How to make homeworking work for you and your team: expert guidance from #BetterManagers

18 March 2020 -

How to make homeworking work for you and your team It’ll be possible for you, your peers and your team to be highly productive while working remotely from home. But you’ll need to follow the best homeworking and remote working advice. CMI has gathered just that.

It’s 24/7 right now for Andrew Try. His Windsor-based company ComXo provides outsourced “21st-century switchboard” services to 40% of the law firms in the City, as well as to big corporates and financial companies. Demand for anything that enables agile working is going through the roof as the COVID-19 spreads and the UK government encourages the population to avoid non-essential contact and travel.

“People are invoking working practices they’d been thinking about but never imagined they would actually need to implement,” says Try. He’s receiving regular calls from executives in global corporates frantically asking, “can you switch over our whole system by tomorrow?!”

Across the world, millions of people are making the move to homeworking and remote working. Over the weekend, Microsoft’s team-working tool Teams crashed under the pressure of extraordinary demand. Many people are suggesting that this might represent a permanent shift to alternative models of work and study practice.

Over the past couple of days we’ve distilled CMI’s core advice on effective homeworking and remote working – we’re also applying these rules with our own people!

Please share your experiences and tips with us on Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and Facebook, and use the #BetterManagers hashtag. Let’s help each other out.

Tips for effective remote working

First things first. This is unprecedented. Many people will never have had to work or study from home. Widespread homeworking is a huge challenge for the individuals affected and for those having to supervise their performance and help them be productive.

It is vital to continue to have regular face-to-face time, albeit this will probably be aided by technology. Meeting up with peers and colleagues will help you maintain morale all round. It is possible to stay focused while working remotely, but it requires active guidance and management. Here are some top tips:

Establish a sense of structure and framework for communication

  • Diarise a daily check in with your line manager – ideally by phone or hangout - not by email or chat - where you can cover off the questions you might usually ask in person throughout the day.
  • Diarise a weekly (or more frequent) team meeting via video call where you all attend.
  • Remember to ask ‘how are you?’ to your colleagues. This period will put a strain on many. We’ll be exploring the mental health implications of homeworking and isolation in the coming days.
  • Tips on virtual communication.

Adopt real-time collaboration apps

  • There are many options for online meetings, chat and collaboration. Some of the best are: Google Docs, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, GoToMeeting, Skype, Zoom, ezTalks Meetings. Then there are apps such as Trello, and Asana that can facilitate collaboration and line of sight into the status of deliverables. Just be aware of operating too many different systems; for individuals who are keeping an eye out for messages on Teams, you don’t want to miss out on the critical message that came through on the group WhatsApp.

Establish virtual drop-in hours

  • This is important for line managers or subject matter experts. Set up a virtual office by using video conferencing software that allows people to pop in and out to have live conversations with you.

Keep up personal contact

  • Talking in person and or seeing each other live retains connections and replicates the in-person conversations you would normally have in the office. Generally, if you want to avoid feelings of isolation, picking up the phone or using hangout beats email.
  • How to avoid isolation.

Schedule time to blow off steam together virtually

  • How about scheduling a ‘coffee hour’ via video link to join other colleagues to talk about all those work and non-work related things you would normally discuss around the watercooler?

Maintain a daily structure

  • To stay focused on your work, try to adopt ‘working practices’ while at home or working remotely. Continue your regular daily routines and working hours. Set up a dedicated work space if you can. This could be a spare room or kitchen table. Get dressed (don’t wear your pyjamas all day!).
  • Top tip: Experienced technology director Simon Chubb says: “Whatever the location of your work space, try and make sure it’s not a relaxation spot.”

Keep your calendar up to date

  • Keeping people appraised of your availability, even if it’s to step away to grab lunch, is especially important when you are not in someone’s direct line of vision.

Know when to step away from your desk

  • Everyone needs a break from their screens at some point; step away to recharge and return ready to take on the rest of the day. Again, adhering to regular working patterns and taking lunch and coffee breaks is a good tip.
  • Tips on how to manage your time effectively

Figure out how you focus best

Honour end of work time

Now let’s move onto some health and safety considerations of working from home. Most organisations will offer homeworking guidance, which you should follow. Here are some helpful hints to ensure your home and remote working environment is as safe and comfortable as possible...

  • Set up a clear and comfortable working space.
  • Always make sure there is enough space to work in comfortably.
  • Ensure your chair is at a comfortable height
    • Your arms should be at right angles, with forearms lightly supported by the work surface.
    • You may need a footrest if your feet are not firmly on the floor.
  • Make sure your screen is raised so that the top of the screen is at eye level.
  • This can be done using an adjustable laptop stand, a box or some books if necessary.
  • Free your working area of any objects that may be a hazard.
  • Make sure your work space is well ventilated (open window for fresh air), and has good lighting.
  • Take regular, short breaks. Move around for five minutes every hour.

Finally it is important to remember that all data, equipment and documents are kept secure at all times. Remember to inform your company’s data protection officer / team if you are worried at any point about data security.

Top tip – phone divert

  • If you are working remotely and have an office landline, remember to divert your landline to the phone you will be using at home so you can continue to pick up calls from colleagues and clients.

Phone and broadband costs

  • Your employer may reimburse a proportion of your home phone and or broadband costs if you have to work from home for an extended period. Every company is different, check with your employer to see what their policy is.

Office closures

  • If your employer closes your office, remember to ensure you have all your tech equipment with you, together with chargers, and ensure you take everything home that you may need to be able to work from home effectively.
  • Also, remember to lock up any items that may be valuable or confidential that you are not taking home with you, before you leave the office.

Over the coming days and weeks, CMI will be sharing advice and best practice about how you can maintain morale and productivity during the COVID-19 crisis. Our team are speaking to managers, leaders and learners every day. Please share your experiences on social media using the hashtag #BetterManagers or email the editorial team at editorial@managers.org.uk

Some other useful sources of insight:

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