They used to say “out of sight out of mind” but that is not an option in business. With more employees than ever working outside the office, no business should forget about the conditions they are working in. Happy workers are more productive and less inclined to quit – two huge overheads, and they don’t stop being overheads when they are out of sight.
Some of the problems can be addressed with new technology investments. Others require individualised outreach to employees and a greater interest in their personal welfare.
The British are already accustomed to longer working hours than our European neighbours (42.5 hours a week, officially) and all the studies show we do even more when working from home. Many outworkers are bent over small-screen laptops in dark corners, using dodgy home broadband with the kids fighting and dogs barking. Or they may be missing human company. Businesses must acknowledge this and do all they can to improve their resources and conditions. Flexible working is an enormous opportunity to develop employee loyalty and reduce overheads if we get it right.
Trick 1 – Make them comfortable!
You can’t buy every employee a new home but you can at least take an interest. Make sure they are well equipped with both hardware and software. Better screens will reduce eye strain – so provide them. Daylight bulbs might make a big difference for a small cost. Advice about exercise and nutrition are also valuable, as are trips out of the house – so provide discount vouchers to encourage all these things.
Natural light is a miraculous health booster, linked to improved mood, productivity and work satisfaction. Conversely, artificial lighting can lead to poor sleep, metabolic issues and low mood. Comfort and posture is equally important, so consider providing proper office chairs.
Allowing employees to use their own phones and computers is potentially a great cost saver, but expecting them to provide everything could be offensive (and a breach of their contracts). It is also a major cybersecurity risk. Whether or not they use their own devices or yours, you still need your IT team to vet the security precautions on every device that connects to your office network or Cloud services.
Trick 2- Keep them talking
Without the “water cooler moments” that are part of office life, workers can become lonely, demotivated and stressed by the absence of casual assistance. To keep everyone happy you simply must encourage communication. That means providing many communication tools not just one – because each is good to different people for different reasons. They should include virtual “break out rooms” giving staff the chance to socialise and make valuable connections during the day. It is important for managers to check-in with their teams personally, but not to invade private exchanges.
The risk however is that important company information then becomes spread across different systems – a headache for process control and data protection. The best solution may be a unified enterprise communications platform (UCaaS) but if you aren’t ready for that at least provide a clear framework for everyone to use.
Trick 3 – Retain the right people
Continuously finding and training workers is expensive in more ways than one. HR costs can be measured but the indirect consequences of lost expertise, teamwork and client relationships is probably greater. Conversely, a strong culture attracts talent, retains expertise, builds loyalty and improves teamwork. Studies suggest that a strong workplace culture can add 60-200% to a company’s share value.
While communication tools for your workers are a pre-requisite, you need to do more. People take to different communication mediums differently. Someone fun to work with in the office can become a disturbance in chat groups. Someone charming in the flesh may be abrasive on the telephone. Simply put, when you change the media you may need a completely new HR approach to hiring and work organisation.