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Stages of remote work: How to plan for successful WFH practice

How do we say this... working remotely can be a difficult, costly and not all that fruitful exercise.

Whether enforced or planned, remote work can be a big upheaval for companies with a lot of learning and adapting along the way to success.

It starts with working out the basics such as the hardware your teams are going to need in order to be productive when working from home and runs to long-term cultural challenges with staff wellbeing or employee engagement.

Add to this perceived fears around trusting staff, breakdowns in communication and a lack of accountability and you can see why the sceptics of the world have had a tough time being convinced by remote working.

So, is remote work a bad idea that should be avoided at all costs?

Not at all. When it isn't a social necessity as it is today, remote work is still something to be championed and encouraged. I mean, there's a reason (or a whole bunch of them) why remote working practices have been on a solid upward trajectory for the past ten years, with all signs pointing to continued growth over the next ten.

Getting things right, ideally from the start, means huge potential reward both for your employees and your business. That's right, it's not just about improving work-life balance for your staff but there are great business benefits to be had, including:

  • Attracting better talent & 80% of workers say they now look for flexible and remote working opportunities when job hunting.   
  • Reducing sick days & A study by job site Indeed, found 50% of remote workers had fewer days sick than when they worked centrally, with 56% saying this meant they took fewer unplanned days off of work.
  • Saving money & fewer workers in the office means a reduction in electricity use, bandwidth use, water use, heating use, shall we go on? In 2018 the cost savings of remote work for businesses in the U.S. was calculated to be in the region of $5 billion.
Working from home throws up a number of challenges, such as where to physically work!

The secret of successful remote businesses?

So, we can see that though there are certainly risks and challenges involved with adopting remote working practices, the journey can be an extremely rewarding one if successful.

And like all successful journeys, the secret is in the planning (and, unlike the fairly famous captain of an extremely famous boat, staying flexible and avoiding the icebergs along the way).

That's why we have pulled together our guide "˜The Key Phases of Remote Work Change'.

This short guide is designed to help you plot a course through the quagmire ("œGiggity" & yes, this is the sole reason I chose that particular noun), highlight the three big phases all organisations move through when implementing remote working, plus an additional one for those times where remote working is a reaction to larger events (a.k.a. COVID-19).

For each phase we breakdown the key "˜watch out', what the desired outcomes are and best practices around behaviours, technology and processes.

Download our free guide: The phases of remote work change

What are the key phases of remote work change?

The three primary phases of remote work change are:

  • Mobilisation
  • Bedding-in
  • Optimisation

With the fourth (Return) specific to those workers who will be moving from a heavy remote work position back to a heavy (e.g. 50% or greater) centralised role.

Phase one: Mobilising for remote work

Also known as the "œmustn't panic" phase, mobilisation is all about the logistics of working from home.

The hope here is that you come out the other side of the phase unscathed, with a well-equipped, knowledgeable team who feel involved and "˜bought in' to the strategy around your remote work plan. A heavy focus is placed on speed and efficiency, particularly when the move to distributed working is unplanned.

The key strategic challenge here is directing the huge amount of employee energy created into the right places and ensuring any novelty doesn't steal focus from primary tasks and essential work.

Ensuring your team have all the basics they need to actually complete work (laptops, webcams, headsets, collaboration tools and communication software as a basic starter for ten) and the training required is going to be your first hurdle.

For a great. "˜getting started with remote working' guide for employees, check out this previous blog post offering up some practical tips on how to be an effective & happy remote worker.

Phase two: Bedding-in the remote work ethos

Congratulations, you've successfully launched your remote working way of life and the world hasn't ended. Now we're going to start to focus on improving our working processes.

Phase two is all about getting productivity, employee engagement, wellbeing and a host of KPIs back to where they should be (or improve them further).

Empathy is a key criteria for a great dispersed team manager in the second phase of remote working change.
A familiar sight for many remote workers - managers need to remember the importance of empathy when working remotely. Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

The big "˜watch out' here comes in the form of confusion. Confusion around what to prioritise and how to do so effectively & for both employees and leaders. If that confusion is left unchecked, it can lead to a form of decision paralysis, where staff jump from one focus to another, never really tackling either.

Here look at employing the right tools to help you measure and manage your employee engagement. We know great engagement means greater productivity and discretionary effort from your employees, so make it a priority to lighten the load. The same goes for performance, get a tool (or apply your existing one) that will help you track at least your organisation objectives.

Have managers role model confidence and empathy, be understanding if people's home lives interrupt the traditional flow of the workday and learn to become flexible and innovative in approaching how and when work gets done.

Implement a weekly employee check-in to encourage the flow of open and honest, two-way feedback. This will help illuminate the big successes or growing challenges quickly, meaning an early start on nipping them in the bud.

Above all else, focus. Engage that left side of the brain and start to get critical and tactical.

Phase three: Optimising for long-term remote working success

In the final(ish) phase we're looking at developing our long-term strategies around what great performance looks like and building a culture whereby staff feel supported, collaborate smoothly and understand how to be effective, happy and proud in their work.

The hurdle to keep an eye on here is complacency. Slipping into a pattern of "˜that'll do' is sadly quite common once businesses start to get the bones of a remote work culture together. Taking your eye off the ball at this point can very quickly plateau all the great steps that you've had to this point meaning stagnation of success.

This is the time to start looking at how you recognise the great work of your remote teams. Reward great work implement change where results are lagging. Look at an evidence-based approach to performance reviews and 1:1s. Offer robust, immersive training opportunities and encourage innovation through the use of new tools and processes.

And what about 'Return'?

If staff are going to be returning to work for one reason or another, then the key focus here needs to be learning from the lessons of your remote work experiences. Take the best bits and apply them where and whenever you can.

Encourage employee empowerment, offer up flexible working options and keep engagement and wellbeing top of your agenda to build a better workplace culture.

So, there you have it, a quick run-through of our "˜Phases of Remote Work Change' guide. There is plenty more in the guide itself, which you can download here and take on into your own work from home journey while the world adapts to COVID-19.

If along the way, you need a helping hand with employee engagement, performance management or employee wellbeing, give us a call.

Good luck and stay safe.

Like to know more about how the Weekl10 platform helps global companies traverse the pitfalls of remote working?