Boffins draw up guidelines for successful flexible work

With many working dads indicating they want to maintain flexible work beyond the initial coronavirus crisis university experts have pulled together tips.

man sitting at home office desk on a zoom call

 

In so many ways the last few months have been a challenge for business. But difficult times are also an opportunity to learn.

The great working from home experiment forced on us by lockdown is a chance to establish just what is best practice. Because many working dads are going to be sticking with flexible work going forward. Some will be forced to, many have indicated they want to keep the family gains that have come from working from home.

We’ve already published a White Paper on agile working. And our sister site workingmums.co.uk continues to run round tables through the autumn bringing together industry experts and thought leaders to share ideas and views.

Top US university MIT has been conducting academic research since the pandemic took hold. They surveyed hundreds of leading companies to find out how they were approaching the huge increase in homeworking.

A fairly blunt initial survey found the main concern in HR departments was keeping everyone safe. And the main challenge was keeping empoloyees engaged while working at a distance.

After that the boffins at MIT developed a whizzy bit of software that allowed participants not just to see a menu of different ideas that others were using but to rate them. From that they drew up five golden rules of flexible working.

Maintain frequent, transparent, and consistent communication

Communication is always key but never more so than through the Covid crisis. The MIT experts established that communication must be:

  • Frequent. At least once a week and ideally involving video rather than just email
  • Transparent. Be clear about the impact of Covid on the business so everyone can buy into a strategies to stay afloat and preserve jobs.
  • Two way. Successful firms established dedicated Covid email accounts to which employees could send anonymous concerns and some even tasked a particular person in the company with soliciting questions. Town hall style events were valued by everyone.
  • Easy to navigate. Employees must be able to find information on homeworking policies easily.
  • Consistent. If different departments contradict each other it creates extra stress for everyone

Provide support for physical and mental health

Employees value measures to maintain physical health like Covid testing and providing masks. However twice as many people value interventions on mental health.

Line managers ought to regularly check in with their teams but that should be backed up with regular social events like coffee breaks or yoga clubs. Online discussion forums dedicated to mental health were also appreciated.

Showing concern for employees who contract Covid was also recommended. That could run from checking in on their health, without appearing to apply any pressure, to sending round a care package of fancy tea and biscuits.

Help distributed employees stay productive and engaged

There’s increasing evidence that productivity has held up through the lockdown. Paradoxically one key to making that happen was providing reassurance that line managers understand productivity may dip while people juggled homeschooling and health worries along with their work.

Going forward it’s important to ensure employees working from home can get in touch with each other when they need to collaborate. And there’s some evidence that homeworkers are less likely to have their efforts recognised and rewarded with promotions and opportunities. Now that’s been raised the next challenge is for employers to work out the best systems to overcome that bias.

Manage the paradox of remote work-life balance

The best thing about flexible homeworking is that you can bend your schedule to fit other obligations. The worst thing about flexible homeworking is that your home and work schedule can bleed into each other and an ‘always on’ mindset takes home.

The main thing employers can do is to recognise work life balance concerns. The most popular measures to achieve this were

  • Nudge employees to log off at a designated time
  • Provide flexibility and be clear work can be done anytime through the day
  • Encourage blocking off time in work calendars for periods of childcare or for school pick up time for example
  • Award an extra day off to promote rest and relaxation

Don’t lose sight of strategic priorities

It’s understandable if lockdown and recession have blown companies off course and the main goal is simply to stay in business. However it’s important to still set strategic goals and work towards them. Flexible working is here to stay, now is the time to think about how that fits with your companies ambitions and how to make the most of it.





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