When the world suddenly changed as a result of COVID-19, businesses were forced to allow their staff to work from home, many for the first time. As employees now start heading back to the office, experts are anticipating that requests to work remotely, at least some of the time, will increase.
At SalesFix, I have always promoted an outcome and results focused organisation that encourages flexible working conditions. Our expectation is that, broadly speaking, a third of an employee’s time will be working from home, a third will be working from the office, and a third will be working on client sites. That being said, it’s important to balance this expectation against customer needs which is where flexibility comes in.
While it may seem that we’ve got an advantage given we work with Salesforce which is a cloud based system, even in the manufacturing industry or supply chain management, you still have office workers, whether that be in finance, accounts or sales. Unless you’ve got your hands on the shop floor, touching or building products, the reality is you can work from home.
Of course having the ability to work from home and a leadership team that supports this concept, can cause issues. Many employers have concerns around productivity but I have always found that the benefits, to both the employee and the business, have outweighed these concerns.
Generally speaking our staff are more productive. Where they would traditionally get in the car to travel to work, leaving home at eight to start work at nine for example, now they sit down at their work desk at eight and begin work, often continuing to work until they finish the job at hand. So what was unproductive commute time becomes productive business time, which also leads to free time back to the employee.
Now I’m not saying every day is perfect as we all struggle to varying degrees and at different times to keep mentally on top of our game. On a particular day you may or may not get two hours less productivity out of the team, or you might feel that they’re not working as hard. I have found though that, over the course of a week or month, they’re actually working for a longer period of time because they’re not having to travel, or they are working differently which is more productive for them. There are a lot of studies that say some people work really well in the morning, while others work really well at night. As long as we as a business are able to achieve what we need to do as an outcome and our customer satisfaction levels are high, I encourage the team to make it work for them.
As a professional services business, we need staff to fill in timesheets to monitor the success or costs of servicing our customers. However, logging time on our timesheet is not what I necessarily use as a measure of success. I tend to look at the team as a whole: are they meeting team targets? Are the customers happy? Are the customers SLA’s being met?
Like most organisations, we have a reasonable level of supervision but we don’t watch everything our staff are doing. Instead, we rely on individuals to give their teammates the respect to do the right thing, which connects to our strong overarching values such as team spirit and contribution. That being said, all staff have a line manager who touches base with them regularly through conversations, daily stand ups, and weekly huddles, for example.
As a business we’ve found daily stand ups are great for checking in on the well being of people and keeping track of what’s going on. What did you say you were going to achieve yesterday and did you achieve it? What have you got to do today? By having these conversations every day you will quickly pick up problems arising such as “I was going to do this and I didn’t do it”. These conversations aren’t necessarily about accountability, they’re a good way to identify what the blockers are and how to resolve them.
One of the other issues around remote working is the loss of connection within the team. This is where having an online collaboration tool is essential. We use Remo as our Virtual Office while others are using Zoom or Microsoft Teams. All of these are more than just text based systems which simply don’t hold up to the interaction you get with live video streaming.
When we moved to working entirely remotely due to COVID-19, I fully expected to lose some of the personal interactions within the team like sharing experiences and hearing the conversations between each other and customers. Previously we might have had these conversations going on in our Brisbane office, and in Melbourne, and in the Philippines separately, but using an app like Remo, we’ve actually got them occurring across all three offices, and have unwittingly become one team because of that.
The other thing that we definitely encourage is a healthy home work environment. We ask staff to take photographs of their home office environment, because sitting at a chair at the dining table is not acceptable long term. Sitting at an office chair at the dining room table is barely acceptable. Sitting at an office desk, on an office chair is strongly encouraged. Or even better, a standing desk. I’ve got a variable desk so I can do a bit of both. We also make sure every employee has at least one full size monitor as part of their set up. It’s not acceptable to see them sitting over their laptop.
As we start to come out of the COVID period, it is my opinion that the workplace landscape will change significantly with a lot of organisations who might have previously hesitated about remote working now realising it wasn’t so hard after all. By going back to ‘old ways’ and not embracing flexibility around remote working, I truly believe you will lose the best employees in the marketplace, which is something no employer wants to do.