Australia is one of just a small handful of countries that’s been able to safely return to some degree of
normalcy – only to have it interrupted once again. On top of that, when it comes to employment – many
weren’t that keen to return to the office back when it was entirely possible.
According to last year’s research by the Boston Consulting Group, most working Australians decided to stay in the ‘new normal’ mood, keen to incorporate at least some degree of remote working into their normal routine.
It is clear that, with the nation struggling to keep the COVID-19 crisis under control, the new normal mood is still on. What this means for businesses is that it’s time to shift away from those early emergency measures – that were first put in place when remote work was thought to be a temporary stop-gap – and instead introduce new, more long term solutions to boost engagement in remote employees, facilitate ongoing productivity, and ultimately help your team to stay on the right track.
Here are 5 techniques for keeping your team on track that have become staples by now, but could use a refresher:
1. Encourage Employees to Create a Dedicated Workspace
At first, the most important aspect of quickly implementing a remote working policy was to ensure that teams were able to carry out their duties from home – even if that meant working from the sofa or the bed! The problem with continuing with this long term is that research shows that working Australians are finding it increasingly difficult to switch off and separate their work and home lives.
As early as last year’s spring, market research by Roy Morgan concluded that remote workers were finding it much harder to switch off than those who don’t conduct any work from home, suggesting that home working is a big driver of the problem. And so, as remote working became a big part of the new normal, some employees needed to free up space in their homes to create a sustainable home office.
Businesses should be encouraging workers to create a dedicated workspace that helps them to separate their work and home lives a little better. In this case, that means helping them to get rid of items they don’t need or finding storage solutions – anything to help them create a more spacious, more comfortable, and better-organised home office in the long term.
2. Ensure Your Teams are Comfortable
If your teams look set to be working from home for the foreseeable future, it’s vital that they can work comfortably. Once again, the primary concern for most businesses during the crisis was continuity; as the situation develops, employers have more time to focus on employee experience.
Now is the time to provide remote workers with a good ergonomic setup to keep your people happy, healthy, and on track. What each worker requires to keep them on track will differ, but it’s important not to get too caught up in the idea of ‘ergonomics’ in terms of decluttering, altering home decor, or providing work equipment. Ergonomics is related to efficiency and comfort, and incorporates a huge range of ideas – including wellbeing and support.
3. Upgrade Your Team Equipment
Many organisations found that they were initially able to keep their teams on track simply with the help of a phone and a laptop, and very little else. Now, however, teams need more if they are expected to continue working from home in the long term, and bring productivity rates back to former office levels.
If you haven’t already upgraded your teams’ remote working equipment, then this should now be a priority. For example, external webcams can replace the grainy images provided by low-cost laptop cams, helping to make it easier for employees to communicate and collaborate. Similarly, upgrading communications software to enable teams to attend virtual meetings could be beneficial. What your team needs will largely depend on their role within the company, the industry you work in, and their existing home office setup. This means that asking employees what they need and listening to their feedback is essential.
4. Introduce More Flexibility
When teams first started working from home, many managers attempted to transfer the standard in-office processes and protocols to the remote working environment. And, as you most likely already noticed, this doesn’t always work. Office processes don’t always translate well to home working situations.
It’s a basic fact of life that there are more day-to-day distractions in the home than there are in the workplace, and this is especially true in terms of daily family life during the pandemic. The Australian Institute of Family Studies notes that childcare arrangements have changed drastically.
As the survey shows, the amount of children in approved daycare, being looked after by a nanny or babysitter, or being cared for by family or friends has dropped significantly since the COVID-19 outbreak, with parents now acting as the main childcare providers alongside managing their own work tasks.
Expecting working parents to maintain their previous schedules while juggling other responsibilities is perhaps the quickest and easiest way to have them fall off track. Instead, employers should be trying to introduce more flexibility, allowing teams to create schedules that work for them, and for the business. Focus on output – how much work is produced – rather than getting everyone to stick to strict processes.
5. Recognition And Feedback
If your team does look to be heading off track, it’s natural to become frustrated at the situation. However, it’s important to keep in mind that while the ‘new normal’ looks like it’s here to stay, in many ways it is still just that – new. Your team isn’t going to get the transition 100% right 100% of the time, so as an employer or a team leader, the most important thing that you can do to keep your team on track is to recognise excellence, and give constructive feedback when processes aren’t working quite as expected.
Try not to assign blame, or make your team feel that their efforts aren’t appreciated. But do speak up when things aren’t working, and do have the confidence to suggest alternative processes that might make it easier for your team to conduct their tasks from home. Don’t forget, it’s new to everyone!
Keeping Your Team on Track
The truth is that there’s no ‘one size fits all’ here. While the above tips may be beneficial, it can’t be stressed enough how important it is for employers and team leaders to simply – listen.
Invite employees to share their views on working within the new normal, ask them what they need, and look for early signs that your team is starting to deviate from the track they should be on. Involve your team; treat them as key stakeholders. By doing what’s best for them, you’ll find that this naturally drives what’s best for your organisation, too.