By Sheryll Thicke, Internal Quality Assurer (IQA) at Busy Bees Education and Training
supports the delivery of Management and Leadership Apprenticeships to individuals across the country. Here, Sheryll shares some of her thoughts on how the recent changes to working from home due to lockdown restrictions have impacted on teams, and why it is vital business leaders give the right support and clear working practice guidelines.
With an estimated 60 per cent of the UK’s population still working from home following the Coronavirus lockdown , for many of us, our working environment has changed significantly over the last year. And as 26 per cent of us plan to continue to work from home permanently or occasionally long after lockdown is lifted, many business owners and managers may be wondering what impact this will have on their teams, and whether it is necessary to alter their policies and practice as a result.
Maintaining a Work/Life Balance
ONS statistics release in September 2020 revealed that employees working from home were more likely to work in the evenings compared with those who worked away, and that they completed 6 hours of unpaid overtime on average per week.
Team leaders should recognise that employees are now more in control of their own working hours and have less guidance than they maybe used to when it comes to time management. In an office environment for example, teams will start to pack up once the working day is over, walking out together on their way home. Now, people are working in silo, they are already at home, and the boundaries of where they work and where they live are becoming blurred.
The responsibility of ensuring staff are able to maintain an appropriate work/life balance lies at the feet of those in management positions, and should be supported at every level.
Without continued monitoring and observation, struggling staff could very easily go unnoticed when they are working remotely. Those who are very passionate about their job and determined not to leave tasks un-finished, could be at high risk of tipping the work/life balance and risk feeling resentful towards their job.
Consideration should be made as to whether staff are able to and are managing their workload effectively to ensure the work/life balance is a happy one. Managers also need to consider if their team members feel able to approach them and seek help if they need to. Are there opportunities for them to do this and are they clear on the lines of communication to use in order to raise a concern if they need to?
If not, it’s vital managers put these lines of communication and suitable monitoring strategies into place as soon as possible.
The effects of isolation and spending a lot of time indoors over the last year has had a negative impact on many people’s mental health. While some may have enjoyed taking the time to slow down and spend more time at home, for a lot of us it has, at times, left us feeling lonely and cut off from those around us. It won’t therefore come as a surprise that more than 14 per cent of Brits during lockdown can be categorised as ‘lockdown lonely’, referring to those whose well-being has been affected by feeling lonely in the past seven days .
Working from home long-term can have similar effects on mental health, as it requires employees to spend their working hours indoors and without physical human interaction, sometimes even going a whole day without having spoken a word.
I would suggest that managers check-in with individuals on their team daily, giving them the opportunity to interact with another person and share any issues they may be experiencing or concerns they have. Encourage opportunities for team interaction, such as informal video calls or, when safe to do so and within government guidelines, face-to-face contact.
If the well-being of staff is important to management, employees will notice this and, in return, feel valued and motivated in their role and much more likely to perform to their best ability.
And don’t forget to check the physical safety of your team too. For example, are they sitting at a safe distance from their computer? Do they have an office chair to ensure of effective back support? If not, make sure you organise equipment for them to do so.
Clear Path to Success
Ever heard the saying ‘out of sight, out of mind’? This may ring true for many employees who are based at home. People who mainly worked from home are less than half as likely to be promoted than all other workers and 38 per cent less likely to receive a bonus.
A strategy for reviews and personal development plans (PDP’s), as well as payment structures, should already be in place. It’s vital that these strategies encompass remote teams, as well as those in the work place, and continue regardless of the current working situation.
Your teams will feel more motivated and valued if they see that steps are in place to recognise what they do and support them as they progress. It will also give management teams the chance to monitor performance and provide feedback and support where needed.
Effective communication channels are crucial in ensuring that workloads are monitored and performance therefore managed. Businesses are utilising technology to enable this, and my experience is that colleagues can actually build stronger relationships now, as efforts are made to touch base on a more regular basis.
In my team, remote working is considered ‘the norm’. However, now thanks to the embedding of communication technology, we see and speak to each other much more regularly and have been able to build better relationships because of this. Without Covid and the resulting implementation of new technologies, this may not have happened. We have gotten to know each other well, understand each other’s workload and are able to support each other when needed.
The positive leadership within our team enables us to feel a sense of ownership in our work, but also to able to ask for help if we need to. Often, we refer to our colleagues within our team, without having to report to Line Management, thanks again to having built positive relationships all these miles apart.
So, Covid may have forced a change on the way our teams work – temporarily or in some cases, for the foreseeable future – but that doesn’t mean we can’t welcome and embrace these changes. With the right considerations and strategies in place, teams can achieve a better work/life balance and thrive as they settle into their new ‘working environment’.