COVID-19: Preparing your workforce for long-term remote working

Remote working is not a new idea. As the sophistication of technology and digital communication tools has continued to increase in recent years, so too has the adoption of this flexible working style across the globe.

Though in light of the unprecedented times we now find ourselves in, even businesses who are already au fait with facilitating remote working from time-to-time are facing significant challenges as the wider workforce is compelled to settle into this practice for the longer term.

Whether you’re among those organisations with an infrastructure already in place, or this is your first foray into supporting a flexible workforce, we offer 4 sound strategies for HR to prepare their employees for what may be months of remote working.

1. Review or devise your remote working policies

Many HR leads have witnessed a huge transition from supporting those occasionally working from home, to now having most, if not their entire workforce, carrying out their roles remotely. Despite numerous organisations having strong business continuity plans already in place, navigating the practical adjustments of remote working in this current climate has brought a whole new set of complexities.

Getting employees set up with the right equipment and software at home has been the number one priority for many companies. Though now is also a good time to either create or revisit your working-from-home policies to help manage employees’ expectations moving forwards. This should outline the best practices to follow, such as security procedures and equipment use, as well as performance expectations, working patterns, health and safety, the legal rights of remote employees, and who to contact for support or any concerns.

You can then easily communicate these policies through noticeboards or a messaging app, or by simply sending a weekly company update email to the wider workforce, sharing changes in line with the government guidelines. Alternatively, if you have an HR system already in place, you can utilise this as a platform for distributing those crucial business communications.

2. Establish the right HR tools to get the updates you need from employees

Communication has never been more key as the nation goes into a state of lockdown, facing prolonged periods of isolation. And many employees will not only be juggling remote working with caring for their housebound families but also keeping themselves fit and healthy to the best of their ability.

As the lines between living and working arrangements continue to blur, it is important for HR to be kept abreast of any changes in circumstances.

Sickness absence is continuing to rise rapidly across the UK during the current pandemic – have you considered how to make it easy for staff to report key information if they are unwell or in self-isolation? By implementing simple processes and tools to facilitate this, employees needn’t spend more than a couple of minutes informing the HR department of COVID-19 related absence.

Another consideration during this new era of remote working relates to ensuring you can get in touch with your staff should the need arise. This is especially crucial in the current climate. Have you checked recently whether all of your employees’ emergency contact information is up to date? With the right technology, you can enable your entire workforce to update these details quickly and easily.

In addition, you could think about equipping line managers with a live sheet for daily check-ins, so that they can do a quick register-style catch-up with their teams to see who and who isn’t working on any given day. This simple approach will allow for far greater workforce planning in the coming months, as more of your employees and their families become affected by the current outbreak.

3. Continue to engage and develop your remote workforce

Keeping levels of morale and engagement high is essential during these uncertain times, especially as the economy grows increasingly more unpredictable.

Just because working practices have taken on quite a new look in the upcoming weeks/months, it doesn’t mean that you can’t continue to invest in and upskill your workforce. Fortunately, the days of being limited to just classroom style face-to-face learning are long gone and with the latest eLearning technology, you can still keep up the momentum of your planned training to a remote workforce delivered all online.

Whether that’s topical COVID-19 training to help support your workers in the current climate or to help employees continue to meet their role-specific learning objectives, there are a multitude of tailored options available. What’s more, as workloads and schedules may now be in a state of flux, topping up on training might actually be time well spent.

4. Provide structure to help maintain business focus

The leaders in your workforce are currently in the challenging yet prime position to keep employees both upbeat and working in a (loose) daily routine whilst at home. To maintain high levels of productivity and reduce the risk of tasks being missed or duplicated, encourage line managers to set up regular meetings with their teams. This could be in the form of quick online daily ‘stand-ups’ in the morning or afternoon to identify progress on projects, address any potential blockers and ensure continued collaboration between team members.

A discussion forum is another option that can be utilised throughout the day, helping teams to not only stay in touch with one another but also share ideas and offer support on tasks where needed.

Whilst a sense of routine has, for many, fallen by the wayside, HR and leaders can utilise numerous digital tools to emulate an office-based workplace structure, making it still possible to achieve the desired business outcomes. Not to mention providing a remote working culture where employees can continue to bring their best.

Navigating the changes

Though remote working for the longer-term is a step into the unknown for businesses worldwide, there are a number of practical solutions, aided by technology, that can help HR teams to gradually normalise these new working practices and streamline communications moving forward. Not to mention whilst continuing to keep productivity and engagement levels high for your remote employees.

Tim Needham
HR Industry Expert
The Access Group, UK