Like every other business owner back in 2020 I had my doubts about employees working from home. We have a staff of around 150 and culture is at the very heart of our business. Take that face-to-face time away and the concern was would people have that bond with colleagues, would they feel motivated and valued and how – as a business – would we manage this? Yet in just a few short months we saw productivity had gone through the roof. People were clearly happy working from home and having that flexibility to take the dog for a walk or pick up the kids etc. At the end of the day, if someone gets the job done quicker and faster remotely then why not let them, it’s a no brainer.
But of course, while some people thrived, others struggled. We are all different and as an employer, I think it’s important to recognise there are certain things you can do to ensure staff are 100% engaged – whether they are working from home or not. My top tips would be:
1. Realise it’s more than a salary
In the last two years, I’ve employed two or three senior executives who have been way out of my league in terms of capability, knowledge, network and salary and they’ve all joined this business for less than half of their salary. This is all because they believe in the purpose.
Don’t get me wrong you need to pay staff well and you need attractive salaries that draw people who will match your drive, enthusiasm and expertise. But money isn’t everything – it needs to be more than transactional. You need to create an environment where people feel valued, trusted and can grow. Empowering your staff can do wonders and when it comes to working from home it’s even more essential. Trust is everything.
No one likes to be micromanaged. Smothering or being too intrusive is enough to put anyone off. Some businesses have installed monitoring systems on laptops to ‘catch people out.’ This is just a recipe for disaster creating a stressful environment and will likely lead to your staff wanting to go elsewhere. Instead, managers should give employees the freedom to structure their day whilst keeping regular lines of communication throughout the week.
2. Communication with employees working from home is key
Be clear and have a simple system in place. Emails can’t do everything and can sometimes get lost in translation. Seeing a face even if it’s just virtually can minimise miscommunication issues and can help develop a good rapport within teams. We’ve personally instigated a TEAMS technology where video conferences can be held when they need to be. Not vital and time-critical calls can be also scheduled. Whereas with routine matters we use regular messaging – “are you available for a call?” leaving it down to their discretion. Allowing individuals to control and plan their own workload efficiently, rather than being constantly interrupted.
However, that being said, it’s still good to get some in-person time in if you can to avoid people feeling isolated. Face to face is still great for holding meetings, brainstorms, collaborating and socialising with colleagues.
3. Be human and authentic
People can see through insincerity. It’s critical you are relatable and authentic. When they know you are genuine and that you put them first, they begin to also put you first. It’s a two-way relationship.
However, the key to creating these relationships and the associated success is true vulnerability. When people relate to you and see that you are just as vulnerable as they are, the human spirit will always jump in to help someone in need.
I was there every step of the way with my employees in the pandemic ensuring regular communications throughout these difficult times to navigate them through. But I never once pretended I knew everything, instead, I was honest and transparent. I would say things like “we don’t know what is going to happen any more than you do. We are all going to have to hold our breath at the same time, for the same amount of time, until we get clarity into what is going to happen.”
People should always come before profits
If you don’t invest in your staff, they won’t invest in your business. You get what you put in at the end of the day. This shouldn’t stop when working from home, if anything, you should invest more in training and team-building activities. You don’t want to risk staff feeling like strangers and you certainly don’t want them to feel bored, unchallenged and like they aren’t growing.
Care for your staff and they’ll care for you. In a time where mental health issues are rife and have been exacerbated by recent events, employers need to look after their staff more than ever. But how can we check in with employees’ well-being when we don’t see them in person that often? Well during the pandemic even with those that were furloughed we implemented a whole range of programmes which looked after both the physical and mental wellbeing of all our staff. We started a series of daily voluntary, web-based activities from quizzes, exercise classes to workshops. Working from home doesn’t mean you can’t have a laugh together. We personally organised an online company-wide talent show but there are plenty of other creative things you can do to boost morale and raise spirits.
It’s important to remember actions always speak louder than words. Show them they are valued and you care. Put colleagues’ welfare and happiness before your own, and they will be behind you. Blanket policies and statements won’t demonstrate this. Reward their efforts, for instance, take the team on a meal or give them a bonus. They are part of a family, not just employee numbers on a profit and loss sheet.
Jeff Dewing is the CEO of Cloudfm and author of Doing the Opposite – a bestselling book following his incredible journey from owning a successful business (and football club) to losing it all and having only £7.60 in his bank account. Despite this Jeff, who started his career as a fridge and air-conditioning engineer, managed to turn his life around and build a new business from £1m to £70m turnover within four years. He attributes much of his success to his belief that you should never take the easy, straightforward path – if you challenge things and do the opposite good things will happen.