By Peakon CEO and co-founder Phil Chambers
Coronavirus has catalysed discussion around several workplace issues, but few are being as hotly debated as remote working. Covid-19 has created large numbers of remote working converts. But it has also exposed some concerning trends, which beg the question: Are we ready for a rise in home working?
Undeniably, the case for remote working has been strengthened over the last three months. Research claims that two thirds (65%) of British employees have been working remotely during lockdown, and there’s yet to be a business floored as a direct consequence of this. Furthermore, many people are reaping rewards from this new working style, with 60% of employees believing it is having a positive impact on their mental health.
We’ve already seen several companies, predominantly in the tech space, commit to a distributed workforce model. Last month, Twitter said its employees could work from home ‘forever’ if they wished. Last week, Google launched an initiative giving each employee an additional $1000 to buy new office furniture for their homes.
But this enforced period of full-time remote working hasn’t all been plain sailing. An analysis of recent Peakon data – comprising survey responses from almost half a million employees worldwide – revealed a troubling issue: A lack of understanding around productivity and workload.
Globally, one in five respondents (19%) have been critical of their employer’s approach to productivity in recent months, with dissatisfaction born from two, distinct grievances.
Some employees feel that their managers do not understand how much work they are doing at home. Many are working longer hours and don’t feel this is recognised.
Others are working with real barriers to their productivity – such as home-schooling or their own anxiety. They feel these are misunderstood by their employers, who expect them to keep working like everything is normal.
Of course, disruptions like child care should be far less prevalent after the pandemic. This mandatory period of remote working was not voluntary and came without warning, so cannot really be compared to typical home working scenarios. However, if more employees want to work remotely in the future, it’s essential that organisations take these learnings into account. Companies may need to put new mechanisms in place to reward and recognise employees for example, and give managers specific training on how to manage remote teams to avoid issues around workload.
Meanwhile, workforce surveillance tools are continuing to gain traction, with this trend looking set to gather momentum as more people work from home. According to Bloomberg, employers are ‘panic buying spy software’ to keep tabs on those working remotely. These technologies can capture keystrokes, log websites visited and even take screenshots of an employee’s laptop screen at 10-minute intervals – making privacy a thing of the past.
The growing adoption of such technologies is hugely concerning, as autonomy is a significant driver of employee engagement, which is, in turn, closely linked to productivity. Put another way, employees trusted to complete their work as they choose are far more likely (and willing) to do it. In fact, our data shows that highly engaged teams have better customer satisfaction, better retention (on average, our customers see attrition decrease by 22% for every one-point increase in their Peakon engagement scores) and higher profitability. And, according to the Workplace Research Foundation, highly engaged employees are 38% more likely to have above-average productivity. If working from home is going to work for employers and employees, organisations need to foster a spirit of trust.
Rather than monitoring, leaders should instead ask for their employees’ feedback, listen to this and use it to take suitable actions. This continuous, two-way dialogue is a far better way of understanding your employees’ wants and needs, and boosting their productivity, than documenting their keystrokes.
When it comes to remote working, leaders and managers also need to keep an open mind. This way of working helps many employees to achieve a greater work-life balance, and fit work around their individual lifestyles and commitments. Employers need to let their people work in the way that is best for them – free from judgement. If someone is not getting their work done, then that’s cause for discussion, but the default position should always be one of trust. Remote working is a huge advantage for businesses too of course, as it will create a global talent market.
There’s no doubt that Covid-19 has accelerated the shift towards distributed workforces. However, before organisations take the leap, it’s important they have everything in place to get this right. That includes looking at how you celebrate and share in people’s successes, as well as how you build teams and communities through online events. The organisations that invest in building an ethos of trust, communication and collaboration will likely emerge as the winners.