The concept of working remotely certainly isn’t anything new. It was the norm long before trendy office blocks and commuting even existed – in fact, before the Industrial Revolution, virtually everyone worked out of their own homes!
However, back in March 2020, many employers who were traditionally office-based were found rushing to adapt their processes and ways of working to cope with being away from usual office life. Things like their HRIS software, IT infrastructure, and working practices all had to undergo rapid changes to fit this new uncertain world – and for many, it came as a shock to the system.
Speaking from my own experiences, whilst there was an initial giddy excitement of not having to travel to an office every day, this has now waned considerably, and I now find myself missing the regular hustle and bustle of a lively office.
And it appears I’ve not been the only one. According to research by Indeed, half of their respondents have missed their daily commute, 45% miss face-to-face meetings, and 73% miss socializing with their colleagues in person.
Fast forward to the closing days of 2021, and whilst lockdown restrictions have been fully lifted here in England, there’s still a great deal of hesitancy from a huge number of employers about encouraging staff to return to their offices full-time.
With Covid-19 cases still concerningly high and the additional worry of a bad flu season, it seems many businesses are not clambering to return to the working normality we all had in the heady days of 2019.
Whilst, of course, there are a huge number of benefits to working from home, it appears the ‘old way of working is something that’s dearly missed by many – and this raises a bigger question: if there’s evidence to show people miss their old routines and workspaces, could working remotely actually be hurting staff morale?
The big unknowns
Now, of course, no business wants to have their staff suffering from poor or low morale – especially given the widely-accepted negative effects it can have on productivity and job performance. But if your employees’ morale is being affected by long-term remote working, the signs can be difficult to spot and even harder to rectify.
Luckily, there are several simple things businesses can do to help reduce the chances of working from home negatively impacting staff morale. These include:
- Supporting a culture of trust
Trust is one of those things that takes time to build but can be easily and quickly obliterated! A study from Harvard Business Review suggested that many managers have struggled to adapt to remote working resulting from the pandemic.
In fact, that same study found almost 40% of managers say they lacked confidence in their ability to lead remotely, while nearly three-quarters don’t trust, or don’t know if they can trust, their employees to work from home effectively.
In short, managerial mistrust and micromanagement can leave remote-working employees feeling anxious, uninterested, and unable to switch off from work – all key ingredients for creating terrible staff morale.
- How to do it
HR teams can stimulate positive changes with HR systems by offering senior leaders at your business training to help develop a more empowering leadership style that’s suited to the challenges of working from home long-term.
In addition, have your team leaders and managers always aim to agree with your people on an appropriate number of catch-ups and any formal reporting that might be required. By doing this, they’re helping maintain a feeling of normality but also adding to that all-important trust element, too
- Ensuring your staff have the right tools for their job
At most offices, your employees will have the infrastructure to deal with their regular duties with a minimum of fuss. They’ll generally have a good internet connection, a decent work computer and access to all the systems and files they need to do their job properly – but when they are at home, can the same be true?
Not having the resources needed to do your job when you must work from home is incredibly frustrating, and if this issue has been ongoing for a long time with your staff members, their morale may already be hitting dangerously low levels
- How to do it
If you haven’t already done it, make setting up staff to work remotely part of your standard onboarding process. Agree on what every new joiner automatically gets and make someone responsible for getting everything delivered and installed. That way, you avoid the problems that inevitably come with ad hoc processes.
You may also want to provide a route for employees to request specialist kits if needed, like ergonomic keyboards, or set a budget so employees can buy them themselves and claim back the money.
Don’t forget to create a channel for existing staff to report problems with their equipment and be prepared to help out if they are having problems outside of their control – like a poor WiFi or internet connection. It might be as simple as letting them drop out of a video call, so they can save bandwidth.
- Help your staff have positive working environments at home
Generally speaking, our homes are not kitted out for the rigmaroles of working life. At a well-run office, your HR team will take care of the dual aspects of the legal responsibility for ensuring health and safety; but also help create an environment that is conducive to positive wellbeing through the development of positive cultures and healthy working environments.
At home, however, that simply isn’t the case, meaning your people could be working in environments that are not supporting healthy wellbeing.
- How to do it
Businesses and their HR teams can step up and send employees regular tips on ergonomic best practices for working from home. They could also go one step further by assessing their employees’ home-working situations. For instance, if someone is working from a bed, could you supply them with a chair and desk instead?
In addition, they could also help go beyond just the standard H&S assessments to create a genuinely good working environment away from the office. For example, if someone must deal with lots of data or uses lots of programs open at the same time, could they benefit from an extra screen?
- Encourage dialogue
Being away from co-workers, and the social support that a workplace community can offer can be a prime cause of low employee morale. And of course, being at work isn’t always about work!
Social interactions are essential in healthy and happy working environments. So, whilst working from home may offer certain comforts your office can’t compete with, your employees will still be missing out on interacting with their friends and colleagues – and this is where a great HR team can really come into their own.
- How to do it
HR teams and managers can encourage your teams to talk to each other – and not just over email! Use your networking program of choice or use a shared workspace via your company’s own HR system to share regular, meaningful communications and news from within the business.
The more your staff interact with each other remotely, the more it will help maintain those crucial social connections which are essential to healthy, happy company cultures. Not only that, it will also help ensure that when people do meet face-to-face, they don’t need to build relationships from scratch.