It should, by now, be apparent to virtually everyone – besides senior government ministers, inner-city commercial landlords, and Alan Sugar – that adopting a remote working model can bring a wealth of benefits to organisations and their workers.
Not only has the rise in flexible working ushered in by the pandemic made more than half of employees happier and more productive in their jobs, according to a survey by Microsoft, but it has also enabled enterprise leaders to keep operational costs down on fancy office spaces, expensive business trips, and much more besides.
While WFH has certainly been a great success for many organisations – and has rightly given workers the opportunity to better organise their time inside and out of work – it is sensible for firms to strike a healthy balance when it comes to remote working to ensure that employees are not only happier in their jobs, but that the transition from the office to the living room does not adversely affect the smooth running of the business.
Of course, by saying this, I realise that I run the risk of sounding ‘anti-WFH’, anti-workers’ rights, and ‘antiquated’ in my view of modern business practices. This, however, couldn’t be further from the truth. For the record, I have been working from home for over 10 years now, and because I recognise how effective this way of working can be, I give my team the freedom to decide when and from where they work, with no obligation to ever come into a traditional office setting if they don’t want to.
This also includes unlimited holiday, which I believe is a key to tackling the work-life balance so many of us struggle with. It’s an odd concept to many but one that many businesses, including Goldman Sachs, LinkedIn, Bumble and Netflix take very seriously. Not only does it empower employees, but it also attracts them.
This is especially important in today’s economy when great talent is so hard to find. Naturally it can be open to abuse if not correctly monitored, but I trust my staff to do the job I hired them for. That being said, if they fail to hit their targets and are taking long breaks away, I will naturally address it with them. After all, the numbers don’t lie!
As far as I’m concerned, if my team is happier because they have more time and money, and the business is continuing to thrive despite people not sitting in an office for eight hours every day, embracing WFH is somewhat of a no brainer.
However, it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge that my eagerness to assume the role of the ‘cool boss’ by adopting this policy initially made me somewhat complacent at times and resulted in a minority of – now former – workers exploiting what should be an affirming and mutually-beneficial working model.
For example, the increased amount of time spent at home – and largely out of sight and earshot of their colleagues – had emboldened some to moonlight, with the rationale that they can work an extra full-time job during the hours they were paid to do their existing one. This, of course, is simply not on, and as such, employers need to take appropriate action to prevent people taking unfair advantage of the business.
What I’ve learnt
In situations where you have reason to believe that workers are taking liberties with remote working practices, it is, of course, important to first get more concrete proof to back up your suspicions before confronting them about it.
Even then, you should try to give people the benefit of the doubt – after all, there could be a whole host of reasons why they don’t seem to have carried out their work to the standard that you expect of them. Some of these reasons could be particularly sensitive in nature, so bear that in mind before you wade in all guns blazing.
Although it is always best to approach such situations with an element of caution, it is also important not to allow dishonest workers to take advantage of you further by deceiving you into believing that they have a good reason for not working when, in actual fact, they don’t.
In this sense, it is about striking a balance between being a good boss who genuinely cares about their employees, but also refusing to be taken for a mug because you’ve been overly generous with your remote working policies.
We like for people to have their Microsoft Teams status set to active, so as to be able to call and speak to them when needed. As a business owner, such measures certainly help put my mind at ease because it’s clear to see that staff are available.
In essence, making WFH a success is contingent on your ability to balance the need to trust people to deliver outputs and value for the business, and not become one of those awful, backwards kind of bosses who micromanages their employees to the nth degree.
I’ve learnt that adopting such a balance has been instrumental to the smooth and efficient running of my business, at the same time as allowing my team a greater level of control over how and when they complete their work.
Be a good – but sensible – boss
Of course, it is important to remember that flexible working is probably not going to be everyone’s preference, and as such people should be given the option to work in an office setting if they would like to. For others, moving to WFH is likely to be something of a learning curve, and as such organisations need to ensure that processes are put in place to engage with employees while working remotely, and support them in the transition.
While WFH has been a huge success, and bosses are rightly recognising how they can take advantage of flexible working, it is equally vital that employers ensure that they are not themselves taken advantage of by shifting towards this model.
Alex Dick is the Managing Director of Alexander Lyons Solutions