Check out some of our best feature articles in 2020
The Future of flexible work – dual working
Adam Coleman is CEO of HRLocker, a cloud-based HR platform, which now serves more than 20,000 daily users in more than 55 countries from its headquarters in Lahinch, Co Clare. While the company has had a flexible working approach since it started, Adam shares what he’s learned about how the recent restrictions imposed due to Covid-19 have prompted some lasting changes in how the company operates.
A lot’s been said about how the Covid-19 restrictions are likely to spark a surge in working from home, or remote and flexible working. So it’s worth asking the question: when life and work start to return to normal as the restrictions ease, will things go back to way they were, or will it change our behaviour?
Many businesses that would never have considered remote working before are now discovering how productivity levels have gone up or stayed the same. It’s changing the perception of individuals who might never have contemplated working from home on a more permanent basis. There is a growing acceptance that dual working arrangements could become the norm going forward.
What you do, not where you go.
Then there are wider benefits to the business, like being able to retain excellent staff who might have otherwise left if they were relocating or in search of more flexible working conditions. And when location no longer affects someone’s ability to work well, suddenly it opens up a much wider talent pool to recruit from, beyond people who happen to live within commuting distance of the office.
But let’s be clear about one thing first: there’s working from home, and then there’s working from home during Covid-19. Anyone who had worked remotely before the Coronavirus struck will tell you there’s a world of difference between having a designated work space at home, compared to working from home when you’re sharing that space with a partner, as well as children who need home schooling or supervision.
I can speak as someone who’s been an advocate for flexible working for a long time. When I founded HRLocker back in 2004, I set it up from Lahinch in the West of Ireland after moving back there from the UK. HRLocker began as a HR consultancy, then in 2008 when the downturn hit, we had to scale back the business and reinvent ourselves. Together with Assembly Point, a software development company in Cork, we developed an online product. This started getting real traction from late 2013. The beauty of being cloud-based is that it enables the HRLocker team to work from anywhere. So far, we have attracted people from Galway, Dublin, the UK, South Africa and Brazil.
Productive in a pinch.
We use a technology stack that’s designed to let people get productive from any desk within three minutes. As the business grew, we built an open, transparent meritocracy based on dual working, a concept that combined people coming to the office for some of the week and working from home at other times.
But then the Covid-19 restrictions happened, and everything changed.
From a technology point of view, we found the jump to being a fully remote company easy. We haven’t needed to start using new tools as a result of working remotely. We were already using a cloud based phone system (3Connect) very successfully for example, this meant we could easily divert calls to mobiles no matter where we happen to be working. It also lets us dial out using a number that’s local to the region our customers are in, like the UK or USA, which is critical for sales.
Even though we had the tools and we were already familiar with them, we still needed to make the mental leap. When the restrictions began in March, it took the team a few weeks to get reasonably comfortable with a new rhythm of work, and we needed to make some adjustments along the way based on early feedback.
Lessons from lockdown: making remote work, work.
Our mindset has even changed in that, now we can see how 100% remote can work, and after six weeks, we can say it is working – but it took effort. So what did we learn?
When people can’t come to the office, the conversations, collaboration and sharing of ideas that would happen organically in an office setting aren’t available to us. Collaboration has to be scheduled and designed. For example, we hold an ‘all hands’ meeting for the entire team on a Monday, a management meeting on a Tuesday and I have a dedicated 40 minute catch-up with all of the people who report to me, every week. Our sales team has daily meetings at either 9am or at 4.30, rarely for more than 15 minutes.
Leadership 101: empathy and understanding.
More than ever, businesses need to coach their leaders in empathy. I can’t emphasise this enough. It’s a manager’s job to be attuned to their team’s needs. In the office, it’s much easier to read visual cues if someone is unfocused or worried. In a remote setting, it’s only by asking direct questions and listening attentively to the answers that managers can get a feel for how people are coping – or not. If someone on the team has a problem, the manager needs to empathise and understand that they might need some leeway on a deadline if they’re dealing with personal issues.
The lesson for businesses is to understand how their people want to communicate and make decisions. Some people are perfectly happy to dive into the detail of a discussion as soon as a call starts, other people need time for small talk before tackling the issue at hand, and you’ve got to allow for both approaches. The same is true of teams: one size doesn’t fit all so you might need a different approach for marketing than for billing or development.
Learning as you work.
Ultimately, work in all its forms – dual, remote, or flexible – comes back to people. Making it a success starts with hiring individuals who are comfortable with evolving ways of work, or else they’ll find it difficult.
As this crisis should teach us, remote working is about so much more than having a policy or ticking a box. This is about adult development, and about empowering them to do their jobs as well as possible, wherever that’s possible.
Adam Coleman will be sharing his experiences in an upcoming webinar hosted by Three, which will look at flexible working after Covid-19: the culture, tools, policies and practices that will change how your business works. For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org. For further information about HRLocker visit www.HRLocker.com.
Sunday Business Post
Clearly defined principles help firms transition to WFH
Do you trust your people to be productive while they work from home? Have you put all the correct measures in place to allow your employees to work in a dispersed way?
For many managers and employers unfamiliar with remote working, the transition is proving Challenging, particularly in cases where individuals are underperforming. It would be easy to lay the blame at their virtual feet, but ultimately it falls to the manager to encourage behaviours that promote productivity In order to do this, it’s important to define your principles. What is fundamentally important to your business? What makes you different to everyone else, and what are you trying to achieve?
Next, you will need to look at the behaviours you need to instil in your staff to ensure that these principles filter down to all parts of the business and how it operates. Once you’ve agreed on a principle, give it a title and create a draft definition.
Workshop it with the rest of your employees online. Ask each workshop participant to put forward suggestions for “what good looks like” under that principle. This way you’ll have their buy-in and there can be no confusion over what is expected of them.
When the workshops are completed, mix all the findings and come up with an agreed title and definition and an outline of “what good looks like”. While every organisation will have its own nuances, here is a snapshot of our own three core principles and three core behaviours.
For us, this is about maintaining and promoting social, business, ethical and organisational norms across all of our internal and external business activities. Putting it into practice, we expect all of our employees to maintain confidentiality, meet personal and business commitments and adhere to the company’s policies and procedures.
A firm’s core principles must filter down to all its staff
Trust and truth
Trust and truth are the foundations of remote-working success. Without them, it cannot work, but it’s a two-way thing. We ask that our employees have trust in the company’s actions and be truthful to the company at all times.
We operate an open transparent meritocracy As such, our employees have a duty to the company and to themselves. We believe wholeheartedly that their development, performance and relationships will lead to success for them personally and for the company as a whole. The three behaviours we have defined in order to ensure we uphold these principles are as follows:
Behaviour 1: Flexibility
For us, this is about maintaining effectiveness in varying environments and with regard to differing tasks, responsibilities and people. It is about continually seeking new and better ways of working and becoming more efficient and simplistic. Delivering on this behaviour means:
applying an agile approach to work at all times;
adjusting our behaviour to others’ style in order to promote efficiency;
changing priorities to meet the changing demands of our business and clients;
adjusting quickly to new responsibilities and tasks.
We’ve defined this as working effectively with others, both inside and outside our team, in order to accomplish organisational goals and to establish and maintain good working relationships. It is also about taking actions that respect the needs and the success of the business and the contribution of others. In practice this means:
establishing and building good interpersonal relationships, not keeping secrets relating to work and supporting and listening to others;
asking for help and encouraging involvement, sharing thoughts, feelings and rationale, and exchanging information freely;
building on and developing our own and others’ ideas, and supporting company decisions when appropriate, even when they are in conflict with our own;
clarifying situations and facilitating agreement when needed.
Behaviour 3: Initiative and execution
This is about “self-starting” and taking the prompt action required to achieve objectives. It works well when employees:
take immediate action when they are confronted with a problem;
implement new ideas and solutions without prompting;
take action that goes beyond the basic requirements of the job in order to achieve company objectives;
generate ideas that could improve work processes and practices;
take advantage of opportunities for self-improvement when presented.
Adam Coleman is chief executive at HRLocker
The Sunday Business Post
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Check out some of our best feature articles in 2020
The Sunday Business Post
Tread softly as a remote manager
Whether it was common practice at your organisation before the Covid-19 pandemic or not, working from home is now the “new normal”.
With limited face-time and more work being done by email, managers must pay particular attention to the way they manage staff.
The skills that were so effective in the office may prove useless – or even harmful – in the world of remote working.
Here are the soft skills you need to hone to be a successful remote manager.
Do you trust your team to be productive while they work from home? That’s the biggest question you need to ask. There are probably some employees in whom you have complete faith, and then there are those in whom you don’t. It can be tempting to micro-manage those you think may lack initiative. Don’t do it. Nothing kills motivation, morale and productivity like having someone looking over your shoulder, even virtually. Instead, business leaders need to see this as an opportunity to encourage and inspire team members to take ownership of the job at hand. Delegate specific tasks and projects to each individual, hold them accountable and be positive; this is their chance to rise to the challenge. You should use conferencing and project management software to monitor productivity. Just remember they are tools and not a cure-all.
Now is not the time for indecision. In the midst of this uncertainty, employees are looking to leadership for guidance and stability. Taking a structured approach to decision-making, assessing the situation and the options available, and clearly explaining the choice you make will instil purpose and confidence in your team.
Common decision-making pitfalls to avoid include:
• Trusting your gut over facts. Take the time to assess the information available.
• Over-thinking a decision. While it’s important not to rush to a conclusion, time is a factor not to be ignored.
• Getting caught up in minutiae.
• Making binary decisions. More often than not, there are more options than just A or B. With the rules changing day by day, it’s important to remain flexible in your thinking.
Elements to factor into your decision-making include taking an agile approach to work, being able to refocus the team’s priorities and adapting to the shifting demands of the business and its clients.
A bunch of employees sitting in the same office does not constitute a team. It takes a leader to bring them together as a functioning unit. As the captain of your team, it is your job to unite everyone to accomplish the organisation’s goals, leveraging their individual strengths, setting goals and openly acknowledging their effort. Just because you’re all working remotely now doesn’t make you any less of a team. On the contrary, the current crisis has the potential to create tighter, more aligned teams. Beyond setting goals, it is essential to incorporate less formal, more social team gatherings that support your culture and allow your team to bond.
Some activities that can help include:
• Hosting a team morning- coffee or water-cooler video chat;
• Setting up team chats on WhatsApp around Netflix, pets, working with the kids at home, etc;
• Setting up tournaments with daily brain teasers.
As managers, we all need to be more empathic than usual to our employees. We don’t know how the crisis is affecting each individual. Do they have children whom they need to look after during the day? Have any of their family tested positive for Covid-19? What is their mental health like and how might the increased isolation affect them? These are just some of the considerations to take on board. Encourage your team to share any difficulties they are experiencing. Monitor workloads and watch for signs that someone might be struggling. While a regimented approach might get you some quick wins, in the long run, a lack of empathy will only lead to disengagement, mistrust and reduced productivity.
With no definitive end in sight for the lockdown, businesses must adapt their models and their management styles around remote working, promoting an environment that is committed to the continued success of the organisation and its people.
Adam Coleman is chief executive at HRLocker
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