By Mark Scott, CEO at Cantium Business Solutions.

Organisations up and down the country are getting to grips with the switch to remote working in the midst of a pandemic, which is set to change the way we work forever. Drawing on his experience of migrating his own team to home working, as well as supporting customers to do so, Mark shares his insights on how to make it a success.

Have a little faith

Managers may be worried or even frustrated that they’ve lost the constant visibility and face-to-face interactions they once had with their employees. But the best thing leaders can do right now is to put their trust and confidence in their employees. Staff will do the right thing and remain productive, but only if they have a supportive structure and processes in place that allow them to work flexibly. Managers need to be aware of this and ensure that reasonable adjustments are made to support staff.

Focus on outcomes

Managers should switch their focus to monitoring outputs, and pay attention to what tasks are being completed. In the absence of face-to-face contact, outputs are now one of the only ways to find evidence of performance. As many people juggle family and work and commitments in their own homes, it can leave them lacking focus. It’s very easy to disconnect when working from home, so guidelines need to be clear from the start, so that staff know what’s expected of them in terms of contact, recording tasks, and updating the team on work. This needs to be followed up with regular check-ins so that managers can gain a realistic picture of how the current outbreak is impacting members of staff.

Additionally, equipping employees with the technology they need to be successful will help them to feel engaged and empowered to work more effectively. Laptops, mobile phones, remote access to systems and collaboration platforms such as Microsoft Teams facilitate seamless interactions. Providing the right tools for the job will help to ensure that staff are engaged and focused.

Don’t reinvent the wheel

Being flexible doesn’t change a business’ core principles. Processes will remain the same. It’s how they’re being delivered that’s changed. Whether it’s a promotion or performance management review, these activities still need to go ahead – just ensure that they’re being delivered in a structured way. Utilise technology. Where there are constraints, try and keep those processes as close to the original format as possible.

This isn’t about reengineering every process. Instead it’s about looking at tasks such as onboarding and understanding what the difference will be if it was carried out over video.

Promote conversation

Core functions such as HR have an essential role to play in supporting staff during this time and regular contact will help employees to understand how they are being cared for. Now more than ever, face-to-face contact allows managers to see people, read their expressions and gain an understanding of the challenges and concerns facing staff. But there’s no reason that working relationships can’t be sustained through tools such as video-conferencing.

Having the right technology in place will help to effectively support the workforce; empowering them to embrace flexible working but also work in a way that are easiest and most productive for them.

If it works today then why won’t it work tomorrow

Organisations that return to the normal 9-5 following the pandemic are likely to be left behind and will feel the pinch for not offering a level of flexibility. We’ve already seen a desire for remote working from the millennial generation. The current situation has introduced many more people to the concept, and will spur on those who were perhaps more sceptical.

Whether or not businesses will need large office spaces going forward is up for debate. The majority will always need an office of some sorts, as it’s a way to cultivate culture and a way of providing a focal point to bring people together.

While some staff will have adapted well to a home-based approach to working, there will be others who have struggled to get on board with it. It’s important that the working environment caters for all, so when evaluating this enforced period of flexible working try not to take a broad and sweeping view. Instead, perhaps look at sending out a survey asking employees how many days a week they’d be comfortable working in the office.

Ultimately, for flexible working to be successful it needs to be backed up with a culture that supports it. This is something that needs to be driven from the top down and embraced by leaders. For those just starting out on their journey towards flexible working, be warned: it isn’t an easy road and it won’t happen overnight. It’s something that needs to be worked on over time and will take a collaborative effort from everyone involved.