Words Neil Humphreys, partner at Howgate Sable

The outbreak of COVID-19 triggered a global work-from-home experiment practically overnight. Initially, the roll-out of remote working was a concern for many corporates – a fifth, according to Hitatchi Capital Business Finance – but as the weeks have waged into months, there has been a noticeable shift in attitude.

Brands including Facebook and Google hit the media as they announced that policies had been extended until 2021 and Twitter stated that employees were invited to work from home indefinitely. Both bold approaches, but as businesses come to realise that employees can operate efficiently off-site, it’s predicted that remote working will have a firm place in the post-pandemic world.

There’s the unmistakeable benefit of increased savings on office space and statistics have also suggested that working from home boosts productivity and employee wellness. Additionally, without the limitations of geography, businesses can open up their talent pool to include the best of the best – a perk that many of our clients can vouch for.

However, as remote working becomes more widespread, the management of this workforce will require formalisation. Quick fix measures that were put in place to see companies through the initial stages of lockdown aren’t sustainable long-term solutions. There will be essential investment in tech required, necessary updates to HR policies and there’s another key consideration – who is responsible for a newly remote workforce?

The obvious answer would be a HRD and their department but is managing a geographically distanced team not a job in itself? Particularly a team that has felt the effects of coronavirus and therefore requires a higher level of support – professional and pastoral.

Employees, no matter where they are, crave a sense of responsibility. They want to feel accountable for the role they play and truly believe that they’re part of a bigger picture. Common challenges of remote working span from a lack of face-to-face supervision and access to information, to distractions at home and feelings of social isolation. Businesses that make a successful shift will establish daily check-ins and new rules of engagement. They’ll need to provide several different communication technology options and opportunities for remote social interaction, as well as focus on offering heightened encouragement and emotional support.

Of course, policies, training and performance evaluation of remote workers will still fall to HR. However, I’d encourage those organisations that see a future of remote working to seriously consider whether there’s a space at the boardroom table – or within a senior leadership team – for a new expert. Someone whose sole purpose is to focus on the needs of a home-based team – to drive productivity, encourage collaboration, analyse the efficacy of systems, identify potential issues and, crucially, provide a listening ear to employees.

It’s a complex role and one that requires professional and personal skills in equal measure, but the right individual has the ability to transform a business. Our sector experts can offer support with defining this new role and access world class individuals with the talent required to support your business as it adapts to the new normal.

Contact us here.