It’s unlikely that many employees will go back to working five days a week in the office once restrictions begin to ease. But this brings a whole new raft of challenges for Managers.

"You must stay at home”. It was these five words that instigated companies across the UK scrambling to purchase Zoom licences, issues laptops and create new flexible working policies in a matter of days, as well as employees setting up desks in their spare rooms or clearing their kitchen tables in a bid to find somewhere suitable to do their jobs at home.

But while this new way of working has been foisted upon many people against their will, there have also been many upsides. For some, enforced remote working has caused them to reassess their usual long commute and, for others, the need to juggle a full-time job with homeschooling has led to a new appreciation of flexible hours. It’s no surprise, then, that according to Flex Appeal, more than seven in 10 (72%) employees want to continue working from home after the pandemic; a similar proportion (70%) want to carry on working flexitime, and 64% want to keep part-time hours.

Implementing so-called ‘vlexible’ (virtual and flexible) working opportunities have lots of benefits for both the business and its employers but they need to be managed in the right way for it to work. So how can Managers make sure any remote working and/or flexible working policies they put in place are fit for the business’s future long after Covid has abated? Here are some key areas that we believe need to be considered:

Communicate clearly

When your employees are working remotely, make sure that the lines of communication stay open and that you speak on the phone often. Look out for early warning signs that flexible working may not suit the employee and take action. You may find it useful to speak on the phone every day, at least at first until you are sure that all is well. If you speak on the phone or over a video conference, you are more likely to pick up any issues or concerns and it will also be easier for the flexible working employee to feel they can raise any concerns informally. Communication is the key skill to master if you are to make a success of flexible working or teleworking.

Actively encourage teamwork and social interaction

If some or all of your team are remote working, it is more important than ever that you have regular face-to-face team meetings. Use team meetings to clarify overall objectives as well as make sure everyone is clear on what they are meant to achieve. As a manager, it is up to you to provide the overall vision. This will help your remote working staff feel motivated and see where their role fits in.

Manage by output, not input

As a manager, you will need to focus on results and deliverables instead of activity and presence. You will need to find other ways of checking that your employees are engaged and on track. Remember, usually when everyone is working in the office, there are a hundred visual cues that you usually use every day as a manager to check whether an employee is motivated and understands what he needs to do. You will need to identify ways to compensate for this visual feedback. Make the shift to management by output rather than management by what you see. Also, your remote employees are missing out on the visual cues that tell them that their work is valued. When in the office, the fact that you smiled or said thank you when they delivered a report, for example, may have added to their sense of motivation. So, remember that your remote employees also need you to confirm that their work is valued and give them positive feedback.

Be clear about what you expect

Being clear with your remote working staff is vital. If you need them to be available to be called or emailed at a particular time, make it clear in advance. If you call and there is no reply, you should not assume that the employee isn’t doing any work! Expect that the employee will not always be at the end of the phone unless you have made it clear in advance that you would like them to be. If you have any other specifications, it is also important that you do this in advance. Then the employee will have a clear framework to work within.

People have a life outside work

It is important that you realise that your employees also have a life outside of work. Your business will enjoy increased productivity with flexible working, but it is crucial that you make sure that your flexible working staff understand that they are not expected to be on 24-hour call if they are working remotely. They should make full use of the “Off” buttons on their computer and mobile phone.

Lead well and manage sparingly

Set overall objectives and goals, be clear about required outputs so you can then leave it to your staff to excel. A huge benefit of flexible working is that your staff should have improved work-life balance and therefore the business will see increased productivity. A win-win!

Trust your employees

Micro-management is not good for anyone - it can cause unnecessary pressure, stress, and de-motivation. Learn to trust your staff when they are remote working.

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