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Coronavirus: eight tips to support staff working from home

Since the lock down, anyone who could work from home has been expected to do so. Many of us are now into our fourth or fifth week of working from our kitchen tables and are getting used to juggling work alongside other demands such as looking after and schooling our children. 

With no immediate end in site, we look at what you can do to continue to support your staff and maintain productivity.  

1. Be open and trust your team

Make sure your staff understand what they have to do and set clear deadlines. Then, other than checking in with them (see below) leave them to get on with their jobs. Now's not the time to micro-manage your staff; it's much better to focus on their results rather than their activity. 

You may need to be flexible about start/finish times and accept that staff with caring responsibilities may not be as productive as normal or may need to work differently.

If your staff log onto your servers, it might slow your processes down if everyone starts at the same time. One option is to allow staff (particularly if they have caring responsibilities) to work outside of normal hours if that doesn't interfere with any service delivery markers you have to maintain. For example, they may be able to vary their working week to include Saturday and Sunday, earlier mornings or later evenings etc. 

2. Communicate clearly and effectively

Most people who are not used to working from home will find some aspects of it odd. They may not have a sophisticated workstation at home or have access to the tool's or programmes that make their working lives easier. It's important to recognise this and, if necessary, amend your expectations.

Remember also, that not everyone is suited to working remotely. Some people find it very isolating and may struggle with their mental health if they have to do it for weeks/months at a time.  

Managers should take time to check in with their staff to make sure they are okay. Don't leave it until things go wrong. It's also sensible to hold regular team meetings (provided you have something to say), one to one catch ups and virtual coffee breaks - even if these only last a few minutes. This maintains a sense of structure and continuity. Plus, think about how you communicate - picking up the phone is often quicker and more effective than sending an email.

3. Make time for social interaction

Leave some time at the beginning of your team calls for non-work items so you can spend few minutes catching up with each other. Virtual team pub quizzes, virtual events (outside of core hours) can help reduce feelings of isolation and can keep up morale.

4. Offer encouragement and emotional support

Make sure that managers are able to recognise when their staff are under too much pressure. Early signs may be a lack of engagement, sensitivity to constructive criticism, tearfulness etc. If there's a problem, find out what is causing it and what you can realistically do to help. 

The tone of these conversations is important. If you listen without interrupting and empathise with what the employee is going through, you are more likely to be able to effectively support them.

5. Look after employees health and safety 

You have the same health and safety responsibilities for home workers as for any other workers. If your staff work remotely, on anything other than a temporary basis, you’ll need to ask them to do a quick risk assessment to make sure their working environment is safe. They’ll need a table to work at, good lighting and somewhere to sit. You only need to do what is ‘reasonably practicable’ so everything doesn’t have to be perfect. The HSE has a checklist you can use.

Remember: home workers may be particularly vulnerable to stress related illnesses because they may feel lonely and isolated or have difficulty in separating home and work life. The HSE makes it clear that if contact is poor, workers may feel disconnected, isolated or abandoned and that this can affect stress levels and mental health.

6. Encourage staff to take regular breaks

You should remind employees to take regular screen breaks and get up from their desk and move around just as they would in an office and take regular lunch and coffee breaks. Employees who work remotely often end up working longer hours and do not have the ability to switch off. Encourage your staff to try and draw a line between home life and work life and speak to them if they appear to be working excessively long hours.

7. Holidays are important

Although the concept of taking a holiday is very different in the current lock down, its important for staff to take time away from work.

Ask your staff to consider how they might take time out to rest and recharge even during the lockdown and consider amending your usual holiday policy to accommodate this. For example, some staff won't want to take holiday in full working blocks of a week so you could perhaps encourage them instead to take long weekends, take a morning or afternoon off or even a few hours to enable them to focus on their health and well being.

8. Maintain confidentiality

You need to put systems in place to make sure that the information your staff have access to (paper and electronic documents) are kept confidential.  To some extent, the approach you take will depend upon where staff are working and whether they use their own or your systems and equipment.  If you allow your staff to use their own laptops or phones, you will need to make sure that appropriate security and malware software is installed.  You will also want to know whether other people (such as family members) will also be able to use these devises and put steps in place to make sure they can’t access your information and data. 

In all cases, you will need to make sure that individuals adopt long passwords with multi-characters, two-step authentication processes, and unique passwords for different systems and logins. 

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