James Bell, Customer Experience and Production Director of Mitrefinch, discusses how employers can maximise efficiency during periods of mass remote working in the wake of coronavirus
As the situation with coronavirus Covid-19 escalates and we enter the ‘delay’ phase of the government’s plan of action, UK companies will be encouraged to prevent the spread of the illness through the introduction of remote working measures. There have already been calls in the media for employees to work from home of their own accord. But what can be done to maximise efficiency in your workforce during this difficult time?
This article offers advice and support to businesses affected by remote working during the Covid-19 outbreak. We’ll begin by exploring some ways of ensuring that communication channels remain open and tasks stay on track, then conclude with a section on ensuring that coworkers continue to collaborate from home.
Maintain effective communication
The first step towards maintaining effective communication throughout the remote working period is to ensure that all staff members are using the same software to talk to each other. Whichever product suite your organisation uses, every employee should be on the same page and communicating through the same channels.
Contact should be kept up through the regular platforms such as email and internal messaging systems, but it is also vital to step up communication via phone calls and video chats. In the absence of face-to-face conversations, phone and video contact help to prevent any miscommunication of messages that might occur through emails alone.
Put together a document containing guidelines on communication whilst remote working. Your instructions should emphasise which communication channels staff should be using, as well as scheduling in regular update calls and outlining a timeframe in which employees should reply to emails and other forms of messaging.
In situations where particular employees need to be on certain calls or video meetings, make the relevant parties aware well in advance and ensure that their calendars are updated to reflect this; when working from home, it can be easy to lose track of important calls and upcoming meetings, but you can prevent this by making use of a shared calendar system.
Monitor the progress of tasks
Once all staff are aware of upcoming meetings or calls and using the same means of communication, managers will find it much less complicated to monitor the progress of tasks whilst remote working. With communication accounted for, staff will be able to check in with each other on a regular basis and keep assignments on track. Whilst this may feel like micromanagement, frequent contact between the business and its employees can prove to be reassuring for both parties in reality.
Equally, companies should endeavour to maintain existing progress monitoring procedures. If you use a project management platform, instruct your employees to continue updating the status of all of tasks as they would under normal conditions. Issues often arise when a staff member neglects to keep others up to date with a piece of work when working from home, particularly with projects that involve sequential tasks and multiple employees.
Despite the fact that the workforce is no longer under one roof, managers should be clear with setting objectives and timeframes in which work is to be completed. These goals should be communicated openly through a platform that everyone can access – in practice, this may mean providing employees with access to the intranet by allowing them to connect to the company’s local area network (LAN) from home.
In addition to keeping staff on track with tasks, managers must keep them engaged throughout the process: for example, public recognition through an instant messaging system or social media can help employees to feel a sense of achievement when they have completed a particular piece of work. Morale and motivation could be undermined by the Covid-19 situation, so positive reinforcement is an essential management tool.
Continue to collaborate
In a normal office environment, team members can easily move about to facilitate collaborative work, whether this simply involves helping a coworker out with a difficult task or brainstorming ideas for strategy development. With the entire workforce cooped up in their homes, they may begin to feel isolated and levels of collaboration could drop off.
Collaboration can still be achieved during remote working periods, but only if staff are encouraged to reach out to each other through conference calls or video chats. It’s a good idea for management to instigate such collaborative sessions from the outset to get the ball rolling, then contact employees on a regular basis to ensure that they are still taking place.
In order for collaborative work to be carried out, it is essential that all members of your organisation have easy remote access to any data and documents that they may need. Make sure that some form of file-sharing system is in place and accessible to everyone before the remote working period begins. Although 93% of UK businesses already use a cloud computing service, now is the time to act if your company isn’t yet on the cloud.
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