By Jeff Dewing and founder of Cloudfm
Once again, the government has issued work from home advice and who knows with the future variants whether there will be further lockdowns. The business landscape is uncertain and if there’s one lesson to be learnt from the pandemic, it is that we must be agile and adaptable. Working from home should by no means be seen as a temporary fix or solution. Businesses need to make sure they are fully digitalised and should continually look at improvements to ensure their remote processes are robust.
Like every other business owner back in 2020 I had my doubts about employees working from home. We had a staff of around 400 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?
We established very quickly that regular and quality communication and engagement was our number one priority. We had to raise the bar on this approach 10-fold if we were going to influence engagement and avoid mental health challenges. 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, great knowledge, wide networks and salary, that agreed to join this business for less than half of their previous salary because they believed in the purpose behind the business.
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 when people are in an environment where they feel valued, trusted, have room for growth and can see how they are making a difference. Truly empowering your staff can do wonders and when it comes to working from home it’s even more essential. Trust is everything.
Employees don’t like 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 staff quitting to go elsewhere. Instead, managers should give employees the freedom to structure their day whilst keeping regular lines of communication throughout the week.
Remember, employees join a business and leave a manager.
2.Communication is key
Be clear, and honest, 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 issues such as miscommunication 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. Calls that are not vital or time-critical 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 to avoid having people feeling isolated or lost. Face to face is still great for holding meetings, brainstorms, collaborating and socialising with colleagues.
When staff feel they are controlling or influencing their destiny, they are their happiest.
3.Be Your Authentic Self
People can see through insincerity. When you are genuine and put people first, they begin to also put you first, which is why it is important to be authentic as it is a two-way relationship. To be a great leader, you must first learn how to serve.
However, the key to creating these successful relationships 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, side by side with my employees during 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.”
4.Put people 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. Employees were able to take part in daily voluntary, web-based activities from quizzes, exercise classes to workshops. Working from home doesn’t mean we 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 at your company too.
It’s important to remember that actions always speak louder than words. Show your employees they are valued and that you care. Put colleagues’ welfare and happiness before your own, and they will have your back. Blanket policies and statements won’t demonstrate this. Recognition is vital, and costs nothing. They are part of a family, not just employee numbers on a profit and loss sheet.
About the Author: Jeff Dewing is the CEO of Cloudfm and author of Doing the Opposite – a Number 1 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.