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How to Effectively Equip your Employees to Work Remotely – Webinar Highlights

While flexible working has been well-established over many years for some companies, for others, transitioning an entire workforce to a working from home culture overnight has proved challenging for both employees and employers alike, giving rise to concerns around productivity, profitability and employee engagement.

We invited Heidi Davidson, Head of P&C at Rotor Studios, Richard Wells, Digital Comms Manager for Dept of NSW Customer Service and Juhi King, HR Technology Expert, to share their insights on keeping remote employees engaged while Covid-19 social distancing measures are still in place. Watch Navigating Covid-19: How to Effectively Equip your Employees to Work Remotely, in full and on-demand, for speaker tips and a Q&A session. Alternatively, continue reading for the webinar highlights…

Keeping Employees Engaged - a Framework

Our first speaker of the webinar was Heidi Davidson, who has previously led HR departments within CBA, NewsCorp, and Transport for NSW. Kicking off with a poll question, Heidi asked our webinar viewers:

How challenging has it been to keep employees engaged and collaborating while working remotely?

An overwhelming majority of 80% replied ‘challenging’. “I’m not surprised by that response”, revealed Heidi, “It’s a huge change and especially hard for companies that haven’t dabbled with flexible working policies in the past”. Heidi then moved straight into her framework for keeping staff engaged while working from home.

1) Reimagine your workday
“Without a commute, you no longer have that circuit breaker of finishing for the day”, explains Heidi. Routine is more important than ever and allowing your workday to extend into early morning and late evening can quickly lead to an unhealthy cycle. To adapt, Heidi suggests creating a new work environment (ideally somewhere quiet and comfortable) and ensuring you shut off at a set time every day.

2) Video killed the radio star (and productivity)
For employees used to being seen in the office at all times, suddenly being ‘invisible’ while working from home can lead to a fear of being perceived to be not working… which leads to an increased need to be ‘seen’ in video meetings. Conversely, this leads to back-to-back video calls that impact the productivity of the employee and those around them. Heidi’s advice? “Aim to shorten them as much as possible. Have an agenda, be strict on the invite list, keep to time and feel empowered to decline meetings that you don’t really need to attend.”

3) A little more conversation, a little less email
Many employees will be missing those ‘water cooler moments’ without even realising it, and feeling isolated as a result. Often, instant messaging and email begins to take over as people increase the volume of communication to make up for the lack of quality interaction. Heidi’s advice for tackling this is to promote more phone conversation, deter use of IM and encourage social catchups. Booking Google Hangout sessions, sharing isolation stories or arranging virtual pub quizzes are great ways to maintain team building. “People need the humour and the chit-chat now more than ever”, Heidi reminds us.

4) Keep it professional
Working in your PJs might seem like a novelty at first, but it will quickly lead to a less professional attitude, not to mention unhealthy behaviours and a negative mindset, warns Heidi. Being at home doesn’t change how you’re expected to behave and present yourself to colleagues and clients, so start work on time, always look presentable (even if you aren’t on any video calls) and keep the tone of phone and email conversations friendly but professional.

Defining Flexibility

Next up was Juhi King, an HR technology expert with an impressive track record in building geographically dispersed, inclusive and diverse teams. Juhi’s session covered four main topics:

  • Performance & Productivity
  • Being connected
  • Flexibility
  • Health & Wellbeing

Performance and productivity
Juhi opened with an interesting observation about the impact of Covid-19 on performance and productivity… turns out, nothing’s changed. Why? “Because all that’s required for productivity is defining expectations, setting clear goals, trusting that people will achieve them and then celebrating when they do. It’s fairly simple and working from home hasn’t changed those rules”, Juhi revealed.

Being connected
When it comes to staying connected, Juhi’s advice is to do it – but just do it differently. “Connected doesn’t mean seeing people all the time on video – it’s about seeing the person and being more authentic and open. Be professional, but also reach out, be compassionate and ask people about their lives and how they’re coping”.

What does flexibility really mean? According to Juhi, flexibility doesn’t mean working from home or from the beach – it’s the feeling of empowerment. The ability to work on your terms, at times that fit better with your lifestyle and family commitments. “Everyone wants to feel empowered, to have control over their work/life balance and to do meaningful work, and that hasn’t changed. But organisations have been left with no choice but to trust employees now”, Juhi points out.

Health and wellbeing
“Humans respond well to boundaries and often, many people who used to squeeze in a work out before or after work, or during their lunch hour, are now simply not taking a lunch hour because they feel they don’t have that permission”, reveals Juhi. “Take responsibility for your own wellness and commit to leaving your desk and making time to stay mentally and physically healthy”.

Establishing an Effective Working from Home Culture

Our final speaker was Richard Wells, Manager Digital Products NSW Department of Customer Service. The Department of Customer Service is an example of a near-perfect flexible working culture. “We’ve been encouraging employees to work from home for many years, which has made transitioning most of our 10,000 to working from home a very smooth process”, Richard reveals. Here’s how they did it…

1) A defined flexible working policy
“We have a clear HR policy on flexible working, so everyone knows what is expected of them – that also covers a ‘safe working environment’”, explained Richard. When the pandemic hit Australia and the department had to switch quickly to working from home, a home delivery service was set up to enable employees who didn’t have adequate home office equipment to submit an online request and have office or IT equipment delivered to their doorstep.

2) Activity-based working
“We don’t have a set desk in the office, we can work from wherever we want, and that means having the appropriate mobile technology to support that”, explains Richard. In order to make activity-based working possible, the department outlined the practice in its HR policy and armed staff with the technology and equipment to be able to work from anywhere, at any time.

3) Cloud-based connectivity
“We use Squiz for a number of our websites and being cloud-based means we can update our websites any time, anywhere – even via a mobile phone” reveals Richard. “Most of our systems are now cloud-based and can be accessed via single sign-on, so we’ve made accessing our internal systems extremely easy for staff”.

Richard leaves viewers with one, important message: “Trust your staff. No-one wants to do a bad job – empower them with the culture, systems, technology, equipment and resources they need, and they will continue to do great work”.

Working from home is a strategy that has divided organisations and schools of management for decades – but over the past few months, it’s a reality that has been forced upon businesses across the world, like it or not. But working from home needn’t mean reduced productivity or employee engagement if properly supported.

For the full on-demand webinar, click here; or for more tips on how to boost employee engagement, check out our recent blog post: Simple strategies to keep employees engaged while remote working.


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