How do you create cohesion when some staff are back in the office and some are still at home? Natalie Cooke, the founder of ncco.ie, has a few ideas
The Covid-19 pandemic has certainly proven that the working-from-home concept does not negatively affect sustained productivity in employees working remotely. However, if it’s teamwork that makes that dream work, we have to consider that maintaining positive business outcomes might have been a little easier when all team members were in the same boat and all meetings took place via Zoom.
Now, with some team members choosing to return to the office and others choosing to remain at home, it may be more difficult to maintain cohesion between all employees. Overall, productivity and results therein could be at risk. To help us better understand how to prevent this happening, we spoke to Natalie Cooke, the founder of ncco.ie, an award-winning business consultancy that supports its clients to improve communications, processes and operations.
Natalie says, “COVID-19, for all of its harsh realities, has resulted in the positive acceleration of the idea that the workplace can now be at-home or wherever we want to work, rather than a physical office space.
“At ncco, we’ve noticed huge growth in our consultations with businesses from all industries over recent weeks as businesses try to either limit the number of people on-site or accommodate their employees’ personal preferences. Most are rightly concerned about team cohesion, productivity, team morale and staff retention.
“It’s fair to say that virtual working is now absolutely here to stay. However, this brings new challenges for managing a modern workforce. For starters, remote working has come around a lot quicker than most senior management teams expected. Although we’ve seen lots of businesses offer ‘work-from-home, one day a week’ for at least five years as a benefit or perk, that’s incomparable to the full-time remote working they need to offer now.
“The real difficulty for businesses over the coming weeks will be creating cohesion between those that want to work from the designated company workspace and those who are more comfortable working from home.
“Directors need to consider that meetings may be taking place more frequently between the team members that are based in the office, project tasks may be delegated exclusively between face-to-face employees, in-office employees may be more client-facing, at-home team members may start to feel excluded and lack interpersonal connections, others may start to resent their workloads feeling that they’re overworked, it becomes tougher for managers to recognise moral issues – and that’s just the beginning.
“The good news is that home-based employees, being that they are likely more flexible, will respond positively to transformational management and operational styles, and so will adapt well to any new procedures you implement to support them.
“Poor cohesion is caused by poor communication and lack of clear protocols. So, my advice is to get ahead of the risk and start to focus on implementing new processes and procedures as soon as you can.”
Natalie’s top tips to hit the ground running:
Consider the viability of WFH
“It’s one thing to offer WFH because you believe you should, but it’s another to offer it in such a way that supports your business and your team.
“The first thing to ask yourself is, is offering employees both the option to work-from-home and work-from-office, viable? For instance, do you know the detail of each employee’s at-home situation and is such suitable as a workplace when must-have resources such as mobile phone, WIFI and adequate seating are considered?
“I recommend having a one-to-one with employees that wish to work from home to see what, if any, practical challenges they have been experiencing over the last few months and what needs to be done to make at-home working possible for them.
“Once you’ve identified who can safely and effectively work from home, you may realise that it may not be possible for such a number of employees to be out of the office at one time, now that in many business cases full-capacity has resumed.
"It may be worthwhile creating a shared online timetable of who works at home and when, and who works in the office and when, to ensure accountability and keep the physical office ticking over seamlessly. This will also help you to deliver on distancing guidelines by ensuring the office is never too over-crowded.”
Establish new processes, protocols and procedures
“A must-have for any business offering work-from-home is a WFH Toolkit. This should be shared with all employees, both in-office and remote, and should detail how WFH is rolled out and the expectations on employees availing of the initiative.
“Some expectations might include how regularly they need to attend in-office meetings, how they will report IT issues, how they will be expected to communicate with colleagues and managers.
“It will also outline practical guides like how employees should go about expensing their new at-home office costs etc.
“In addition, you’ll have to invest in software that allows all. For some that may mean granting external access to servers and for others it may mean making sure you have adequate software for project management.
“Tools that integrate together, built on API platforms such as using CRM and an internal comms plug-in such as Slack, Teams etc are excellent options and work well with Google Suite and Microsoft services. This creates strong workflows whilst also removing the dreaded silo effect that often happens in WFH/Office scenarios when teams can’t communicate quickly and effectively with one another.
“It’s worth being aware that while Zoom, Teams and Hangouts are all fantastic tools, Zoom Fatigue is very much a real thing so be careful not to rely on this as your main form of communication and reporting. If working from home is truly going to work for your business, video link can’t become your bedrock. Video is a great complementary tool but you have to invest in reporting systems that can be accessed by all.”
Commit to leadership
“Over recent weeks, I have advised many clients to appoint a WFH Team Lead. Depending on your team size this will be one or two people that are appointed to deal with employee grievances and check-in on all employees, both in-office and at-home, to ensure the are happy with how the system is working.
“They will also play a leading role in creating the content of your WFH Toolkit and updating it as the initiative develops. They should also be pro-active about exploring ways to make the initiative even more positive for business outcomes.
“At a minimum, if you have employees working both at-home and in-office, internal communications must be ramped up. For many reasons. The first is to ensure all employees are aware of the goings-on company wide – think things they would normally find out in the kitchen.
"The second is to ensure all employees feel connected to their colleagues and part of the team. Using the tools suggested above will create efficiency, security and a deeper sense of connection amongst team members.”
Focus on team culture
“Speaking of that important colleague connection, it’s now more important than ever to focus on team culture! Happy, well-introduced and well-connected team members perform better in teams — which is good news for you. A nice idea might be to appoint a work-from-home team member as the social team lead to organise all the meet-ups.
“Another idea might be to encourage teams to set weekly virtual meet-ups for lunchtime or coffee so that they are connecting face-to-face regularly and encourage these meet-ups to be casual and focus on fun.”
ncco.ie is a digital transformation, process improvement and business development agency serving enterprises, SMEs and micro-businesses both nationally and globally across every sector – including finance, pharmaceutical, technology, manufacturing, food & drink, health & wellness and professional services.
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