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5 ways to ensure staff are ready for a winter of remote working

 
 
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Experts offer tips on how to work remotely this winter, from looking after physical and mental health to remembering to have fun.

  • Make sure workers have the tools they need for remote working
  • Help teams to reclaim their work-life balance during the winter
  • Stop staff from taking risks when it comes to online security

For many workers sent home at the start of the spring lockdown, it was a case of grab what you could from your desk and head for the door. Now, with home working advice reintroduced in England, employers can plan ahead to make sure their teams are ready for winter – especially as remote working looks like it’s here to stay.

An Institute of Directors survey found 74% of employers plan to continue using increased home working, even after the pandemic ends – some 44% of those polled reported home working was more effective than their previous setup.

Experts have offered a range of tips on how bosses can prepare their staff to work remotely again.

Looking after physical health

Making sure teams have the right tools to work from home goes far beyond simply arming them with laptops and mobile phones. Having suitable desks and chairs are important factors too, as well as aids such as footrests and wrist supports.

“Employers must ensure that staff who are working from home are safe and healthy,” says Matthew Holder, the British Safety Council’s Interim Head of Policy & Engagement.

“Part of this is about physical health, from making sure display screen equipment (DSE) responsibilities are fulfilled, such as having the right equipment, and checking any electrical wiring used when working on computers.”

Supporting staff’s mental health

Mental health is a concern for Laura Willis, Co-founder of Shine Offline, which helps workers manage their relationships with digital devices, and a motivational speaker with Speaker Buzz.

 “The best way for business leaders to support their people to have healthy, balanced digital habits is to lead by example, modelling behaviours that protect work-life balance and wellbeing,” Willis says. “Discourage and refrain from non-urgent work communications after a certain time to allow employees the chance to reclaim the safe space of the home and an end to the working day.

“Encourage regular breaks in the day and consider an organisation-wide no meeting lunch hour. Be open and let people know that we all have a right to a personal life and that downtime is important for them as individuals and business as a whole.”

Holder agrees: “Employers need to press home the message that staff must take breaks and, crucially for mental wellbeing, employers must check that staff are not suffering from stress, isolation or anxiety. A top tip is to set up regular catch ups and for employers to ensure their line managers are also keeping their teams connected.”

Keeping teams in the loop

For Yvonne Eskenzi, Founder of tech public relations firm Eskenzi PR, communication will be key this winter – both internally and externally. She points to the importance of keeping in touch with teams, and also making sure they know how to interact with clients.

“Arrange daily video conference calls with the whole team, ideally either first thing in the morning or last thing at night, or both – this not only keeps everyone in the loop and in touch but can be a real boost for people feeling a bit down and out of sorts, but most importantly everyone knows what’s going on,” she says.

“Give them some hints and tips on how to conduct themselves professionally over Zoom, especially when they’re dealing with customers.”

Eskenzi surveyed 1,000 people and found 77% admitted to texting sneakily during Zoom calls, while 66% ate food, and 17% smoked or vaped.

Getting the basics right for cyber security

The switch to home working has highlighted worries about data protection, with 48% of firms admitting they do not have adequate cybersecurity provision to maintain a 100% remote working model, according to a survey by recruitment firm Robert Walters.

“With the mass adoption of remote working, it is vitally important that employers equip their staff with foundational cyber security advice,” suggests Nathan Tittensor, a Director at consultancy firm i3Secure. “Although there are various technical solutions that can help enhance security, it is the basics that must be in place for businesses and staff to stay safe.

“This means setting out clear policies, procedures and guidance for staff on how they should access systems and data. To beware of phishing emails, to avoid use of public Wi-Fi and to ensure home Wi-Fi routers are secure. And crucially, what to do if they spot a security anomaly.”

Remember to do fun things too

One of the characteristics that sets startups apart from large corporates is the atmosphere in the office and comradery among the team. Replicating the social aspect of sharing an office can be tough when everyone is working from home, but many businesses have run Zoom quizzes or held other online gatherings.

Robbie Allen, Founder of the Thriving Box Co, has noticed a big increase in the number of companies sending “care packages” to members of staff who are working at home, featuring snacks, artisan coffees and even craft beers and gins. When he launched the business back in April, most of his customers were individuals, who wanted to send gift boxes of local goods to their families and friends, but now 80% of his trade comes from companies.

“A lot of startups will do fun things in their offices, like sharing pizzas after work, and it can be hard to replicate that online,” says Allen, who was a digital marketing consultant before launching his own business. “Sending staff a care package is one way of trying to keep that same buzz going when everyone’s working at home – workers can come together online to chat about what their favourite item was in the package, just like you would in the office.”

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