The pandemic saw a switch to remote working almost overnight. Now, many employers plan to continue the practice, at least in part. But what are the challenges of managing and motivating a dispersed team and what are companies doing to get it right?
Information is power the saying goes. In fact many employers designed their buildings to facilitate its flow. Open plan seating, breakout areas, collaboration spaces and coffee docks - offices were all about getting staff mingling, sharing knowledge and building relationships. In the remote working world, virtual tools are doing the job.
Enabling employees and company leaders to connect, share stories and celebrate success, no matter where they are, is vital in the new working world, says Eamon Rheinisch, general manager of MHR Global. His company's People First platform is giving employers the tools to do it.
“The most important thing is that people feel connected, and don’t feel isolated by being out of the office,” says Rheinisch.
“There can be mental health challenges, or people can be doing their job but are not fully engaged in the full experience that working life brings. We are closing that gap by using technology to facilitate connection and collaboration.”
Companies are using MHR’s platform so that remote employees can continue to access the most up to date policies and procedures; they can chat with team members and they can check-in with their manager in a structured way to discuss wellbeing, career development and performance.
The traditional annual performance review was dead anyway, says Rheinisch. Real time conversations with managers and greater transparency about opportunities are a far more effective way of motivating and retaining staff.
‘With People First, employees have access to their full talent profile. They can explore different roles in the organisation and see whether they are a match,” says Rheinisch.
“An employee sitting at home can press a button to say ‘I’m ready for a new challenge’. Their manager is informed and we can send them a survey or point them towards any e-learning they may need.”
The platform also has a ‘Communities’ feature, enabling people to cultivate those all-important informal connections. “Employees have formed running clubs, they can discuss the best box sets on Netflix – colleagues can continue to enjoy those water cooler conversations,” says Rheinisch.
“It’s all about sharing information with employees and really making them feel they are part of a work family still, even if they are not in an office.”
When it comes to motivating remote teams, it’s not about inventing something but adapting everything to virtual, says Liberty Insurance head of communications, Roseanne Regan. The company has told its employees they can work remotely even after the Covid-19 crisis is over.
Having a robust strategy to keep employees engaged in the virtual model is important. “Internal communication is key, and that’s not just sending out emails from the CEO,” says Regan.
“We have a counselling programme for senior managers on how to motivate their teams and stay connected. With my team, we have a call every day and sometimes it’s just to say, ‘Are we all ok?’”
Skip level meetings, where employees connect directly with senior executives, happen too. “We have virtual coffees where five people at random from across the organisation can meet members of the executive. Staff feel they can raise things that they might not put in an email.”
The company has organised virtual off sites too and has launched a virtual training catalogue where employees can take courses online.
“We have a company strategy, which is our vision and goals, and everyone is actually getting online training in the strategy to keep us all motivated while apart.”
There has been very practical assistance too. A bursary of €460 was given to all employees to create a better workspace at home. Employees will also receive an allowance of €55 per month to cover any expenses incurred from home working.
The company has branded its working model the ‘Liberty Digital Way’. “People feel proud to be working this way,” says Regan. In fact, monthly surveys of employee sentiment show that staff are now far more likely to recommend the company as a great place to work. “This score is at record highs,” says Regan. “We’ve actually found that our services have improved. Our customer care centres are more productive and our employees are happier too.”
Last year, online recruiter Indeed.com announced long-term flexible work options for its 10,000 employees globally, including over 1,000 Irish staff. The options include fully remote working, a hybrid of home and office working, as well as a full time in-office option.
“We were one of the first big companies to move to remote working overnight, and we were pleasantly surprised at how well our workforce adapted,” says Derek Diviney, vice president at Indeed. The company has however, had to re-examine how it has approached things like onboarding new staff.
“We’re currently hiring for lots of open roles and had to adapt our way of doing things so that new employees still feel connected, even remotely. This has meant lots of extra communication and check-ins, as well as opportunities for informal catch-ups to replace that water cooler chat people are missing.”
One big change the company has made is the introduction of ‘You Days’ – these are a monthly, company-wide day off.
“Even though we offer unlimited time off, we found during the beginning of the pandemic people naturally took less time off, as they had nowhere to go. These days have been really popular and provide a much needed break where everyone can collectively switch off,” says Diviney.
“While remote work is not ideal for everyone, what we’ve learned is that our employees can be equally productive working at home, and that flexible work options can give us a better quality of life.”