone. Going partly or fully remote can be frightening. It’s a big adjustment – but there’s plenty of planning and preparation you can do to make it a smooth transition.
Creating the right company culture that fosters employee engagement and prevents burnout is important in all types of organisations. Another important part of creating the best possible remote work arrangement is creating an environment that makes collaboration easy, efficient, and effective. For this, the right technological tools should be in place and team members should know how to use them. Luckily, the options are vast and customisation endless.
We’ve broken down some common options – as well as some tips on how to make the most of them – based on what they can help your organisation with:
- For communication
- For productivity
- For digital or cloud organisation
- For IT and security
- Other notable tools
Communication is key to building successful relationships (personal, professional, or otherwise) and turning ideas into actions. In a remote setting, the amount of people involved increases, while the available communication cues significantly decrease. This means you need to put in extra effort to compensate.
These applications let you create channels, which you can dedicate to the whole company or specific teams, projects, and ideas, effectively creating transparency and cohesion. Additionally, it’s possible – and recommended – to create non-work related channels to encourage friendly interactions.
Regardless of the tool chosen, team members can choose to get message notifications when they are at work. However, it’s important to disable notifications after working hours, during the weekend, and during holidays. This helps to set work-life boundaries and forces people to unplug.
Some corporate instant messaging applications include:
Writing instant messages is great for small chunks of information, but sometimes it’s necessary to completely synchronise the communication and increase the human connection that can be lacking in a remote setting. In these cases, it’s best to opt for video conferencing.
Remote business meetings highly depend on these technologies because they are the closest we can get to an actual face-to-face meeting in a remote setting. However, just as with regular meetings, video meetings can be time and energy consuming. Therefore, it’s important to make them as effective as possible. Certain steps can significantly increase their effectiveness, including:
- Set a meeting goal – understand the “why” of the meeting
- Create a clear meeting agenda – set priorities
- Invite the right people
- Communicate what team members need to prepare
- Be action-oriented
- Create a bit of time for chitchat at the beginning/end of the meeting
- Record the meeting for people who cannot make it and for future reference
- Use an online whiteboard
- Create follow-up tasks
Video conferencing applications include:
In any company, you’re better off valuing output over “time in the seat”. Employees will only become frustrated with excessive time sheets or having to regularly check in. It makes it seem like you don’t trust them. So how do you make sure your team is as productive as possible?
Often, the first step is to create a centralised workspace for all team members by opting for one of the many project management tools. These tools are designed to help employees get autonomy over their work, align workflows, set priorities, and keep track of company goals.
Project management tools include:
Depending on each employee’s role, there are various job-specific tools which may help. For example: using Hootsuite to schedule social media posts, or Google Alerts for your latest press coverage. Look for tools which replace repetitive manual tasks with automation.
Knowing what you spend your time on can be invaluable for employees looking for ways to improve their productivity. We often don’t realise how much time we’re wasting in meetings or replying to emails. Getting that insight with time tracking tools such as Toggl or Rescue Time can help employees make smarter decisions about how they’re using their time.
Each team member should make use of a calendar to keep track of meetings and other work events. Besides that, it’s possible to create team calendars to keep updated about important team events. In many cases, calendars are integrated in a business suite package that includes other applications such as email, video conferencing, and cloud storage.
Have you ever wasted time re-reading emails or posts for errors? Editing tools such as Grammarly will check your spelling and grammar for you.
Digital or cloud organisation
Equally important as a clear communication policy and a centralised workplace is an impeccable organisation that creates streamlined workflows. For this, you need to have a logical information infrastructure; remote workers should not have to search for long to get the information they need.
The best way is to give everybody access to the company cloud in which each department has their own folder(s). Department folders should hold (nearly) everything the specific department needs. A specific folder or file that’s required by various departments can be duplicated. Give each folder and file a name that is sufficiently descriptive and logical, yet easy to remember.
The cloud is also the place where all important documents about processes, policies, and culture should be located.
Cloud solutions include:
IT and security
Remote work became more dominant in 2020, and so did cyberattacks on businesses. Depending on the type of company, it’s crucial to keep your data well protected while giving employees easy access to the information and tools they need. Plenty of tools can help:
Remote access tools
Maximising security is something worth exploring in more depth with an IT expert to ensure your employees and data are well protected. But there’s plenty of best practice advice for remote companies to consider right away:
- Allocate a security budget
- Provide employees with work devices (computer, phone, tablet) instead of using their own devices, to increase security
- Set up the relevant security software on these devices
- Provide remote access tools to safely access devices from a distance
- Require employees to use authentication methods, preferably multi-factor authentication
- Give access to confidential or sensitive information based on an employee’s role and level of responsibility
- Make sure employees keep their devices patched and updated
- Make use of a VPN
- Use a password manager to create unique and difficult passwords for their accounts
- Regularly change passwords
- Create an easy to understand IT & security manual that includes the most common problems and the corresponding solutions
- Have dedicated IT support ready
The tools mentioned above are absolutely crucial, and for most businesses will be the bare minimum necessary to have your remote team functioning successfully. However, there are many additional tools that can help optimise your specific company and workflow, such as:
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If you have any questions, particularly around how you can (and should) engage, reward and recognise your fantastic employees, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.