working from home

Building a workplace fit for the future — and how to design an effective working from home plan

There’s no denying that the world of work has changed radically since the start of the pandemic. 

We’ve all had to find new ways of working to adapt to the ever-changing circumstances around us. We couldn’t have predicted this global health crisis, but we can predict and plan for how life will change as we (hopefully) approach the light at the end of the tunnel. 

Now is the time to think about how we approach the next generation workplace.

How would you feel about full-time working from home in the future? That idea might be hugely appealing to you. No commute. More time to spend with family and pets. Lunch in your own garden. 

On the other hand, the idea of working from home permanently might fill you with dread. The feeling of isolation. Poor-quality workspaces. Struggling to draw a clear distinction between work and leisure.

In all probability, the future of work will be hybrid — with some people working mostly from home and others working mostly in the office. This flexibility is great for employees, but how will it affect SMBs? 

How can we approach workplace and workforce planning to accommodate such flexibility?

The challenges of home working for SMBs 

To really understand how home-, distributed- or flexible-working might impact your business, let’s consider what challenges you might face.

Communication, communication, communication

We all know that clear and plentiful communication is key to great relationships, whether personal or professional. One of the significant advantages of a dedicated office is the ability to quickly and easily bounce ideas or catch someone you need to check in with.

Even with online tools such as Zoom meetings and Slack, there will always be a reduction in both the quantity and the quality of communication with remote workers compared with face-to-face conversations.

This can create even more difficulties in a hybrid system, where different people will be having different kinds of communication. This can lead to suspicions of favoritism and poor-quality relationships within the team.

Health and safety

As employers, we’re responsible for the health and safety of our staff while they are at work. This can be tricky to manage when we have little or no control over their working environment.

Staff who don’t have a dedicated workspace in their home might find themselves working on a laptop on the sofa, or at the kitchen table, which can lead to poor health. This problem is closely linked to the difficulties of communication. In an office environment, we might notice a particular team member seeming ‘down’ or working through their breaks and check in on them. Work from home (WFH) team members can easily slip under the radar.

Cybersecurity

Many SMBs have little experience with cyber-attacks (thankfully!). And the thought of experiencing one might not have kept you awake at night in the past. But moving towards more WFH flexibility can mean placing your data security in the hands of your employees.

This is a particular issue for those dealing with sensitive data, such as medical records, but all companies will need to think carefully about how they address cybersecurity for a hybrid workforce.

Management of WFH employees

Moving to a WFH or distributed workforce can make life easier for some of your employees, but managers can often find it more difficult. Without the ability to glance across the office to see how people are working, managers have to work harder to understand their workforce.

Managers may require training and assistance to pivot to new methods for employee evaluation and support.

Training and development

Even in the distant, pre-pandemic days, many companies struggled to offer appropriate training and development opportunities for staff members. 

This can be further complicated by having some of your team members WFH while others are in the office. And training focused on soft skills, such as communication or team-building, is particularly difficult to access remotely. 

How to build an effective WFH plan

Although this list of problems can seem daunting, most of these issues can be overcome if you put an effective WFH and hybrid working plan in place. 

Taking the time to think about how you can address each of these difficulties now can help you avoid working from home problems in the future.

Find the right tools and use them wisely

Communication difficulties exacerbate all of the other issues we’ve highlighted so far, so this is probably a great place to start. Think about how you can best facilitate communication within your workforce.

Invest in internal communication tools, but also take the time to discuss with your team members how they want to use the tools available. Some people will benefit from a daily or weekly check-in video call, where others may find that stressful and adds to ‘zoom-fatigue’. 

Try to include some access to less formal or scheduled communication.

Be consistent

With a hybrid office in particular, it’s essential that you don’t create a two-tier system, with WHF staff seen as ‘second-class’ staff. Make sure that you check-in just as often with remote staff as you do those in the office. 

Having a consistent approach helps everyone know where they stand.

Create clear policies and expectations and stick to them. It’s no good having a health and safety policy telling staff to take a 5-minute break every hour if you then book a 2-hour long Zoom meeting with no breaks. Make sure that your messaging on health and safety policies is consistent and followed by all staff, including senior management.

Work with the experts

While the challenges of remote work might be new to some, Professional Employer Organizations (PEOs) are there to help.

The team at MartinoWest can connect you with the very best experts in Human Resources management — teams who can help handle payroll, compliance, and other workforce administration. They can help you, the business owner, set-up your off-site employees and manage the added HR compliance that goes along with it. 

Contact us to find out just how cost-effective (and just downright effective) a PEO’s services can be.

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