The UK is not going back to work. Not in the traditional sense, anyway.
A recent YouGov survey reported that 40% of those currently working from home (WFH) say they will never go back to the office. Three-quarters (71%) prefer working remotely and less than one in ten (9%) have returned to their desks permanently since the advice to WFH ended, in January.
Clearly most employees want, at the very least, to continue to spend most of their professional hours away from former workplaces. However, this poses some serious communications and cultural challenges for employers.
Having shared values and a common mission are important in sustaining a productive workforce. Pre-pandemic, most communications took place in the office and the formal and informal social networks it nurtures. They provided easy, well-proven channels for conveying information and cultivating informed, engaged staff.
Now employers must consider what happens when, increasingly, individuals may be hired, work for and leave a business without ever actually entering the workplace.
Our own research of 504 CEOs or board members of UK companies employing over 250, with revenues of £50m to £500m+, found disengaged workforce (29%), employee communications (24%) and team building (22%) high among top concerns about hybrid working
These can be distilled into a number of key issues for HRs, as increasing numbers realise that they must offer remote working options.
Keeping a remote workforce informed, engaged and involved?
Organisations that have successfully enthused and inspired scattered employees have done so by ensuring leaders have remained (or become) visible and communicate regularly. Indeed, using workspace chat platforms, bosses may well have become more approachable and recognisable than before.
Barriers were broken down as staff saw leadership teams and CEOs in their own homes, casually dressed, with occasional interruptions by children or pets. Authentic reach outs earned the attention and respect of workforces. Now, this visibility and approachability must be maintained – increased even.
Team meetings and town halls can be enhanced with TED-style video talks, animations and gamification that integrates interactive elements, such as Q&As, voting and comments/feedback.
Meanwhile, many firms have adopted Tik Tok video techniques and increased their staff vlogs. Crucially, these comms can address wider aspects of mixed model working – covering wellbeing, mutual support and mental resilience, countering feelings of isolation and promoting inclusion.
Preserving the distinctive company culture among distanced workers
A company’s culture will develop naturally if the business doesn’t establish and maintain it. As such, HRs must ‘own’ the mission, the sense of purpose, the target destination and ensure that everyone is onboard for the journey.
Virtual, home-based working may well have increased productivity during the coronavirus interruption, but it is vital that companies keep their distinctive ethos alive long-term to inspire, unite and drive teams that remain physically apart.
Again, visible business leaders are essential for this, but inclusivity is key, too. It is one thing to have the innovative communication techniques and worthwhile aspirations, but culture is also instilled by how completely you convey messages and when you choose to do so. Ensuring that all team members will be on hand for updates and messaging – wherever they happen to be – by trailing vital online information sessions well in advance and confirming attendance is non-negotiable.
Traditionally, remote workers, travelling employees and part-time staff complained of being left out. Now we’ve all had a taste of the isolation and dislocation remote working can bring, it should prompt fresh attitudes that ensure everyone is always kept in the loop and on the same page.
Maintaining camaraderie among team members who rarely see one another?
Just as they did in physical workplaces, managers must ‘take time to team’. Regularly checking in with individuals and ‘taking their temperature’ in one-to-one chats is essential.
It is also crucial to maintain (or introduce) socials. While, even among a permanently scattered workforce, many of these can be physical get-togethers (declining Coronavirus rates and severity allowing), there are many online options to building those bonds.
Awards and recognition ceremonies (we have even created a virtual nightclub and after-show party to extend the celebrations), regular quizzes, team games with prizes, virtual ‘bring-a-bottle’ parties, meet-the-starters, ‘coffee roulette’ and even e-leaving dos are all fantastic ways to strengthen teams.
Meanwhile, weekly staff presentations can bridge social and commercial needs. Here, individuals or teams might talk through their backgrounds, what they do and how they can support colleagues.
In all these areas, a specialist communications partner can provide invaluable support, though do seek the recommendations of respected industry colleagues before appointing.