With working from home being a key means for many workers and organisations to keep going during the coronavirus outbreak, we will be publishing a series of top tips to help you and your team to make the most of remote working.
10 top tips for working remotely
- Set up a designated workspace. Separate space for yourself to work in, somewhere you can focus on tasks without being distracted and set up with everything you need for a normal working day – computer, phone, stationery, papers…etc.
- Make sure you have all the tech you need. This includes a reliable and secure internet connection, any necessary files, hardware and software, remote access to your company network and, importantly, knowledge of how to get IT support.
- Get dressed. Changing into working clothes will help you mentally switch to productive work mode. It will also help you distinguish between ‘homeworking’ and ‘home life’.
- Write a daily to-do list. Set out a list of realistic, achievable tasks to keep you focused.
- Know when to step away from your desk. Be clear about when your working day begins and ends and take breaks to refresh. It’s easy to let yourself be ‘always on’ when your home and office are the same place. When work is over, be sure you switch off to avoid burnout. Think about having ‘core hours ’ which people you work with are around for.
- Stay in conversation. Contribute regularly to team chats/group emails so you don't drop off the radar. Ask about what people are working on and share what’s on your plate. Being physically separated means you miss the ‘water-cooler moments’ so this is a means to keep informed.
- Foster relationships. Make time for non-work chats as you would in the workplace and use video calling to maintain face-to-face contact.
- Be clear in your communication. Speaking in person gives you visual and audio cues that help you communicate. Conversing remotely removes a lot of that extra information so make your communications extra clear and concise.
- Ask for support when needed. Speak out when you need assistance, further training or support. Your manager, colleagues and you are part of a team and should be supporting each other, especially remotely.
- Make remote working work for you. Change where you sit, put on music, whatever helps you work. And enjoy the perks – no commute or uncomfortable shoes, and all your home comforts!
10 top tips for managing remote teams
- Agree ways of working. Make sure every team member is clear about how you will work together remotely, how you keep each other updated, and how frequently.
- Show the big picture but prepare to flex. Remind your team about the big picture and how their work fits into it. Review short-term goals regularly and adjust as needed. If some members can’t carry out all their usual work, consider other skills they can lend to others to meet team goals.
- Set expectations and trust your team. Be clear about mutual expectations and trust your team to get on without micromanaging. Focus on results rather than activity.
- Make sure team members have the support and equipment they need. This includes any coaching they might need to use online systems or work remotely. Keep your calendar visible and maintain a virtual open door.
- Have a daily virtual huddle. This is essential for keeping connected as a team, to check in on each other’s well-being and keep workflow on track. It needn’t be long, but regularity is key.
- Keep the rhythm of regular one-to-ones and team meetings. This maintains a sense of structure and continuity for all.
- Share information and encourage your team to do the same. Without physical ‘water-cooler conversations’, opportunities to pick up information in passing are more limited. Share appropriate updates or learnings from other meetings and projects and invite your team to do the same.
- Tailor your feedback and communications. People can be more sensitive if they’re feeling isolated or anxious, so take this into account when talking or writing. Communicate regularly, not just when things go wrong, whether it is information, praise or criticism.
- Listen closely and read between the lines. Not being in the same room means you don't have extra information from body language or tone to get the sense of what people are thinking or feeling, particularly in more difficult conversations. Home in on what’s not being said and ask questions to clarify your interpretation.
- Help foster relationships and well-being. Make time for social conversations. This increases rapport and eases communication between people who may not meet often. It also reduces feelings of isolation.
10 top tips for healthy remote working
- Put safety first. Encourage managers to conduct electronic risk assessments with their teams, to ensure the home workplace is suitable. Make sure all workers know about your health and safety policies. If you supply equipment it must pass relevant safety tests.
- Know when to step away from your desk. Be clear about when your working day begins and ends and take breaks to refresh. When work is over, be sure you switch off to avoid burnout. Cultivate healthy habits such as taking exercise and fresh air every day.
- Minimise stress. People managers should set clear expectations about the way employees should deliver and receive communications throughout the working day. This will help alleviate pressure and anxiety.
- Have a daily virtual huddle. This is essential for keeping connected and a means for line managers to check in on their team’s physical and mental well-being, and discuss any additional support they need to fulfil their roles from home.
- Foster relationships. Make time for non-work chats as you would in the workplace and use video calling to maintain face-to-face contact.
- Show the big picture but prepare to flex. People managers should remind teams of the big picture and how their work fits into it. Review short-term goals regularly and adjust as needed. If some members can’t carry out all their usual work, consider other skills they can lend to others to meet team goals.
- Set expectations and trust your colleagues. Be clear about mutual expectations and trust your colleagues to get on without micromanaging. Focus on results rather than activity. Working relationships can deteriorate quickly and well-being suffer without trust.
- Be kind. Remote conversations can easily be misinterpreted as it’s harder to read body language, tone of voice and other visual and audio cues. Stay mindful of this when delivering difficult messages or feedback. Challenging times call for greater sensitivity and kindness.
- Discourage presenteeism. If you’re unwell, take leave and do your best to give an update or handover on urgent work. As a manager or team leader, encourage people to take time off if unwell and model the behaviour yourself.
- Offer support on well-being. Organisations should remind staff of their existing health and well-being benefits (such as employee assistance programmes or occupational health) and how to access them when working remotely.
10 top tips for effective online meetings
- Embrace video calling. Being present and seeing each other is an important part of keeping connected. Don’t hide away or do other work during the meeting.
- Use headsets or earphones. This will give better sound quality. Speak directly into the mic and remember to mute it when not speaking to limit background noise.
- Speak clearly and steadily. This will help ensure everyone can understand you. And try to modulate your voice, to keep people interested and engaged.
- Establish etiquette guidelines. Agree a system to give everyone a voice. Arrange ‘hands up’ signals to agree who speaks next and use chat functions to allow everyone to contribute.
- Repeat the question. The chair or presenter should repeat questions they ask or before answering them, to ensure all participants are aware of the original question. Repeating the question in writing within a chat box could provide additional clarity.
- Use names and give context. When responding to chat comments, repeat the relevant remarks and make clear who you’re responding to. Don’t just say ‘yes, Jane that’s right’ because others may not have seen Jane’s comment and it won’t make sense to them.
- Keep slides simple. Keep to a single thought per slide to help participants understand and focus on what’s being discussed. It’s better to have more slides with fewer things on them.
- Keep slides visual. Your participants may be joining from a mobile device and wordy slides will be tough to read. Anchor your presentation on relevant, image-based slides.
- Engage participants regularly. It’s hard to simply listen online for a long time. Invite participants to give comments or ask questions, and use tools like chat or polls.
- Be explicit about actions and summarise. Spell out clearly any actions that need to be taken and by whom. Summarise meeting takeaways and circulate notes promptly.
10 top tips on homeworking legal and contractual considerations
- Review your homeworking policy. Make sure it addresses how employees will be supervised, how the organisation and line managers will communicate with them and how performance and output will be monitored. The homeworking arrangement may be confirmed by a consent form, detailed homeworking arrangement or by amendments to the employee’s contract.
- Confirm employee rights. Homeworkers must be treated the same as office-based staff, with equal access to development and promotion opportunities. Consult the relevant trade union, if any, to ensure equal treatment for these workers. In the current context, it may be prudent to expressly state that any changes are temporary and that the employee will, if applicable, return to office-based working once the situation ends.
- Confirm contact methods and regularity. Advise homeworkers to establish when and how they will have contact with their manager; reporting in at regular times can also help combat isolation and stress.
- Providing equipment. There is no obligation for employers to provide computer or other equipment necessary for working at home, although, given the latest Government advice, employers should do what they can to enable home working. It is prudent to list the equipment that has been supplied in the home working agreement, consent or policy. Remember that provision of equipment could be a reasonable adjustment for some disabled employees and may be the safest option for those with existing health conditions or pregnant employees at this time.
- IT and Broadband. Employers should confirm in the contractual arrangements if the employee is expected to cover the broadband cost (plus heating and lighting) or if the employer will contribute towards these costs and, if so, to what extent. The employer should also confirm any IT support (likely to be remote at this time) and responsibility for repair or replacement if the employee’s equipment is used.
- Think about health and safety obligations. Employers are responsible for an employee’s health, safety and welfare, even when working from home. Employers need to make sure that homeworkers are knowledgeable about health and safety and that they comply with the organisation’s health and safety policy. Employers may remind staff that they should ensure a suitable and safe environment where they can focus on work. Remind employees that they should continue to comply with your sickness absence policy and report their sickness to their line manager when they are sick and unable to work.
- Carry out risk assessment. Employers should usually conduct risk assessments of all the work activities carried out by employees those working from home. However, at this time undertaking physical risk assessments of each employee’s home will not feasible and so employers could use electronic risk assessment questions instead. It is the employee's responsibility to address any flaws in the home revealed by the assessment. The Health and Safety legislation also puts some responsibility on the home worker to ensure that they and members of the household are not endangered by work activities undertaken at home.
- Review working time and length of period. Will employees need to be available for work during strict office hours or work a specified a set number of hours per day? There may be more flexibility over working hours in a work from home arrangement, but working time regulations should still be complied with, including the working week and daily rest break. Instruct managers to look out for signs of overwork.
- Clarify salary, benefits, insurance, tax. Salary and benefits should obviously remain the same during a period of homeworking, although changes to expenses may be appropriate if normal travel expenses and allowances are no longer needed. Usually it is the employee’s responsibility to check that no issues arise with their mortgage provider, landlord, local authority, Revenue or their home insurer when homeworking. In this unprecedented situation it is hoped that any issues, for example increases in house insurance premiums, would be minimal but it is prudent for employees to check. Employers also need to check that insurance covers business equipment in the homeworker’s premises.
- Data protection. Employers should make sure data protection obligations are maintained and employees using their own computer should still process information in compliance with data protection principles. Employers should remind employees about home security, confidential information, passwords, shredding etc.
10 top tips for further resources on remote working
- The CIPD’s Coronavirus hub brings together a host of content including an employer’s response guide and a downloadable questionnaire to help your organisation prepare and implement homeworking.
- Discover how to improve your productivity, stay focused and connected with LinkedIn Learning’s remote working course. The course includes insight from entrepreneur Arianna Huffington, and can be completed in bite-sized chunks.
- Missing the workplace buzz? Homeworking doesn’t have to be a lonely experience. A crowdsourced Remote Work Survival Kit will arm you with tools you need to achieve a happy and balanced remote working set-up.
- Is your business new to homeworking? HR-Inform has easy-to-use, downloadable templates to help you establish your own flexi-time, homeworking, and flexible working policies.
- As homeworking rises across the globe, businesses are presented with new issues to manage. This comprehensive guide from Acas includes real-life case studies and advice on meeting homeworking legal requirements as well as health and safety standards.
- Employers are responsible for the safety of their employees even if they are working from home. The Health and Safety Executive has created a guide for employers, including advice on managing stress and mental health.
- Wordpress Co-founder Matt Mullenweg considers how homeworking impacts office dynamics in his 4-minute Ted Talk. He asks: how can we make sure that all employees, both at headquarters and at home, feel connected?
- A blog from Rescue Time looks at ways to build community among teams who work thousands of miles apart. Many of the key takeaways also apply to remote workers in closer proximity.
- 'How to collaborate effectively if your team is remote' is a short read from Harvard Business Review to help your business tackle remote collaboration and perform at the highest levels.
- Get Lighthouse takes an in-depth look at remote working with 11 essential tips on managing remote workers.
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As measures to stem the spread of COVID-19 take on increasing priority, the CIPD will collate and publish updated resources to support your response