Dr Adrian Wright, Director of UCLan’s Institute for Research into Organisations, Work and Employment (iROWE) explores how managers can continue to supervise employees during home working.
Rather than homeworking being a choice for some businesses and employees for one or two days, enforced homeworking due to Covid-19 has now become the status quo. Even though the lockdown restrictions are lifting, homeworking will undoubtedly become more prominent. Therefore, it is increasingly important that managers and owners of businesses are best prepared to manage employees remotely to maintain a happy and productive workforce.
So, what can be done to effectively manage a home workforce to benefit employees and businesses alike?
"We should value autonomy, flexibility and diversity in order to support employees who may be experiencing unequal impacts as a result of the increase in homeworking."
Reduce stress and promote staff voices
Homeworking comes with positives and negatives. While working from home has often been understood to enhance quality of working life by achieving a better work-life balance, it has become increasingly clear during the pandemic that alongside potential benefits, remote working also has negative effects on employees.
Enforced homeworking has impacted hugely on social relations at work, as meetings become more instrumental and interactions more fleeting. Similarly, the current ways of working have blurred the boundaries between the workplace and the home, as the office and the home has become the place. The new proximity to our work can feel like we are living at work.
Working at home can also unequally impact on certain groups of employees. For example, women undertake the majority of caring responsibilities and marginalised parts of the workers can find their voice difficult to be heard.
As home and blended forms of working become more prominent, there can be a tendency for managers to respond by being more task orientated and transactional, emphasising deadlines and tasks to the detriment of employee wellbeing, stress and isolation. This approach can be dangerous as scepticism concerning labour productivity may create workplace tension.
Employees feeling distrusted, alienated or unsatisfied with the job can result in longer term consequences such as higher staff turnover and challenges to organisational commitment.
Value flexibility and staff development
As businesses recover, more are reconsidering their approach to physical workplaces. With some moving to remoting working as a permanent solution, it is crucial that businesses maintain the trust and commitment of employees in order to face the inevitable challenges ahead. Attention must be paid to core principles such as secure, well paid work and staff development and progression which give employees financial security in these uncertain times.
We should value autonomy, flexibility and diversity in order to support employees who may be experiencing unequal impacts as a result of the increase in homeworking. A central tenet is ensuring businesses support the health and wellbeing of the workforce, particularly as we approach the return to a physical workplace.
So, in addition to the above, what are some of the key steps businesses should take to support employees working at home to support health, wellbeing and productivity?
- Be flexible when considering employees personal circumstances, including caring responsibilities, health conditions and disabilities and how this might impact on their needs and work.
- Provide a platform for employee’s voices to be heard. Communication is key and important in developing trust, co-operation and commitment.
- Take account of changing work patterns, talk to employees about setting boundaries between work and home life.
- Take time out to think about how social relations at work can be maintained and new work relationships can formed.
- Think carefully about employees’ work intensity, offer support on limiting video calls and meetings and encourage different ways of working.
Dr Adrian Wright
Director of Institute for Research into Organisations, Work and Employment (iROWE). To find out more about the work of iROWE please contact: AWright2@uclan.ac.uk.