31st Mar 2020
For some employees, remote working or working from home is established practice. But for many employees in service organisations, it’s an unfamiliar experience and means quickly adjusting to new ways of communicating and collaborating with customers, colleagues, partners and suppliers. Whether your role involves dealing directly with customers or suppliers; designing customer experience; leading and managing teams, we’ve set out some essential tips which will help.
Employers have a duty care for employees and responsibility for their health and safety, including when employees are working from home. Employees also have some responsibility for ensuring that neither they nor members of their household are at risk because of work activity carried out at home. It’s worth reminding employees that they should follow the organisation’s sick policy and notify their line manager if they are sick and unable to work. Organisations should also consider running a simple risk assessment by asking employees to answer questions electronically. Share information and advice to help people look after their own and other’s health and well-being.
Try to find a place for working that gives you sufficient space, light and the ability to concentrate. If you are living in a small flat or apartment with a partner (who may also be working from home) or other family members, involve them in how you plan to work, take into account their needs and agree an arrangement that works for everyone. If you are holding video calls with colleagues or customers, keep the room tidy and be aware of what’s visible to others!
Make sure employees across the organisation use a consistent range of technology applications for communications and collaboration. Select applications that are appropriate and sufficiently robust to support the activities of your teams. For example, there may be a requirement to share and collaborate on documents, or to hold team meetings with employees in multiple locations. Take time to learn how to use the technology. Encourage employees to share tips and learning.
It’s crucial for both managers and employees to work together to maintain trust and clear expectation of each other. Managers should focus on outcomes and results rather than prescribing an individual’s activity. Agree a schedule for regular checkpoints and updates. It’s also important to be flexible. Some work may need to be quickly reprioritized. In some cases, employees may not be able to discharge work remotely but can be redeployed other activity. Recognise that it will be more difficult to pick up on body language during conversations, so use language sensitively and make sure to ask and have a conversation about how an employee is feeling.
Our research has shown that being able to contact the right person to help is one of the key things that customers believe organisations should improve. In a situation where many customers have critical needs but some employees may be unavailable through illness or self-isolation, it’s especially important to set out to customers how best they should communicate with the organisation.
Most customers will understand that your organisation may be operating under constraints. Be transparent with customers about your challenges; be clear how you want customers to communicate with you about what kind of issue and how you will keep them informed; give a priority to making sure you are resourced so that customers can get help when they need it. Make sure you are resourced to enable customers to access help when they need it. Where employees working from home are receiving communications from customers, test the technology and hand-offs to make sure communications get through.
Regular communication is always essential to build employee engagement and never more so than at time of disruption and uncertainty. Teams should schedule regular catch-up or huddles. Senior managers should step their communications activity, reminding employees about the organisation’s purpose, updating employees on how the organisation is responding to current crisis, encouraging employees to ask questions, share learning and experiences.
This is a particularly critical time for employees to have fast access to accurate, timely information and resources. Make sure the organisation’s information resources are consistent and updated with the latest news and alerts, FAQs, HR and employee policies and processes. It’s also important for employees to have the opportunity to continue their training and professional development. Organisations should look at ways of delivering training through technology and opening pup online and webinar learning opportunities.
Remote working heightens the need for planning and proactive management of meetings. Make sure all participants have access to the technology they need to engage with the meeting. Communicate the agenda and objectives in advance, checking if any of the participants have concerns or issues they want to raise. At the start of the meeting, test the technology: make sure everyone can hear each other and access shared content. Share slides or documents that help focus and inform the discussion. Make sure that all participants have the opportunity to contribute to discussion; proactively invite comment from people who have not spoken. Regularly recap and summarise issues that have been discussed and check for understanding. Send a summary of key outcomes and next steps promptly after the meeting.
Keep your emails clear and concise. Be clear and specific about what you are communicating or what you are requesting. Think carefully about the language and tone you use and how it might feel to someone working remotely. Get your point across but try to add human warmth to your communication. If someone hasn’t responded to your email(s), don’t keep bombarding them. Ask if they are OK or give them a call.
Organisations should remind employees, and if necessary give refreshed guidance about best practice in data security and how to comply with data protection regulation and legislation in a remote working context, especially if employees are using their own equipment.
Make sure you schedule in appropriate breaks and use your daily walk to get some fresh air. For employees where there is a requirement to be present and available within specific times, agree with your manager when it’s appropriate to take a break. Working remotely can afford the opportunity to focus, concentrate and be productive. When you working day is complete, try to switch off, put your work equipment away and do something different to relax.
We hope these top tips are useful and we’d love to hear your feedback. Should you have any questions you would like to ask us on this topic, or for more information about our how we are helping our members stay connected, please do get in touch at: [email protected]