Through this crisis period, managing your relationship with employees is more important than ever. Working from home is a new concept for many and it’s easy for engagement to drop off at the time it is most needed. Although employers have been given more discretion over when and how they return to work, many are planning on continuing to work from home in the near future, as well as starting to integrate it into plans for a 'new normal'.
Read this factsheet to understand how your business can support staff while working from home, based on tips and anecdotes from across the business community.
What’s the latest information and insight?
From 1 August, employers have been given more discretion over how to keep their staff safe - which means it's up to individual businesses as to whether they make their workplaces COVID-safe or continue to enable employees to work from home. For many, it will continue to be a mixture of both - and it's important for businesses to take steps to support employees continuing to work from home.
Three guiding principles to support employees to work from home
Keep up communication with your workforce and ensure that information is tailored to each team
Regular, tailored communications are key
It is important to maintain contact with staff while everyone is working from home. Once an initial set of communication on government guidance has been carried out, it can be easy to let this tail off – instead, keep talking and communicate on next steps for the business. This should be a mixture of formal and informal communication, with information tailored to teams.
- Some businesses are finding it useful to tailor communication through different channels in the organisation. This could include dispersing some information through company wide calls and Q&A’s with leaders in the organisation, as well as using managers to communicate messages to their team in a way that is tailored and relevant for them
- Other organisations have tailored communications to their workforce in different ways, such as sending out paper-based newsletters for those who don’t use email, or sharing the latest government guidance along with helpful tips and tricks to help manage their daily lives (e.g. advice on how to cancel their gym membership or sky sports subscriptions).
A lot of businesses are finding it useful to regularly survey staff to gauge employee sentiment. They are a useful and relatively low-cost tool to find out how best to support employees while out of the office.
- Some businesses have told us they find it helpful to launch surveys weekly or every few weeks that focus on different themes such as technology, health and well-being, or flexibility.
Meet informally to boost morale
Organising informal social meetings are a great way to foster a sense of office culture and boost morale.
- Examples from the business community have included: setting up office hangouts, pub quizzes, lunch dates and online award ceremonies. Some have also created easy to use mobile apps as a place to socialise, attend webinars, find help sheets, and health and wellbeing pages
- Other businesses have reflected that apps such as Yammer, Microsoft Teams and Slack have been great for employees interacting and keeping in touch.
Managers should establish a sense of normal structure within their team
Managers have a key role to play in supporting employees to work from home. This is a hugely challenging time for everyone for different reasons. For many, it’s worrying about balancing work with caring responsibilities, for others it’s dealing with feeling alone or increasingly isolated. Managers should encourage employees to be as transparent as possible about their situation and be sympathetic to the flexibility they may need.
Many businesses have worked to try and establish a sense of normal culture within their team. This may include holding regular 1-2-1’s, providing over- the- phone feedback, and ensuring that performance reviews are going ahead as normal. The key is to hold these meetings over the phone or virtually face- to- face, rather than over email.
- Some businesses have thought of new ways to offer development opportunities to their staff as part of performance reviews. Ideas have included e-learning resources, mentoring opportunities, contributing to webinars, and chairing online meetings
- A few firms have invested in extra training on how best to manage remote teams as well as creating social groups for managers to discuss tips and tricks about what is working well in their teams while working from home.
Businesses should provide additional equipment where needed and create digital ‘how to’ help sheets for their staff
In light of recent government advice, businesses should do what they can to provide equipment for employees as far as reasonably possible. Firms should be transparent about what equipment is available and provide additional technology where possible and most needed. Managers should be encouraged to check in with their teams to find out if there is anything additional they need.
- For businesses who are not able to provide more equipment (due to availability or financial concerns), some have provided digital passes to enable employee’s’ home PCs to log into company systems
- Many firms have also created various documents and ‘how to’ help sheets to support colleagues on various topics such as ‘managing meetings remotely’
- Others have set up IT hotlines for employees to call if they are having trouble.
Frequently asked questions
How should businesses communicate with staff who have been placed on furlough?
- The government has been clear that as soon as an employee is furloughed, they should not be doing any work for the organisation until their furlough period officially ends
- This means that any communication with employees must be non-work related
- Employers may ask furloughed employees whether they would like to stay in contact via their personal email addresses. If they agree, some organisations have set up WhatsApp groups or newsletters to share information such as wellbeing guidance
- It is important to check with the your legal and HR representatives first before communicating with furloughed employees.
What health and safety obligations do employers have?
- Employers have the same health and safety responsibilities for home workers as for any other workers, whether homeworking is temporary or permanent. This means that employers are responsible for employees’ welfare so far as is reasonable practicable
- Employers are required to conduct a risk assessment of all work activities carried out by employees. This will enable employers to better understand the risks present and how these can be mitigated. Employers are also required to carry out a DSE risk assessment for employees who work from home for a long period
- Workstation assessments are not specifically required where employees are working from home temporarily, but employers should provide guidance for employees to complete their own basic assessment at home
- The Health and Safety Executive has published more information on this.
How can employees help themselves work effectively from home?
- For many employees, working from home on a permanent basis will be a new experience, but there are a few tips and tricks that can help employees manage their days effectively while staying mentally healthy
- These are simple things such as: developing a routine and giving structure to the day, changing into different clothes to help distinguish home life from working life, communicating with others in the business, and taking regular breaks and allowing yourself time to relax and unwind
- The government has published guidance for the public on the mental health and wellbeing aspects of coronavirus available at GOV.UK. The CBI has also produced a fact sheet on mental health and wellbeing during a crisis.
- The CBI's reflections on returning to the office - the CBI's own Corporate Services Director on the CBI's approach and considerations for business
- The future of home working - even the most reluctant firms and staff have had to make home working a reality – have attitudes changed as a result?
- Read the CBI’s factsheet on mental health and wellbeing in a crisis
- The CBI’s Great Job report offers general practical guidance on how to manage, engage and develop staff
- The CIPD have published FAQs on managing remote teams, as well as Top Tips for getting the most out of home working
- The CMI have launched a virtual manual on how to manage teams through the crisis, as well as some top tips and healthy safety guidance
- Working Families has produced a free to download toolkit on managing homeworkers, focusing on training and development, communication, remote working team protocols, and objective setting.