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Work from Home or Return to Work?

Are your employees still working from home?

As the country learns to live with Covid, business owners up and down the country also face the challenge of organising their companies in such a way as to flourish in the new reality. The biggest headache for many is the extent to which they facilitate, or even encourage, working from home (WFH).

This article doesn’t presume to tell business leaders what to do, but rather to suggest some questions they should ask themselves and things they should bear in mind as they formulate a policy that’s right for them and their business. Should they encourage employees to return to work or continue working from home?

First, some observations

There is increasing evidence that meeting physically is of considerably more benefit for certain types of meeting. Brainstorming or thinking creatively is definitely better face to face, whereas more routine management meetings are probably more efficient online, especially for a group with a wide geographical spread.

Many companies are trialling a hybrid arrangement that involves bringing people into the office regularly to maintain culture and team spirit whilst retaining the benefit of flexibility that many employees have grown to enjoy by working at home.

Tips for Business Leaders To Deal With These Changes

  • Talk to the team before you make any big policy changes. What would they like to see from the company in terms of support, policy and ongoing review? Consulting the team will reinforce your culture - assuming your culture thinks looking after the staff is a good idea, of course! Even when you’ve made the decision – make sure to review it regularly. Let your team know that you and they can change their minds.
  • Your culture may change with team members being more spread out. That’s ok. Focus on maintaining your values in a way that reflects your ideal culture. Maybe that’s through increased group calls or regular get togethers (even if it’s just social and not work).
  • Ask yourself to what degree having staff working from the same place underpins the way of working/culture of the business (e.g. collaboration, informal communication, ad hoc mentoring, brainstorming/problem-solving, onboarding of new staff)?
  • Don’t underestimate the importance of the informal interactions between staff that are impossible when working from home. Good examples would be water-cooler chats and the conversations that happen between meetings where feedback can be given, or questions asked by a leader to a team member.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • How has the customer experience been affected working from home? What is the likely impact on customers of any permanent changes in working arrangements?
  • Is there evidence that working from home is having an adverse impact on productivity? Either way, productivity should be measured and monitored objectively against quantifiable KPIs so that both the business owner and the employee can see their contribution to the business. Happy employees are generally productive employees.
  • What is the capability and confidence of team leaders to effectively manage a dispersed team and what tools do they have at their disposal?
  • How has employee learning and development been affected during the pandemic? L&D is critical to business success and must be continued. If so, there is a strong argument for returning to work. It can be very difficult for junior staff to learn on the job or by osmosis when working from home.

A few practicalities 

  • Ensure that your employees are set up correctly for working from home. Check to see that there is adequate space in the home for a desk, chair, laptop, communications device, printer etc.
  • Do they have good lighting, does the space create any hazards? It may be worth retaining someone with relevant experience to do a home visit to make sure things are safe and workable.

For more details on these matters, here are some good resources from Allianz on homeworkers welfare and Clyedeco's research on mental health and homeworking.

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