Remote Working

The current crisis caused by Covid-19 has seen an increasing amount of the population working from home, spurred on particularly by Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s comments on 16 March that people should work from home ‘where possible’.

Before this current health crisis, remote working was already a trend which had showed no signs of slowing down around the world. An increasing number of employees are now working from home either all the time or perhaps a day or two a week. 

Before the crisis, some companies had started to use this flexible way of working as a carrot to entice new employees. A 2019 report by showed that 74% of the workforce would leave a job for one that offered remote positions. The past few years have certainly made the whole process easier, with faster wi-fi and easier ways to hold ‘virtual meetings’. 

At Lake Solutions we have been running and participating in projects with teams all over the world, often with distributed workers collaborating on projects from 7 counties, many locations at a time. These teams have constant hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute communications, just like if we were all sat next to each other. It's good communications that make teams and projects work well. So let's share some of the things we learnt along the way.

For many employees, this current change in their working life might be their first experience of working remotely. The first thing to remember is the word ‘working’, it isn’t an excuse to have a lie-in and watch daytime television; in any case, most businesses will be keeping an eye on productivity as much as ever during this time. That said, there has to be some flexibility built into the plan, particularly as we are currently living in uncertain times; children are now off school and team members might have vulnerable loved ones and neighbours who are relying on them to deliver essentials. 

As far as possible, it’s good to find some dedicated space for work and to set this up as professionally as possible, away from distractions. Employers might need to set aside some funds to cover expenses team members might have such as postage/stationery, as well as the obvious laptops and a decent wi-fi connection etc. 

It is important to ‘box your time’ and set a time to start work and, importantly, to finish work. Don’t blur the lines and turn on the television or start doing the housework. Without the commute it might be tempting to start work earlier and finish later, but that shouldn’t be expected. 

Some flexibility might need to be added to the mix, particularly now children are at home. As long as the work gets done and there’s open communication between team members and line managers, it might be that childcare is shared within a household, with one partner starting and finishing earlier and the option to work during some evenings. It really is a matter of trust and keeping up a dialogue and of being patient, flexible and open minded.

It’s also really important to communicate any change in working practices to clients, so they know that their call will be picked up but it might be dealt with in a slightly different way to usual. 

A certain element of going to work does involve forming friendships with other team members and generally enjoying some light-hearted chat about last night’s television, sport or the weather. To prevent feeling isolated, there’s nothing wrong with a catch-up with colleagues simply to ‘touch base’ at least a couple of times a day. And, while team members should make an effort to ‘go to work’ they shouldn’t feel guilty if they break to use the toilet or miss a call when making a cup of tea. 

It’s also really important to take a break. If your normal day includes a set lunch break, then take it and step away from work completely for that time.  Perhaps and, if you are still able, take a walk outside or, if you have to stay inside, perhaps jump on YouTube and do a half an hour of yoga or meditation? Having said that, more flexible working might mean a shorter lunch break to make time for childcare at the beginning or end of the day. 

While most bosses won’t expect team members to dress in a suit at home, if that’s the usual style of dress, it’s worth putting on some sort of work attire which is smart rather than casual and certainly not pyjamas, however tempting that might be! It’s also worth checking what’s around your desk when making a video call. Chatting to colleagues – or worse still a client – with your underwear drying on the radiator behind you could be embarrassing. 

If you need to catch up with colleagues, then it’s always good to use a video call if possible – just to interact with other team members and also to witness their reactions, as so much of communication is non-verbal. It’s key then to have a webcam, if there isn’t one already part of your laptop. Noise cancelling headphones are also useful – as block out other distractions and, with a microphone attached, they will also make you easier to hear by colleagues. 

If there is one colleague working remotely, while the others are still in the office, then it’s good practice for everyone in the office to sign in from different locations, most usually their own desk. It doesn’t work if there are six people in the boardroom and a single person logging in from home, as that person will soon get forgotten, while the team has side conversations.  

There are myriad tools available to enable collaboration and project management, as well as video calls, such as Skype, Zoom, Team, Google Hangouts and WebEx, many of which have free tiers. There are some very simple solutions accessible by nearly everyone, such as MS Paint, which can be shared on screen to do simple diagrams for example. In addition, VOIP desk telephones which are connected to the Internet can often be easily unplugged and plugged in at home to take calls (with a power supply). 

The likelihood is that the novelty of working from home will soon wear off for some employees, who will miss the social aspect of ‘going to work’ and the clear division of work and home life. On the other hand, some workers will have really embraced this new way of working and may push for a more flexible work life once this difficult period has passed.

It will be interesting to see how employers feel after this ‘experiment’ in home working. They might wonder why they even bother with an office or such large premises, discovering that some team members are more productive at home. The thought of saving money on rent or the opportunity to sell office space might prove very tempting. 

Tips for Employees

  • Box working time
  • Get dressed
  • Have breaks and a lunch break
  • Don’t feel guilty if you miss a call as you are on the loo
  • Use video
  • Talk, Talk, Talk!

Tips for Employers

  • Consider flexibility
  • Measure productivity not fixed hours logged in
  • Consider future benefits of this way of working to attract new staff and aid staff retention

Tips for calls

  • All in a room, or all from your desks/home, don't mix it up
  • Video is VERY IMPORTANT, you need that non-verbal communications
  • If you're not speaking, consider muting yourself to reduce background noise and echos
  • Headsets look silly, but can make communications much clearer

If you want to find out more about how Lake Solutions can support your team to work remotely, then get in touch.

Article Details

Ian Jepp
19 March 2020