Kate Field, Global Head Health, Safety and Well-being at BSI provides her insight on remote working.
There has been a paradigm shift in attitudes towards remote working since the pandemic began. What was initially a government-mandated obligation has now become the preferred way of working for many who can choose that option, begging the question of what organizations need to do to succeed in a hybrid (or fully remote) environment. Two years on from the pandemic’s onset, it’s important to review both the challenges and opportunities working from home created to ensure the resilience of both the workforce and organizations for the future.
Building a more equal, diverse and empowered workforce
Despite the overshadowing challenges of the pandemic, the mandate to work from home did produce important opportunities for both the workforce and organizations. Heightened accessibility and flexibility obtained through remote working have played an important role in establishing a more equitable and diverse workforce.
A greater proportion of the workforce has been able to undertake their jobs in ways not considered possible before the pandemic, particularly for those with disabilities and mobility difficulties, young families, caring responsibilities or who live far from their workplace.
This increased diversity and equality will have a pivotal role in establishing more successful and innovative organizations in the future. Those businesses which embrace these new opportunities have the advantage of attracting a wider range of talent to work with them, providing a feeling of welcome and equity that goes hand-in-hand with employee satisfaction and retention.
Working from home has also caused a reduction in the average commuting frequency. Employees have benefited from extra time which would otherwise be spent travelling – empowering them to make the most of this additional leisure time, all the while reducing their carbon footprint. The more efficient use of video calling for remote meetings and limited domestic and overseas travel contribute to the additional benefit of reduced greenhouse gas emissions, helping organizations meet their ESG targets.
Managing impacts so all can benefit
While there are undoubtedly exciting advantages to remote or hybrid working, it is important not to overlook the challenges attributed to the transition to working from home and explore what organizations must do to overcome them.
These challenges have predominantly centred on employee well-being and mental health. Whilst working from home has increased access to employment, improved flexibility and enhanced work-life balance for many, it has also been an isolating experience for some, with a portion of employees feeling disengaged or unsupported.
The flexibility afforded by remote working can also cause negative impacts, with some employees working longer hours to the point of burnout. Higher expectations around technological competence in a digitized, online workplace can also create further stresses for some and lead to a negative impact on well-being as well as job performance.
Whilst these negative experiences are thankfully not the norm, they are significant enough that businesses ought to be aware of them and proactively combat them for all to enjoy the benefits of remote working.
Putting people first
This is why businesses should foster a culture of care and trust within the workplace to a greater extent than before. People are at the heart of how organizations operate and tackle the global challenges they face, so they must be prioritized. Leadership will play an important role in facilitating this culture by ensuring flexible hours, engaging with employees, and offering coaching and training, particularly around technology and upskilling.
Organizations have an opportunity to unlock new opportunities if they place people-focused resilience at the heart of their business strategy. Given that the remote or hybrid working environment is likely to remain, it is crucial to take stock of the lessons we have learned thus far to maintain a resilient workplace for the future.
Establish connectivity and strong technology capabilities
First, organizations must ensure connectivity and strong technology capabilities whether their employees are working from home or at the office. With every employee’s connectivity and capabilities differing depending on their situation, a level of equity needs to be installed to ensure all employees have access to and can undertake their work without feeling disadvantaged in a remote setting. As more businesses take on a hybrid way of working, companies will need to find a way to monitor and assist with this process to ensure a level playing field whether working in the office or from home.
Secure working away from the office
Have you provided training and information to your employees on information security? Business information will need to remain confidential even if stored at employee’s homes, and there are various cyber-security risks to manage including connecting securely to your organization network from home (and other locations) and dealing with phishing.
Ensure a comfortable working environment
Working remotely presents challenges due to the variety of locations an employee may choose to conduct their work – a dedicated office space in their home, a couch, dining room table, etc. Laptops help with mobility but often lead to poor neck, wrist, and back posture. Helping your employees know how best to set up their work areas so they don’t experience ergonomic problems is an important part of supporting your workers. Ergonomics are as important at home as they are in the office.
Working patterns – how can I maintain my normal working habits?
Keep your good working habits. For those who are not accustomed to working from home, the prospect can be difficult to adapt to, particularly for extended periods of time. Apply as many of your normal office routines as possible such as waking up time, start and finish times, coffee breaks, lunch breaks, meetings and client interactions, even when conducted remotely. The more in sequence with normal office practices you are, the easier the remote working process becomes.
Prioritize a well-being programme
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, organizations must establish and prioritize a strong well-being programme for people to be able to feel comfortable talking about their situation. Whether they can speak to a line manager, a colleague or a representative of a safe-speaking program, employees should always feel like they can talk to someone sensitively and confidentially when needed. Prioritizing employee mental health and well-being is key to ensuring this way of working thrives in the long-term.
Going beyond remote well-being services and check-ins also means having a positive culture where time is built into the day for social and team building activities as well as informal “water cooler” conversations. While social elements of office working shouldn’t be forced on people in a remote context, finding ways to replicate social interaction in a remote environment can also benefit employees and help people feel connected to the team, with positive effects on productivity and well-being.
Both working from home and the move to hybrid forms of working have opened doors for people and opportunities for businesses. For organizations to succeed and foster growth, empowering employees in this new remote context is a central element. Continuously engaging with employees ought to be top of the priority list for all business leaders. With the great resignation in full flight, those that do so will reap the rewards.