Our Workforce South Action Group has been promoting flexible working advice to engage furloughed staff and remote workers.

“The humanisation of the way we treat people.” That is one of the few heartening things that has come out of the Coronavirus pandemic, according to flexible working expert, Ursula Tavender.

Ursula and fellow flexible working consultant Liese Lord led an exclusive, virtual briefing for Champions in our Workforce South Action Group on how to keep the workforce engaged while remote working or on furlough. Addressing questions raised by attendees, they outlined the priorities they believed lay behind better employee engagement at this difficult time.

  1. Give permission for your team to feel good about themselves

If working parents feel guilt balancing a full-time job with home schooling or childcare, they need support. Ursula said, “Being an employee is a job; being a teacher is a job; being a carer is a job; so, you’re not being a bad parent, you’re doing several jobs at once. As leaders, we need to give people permission to feel that and treat people with compassion.”

  1. Decide what work tasks are crucial to business continuity and stick to them

Normally, people work towards monthly, quarterly and annual goals. That’s not possible during the pandemic. Deciding what’s critical for business continuity is important, but not much more. We need to measure tiny steps. Review these things every day with your team to see how people are doing and ask whether they need more support.

  1. Cultivate a mindset of opportunity

Giving people the opportunity to talk about their frustrations; this is an opportunity for us all to do a little stock-take on life. What is important about the way we live for ourselves, for the business and for the planet? It helps to shift the mindset away from how difficult things are now into a new space of possibility.

  1. Keep wellbeing at the top of your agenda

As levels of hope drop with the extended lockdown, leaders need to put the wellbeing of the team at the top of their agenda. “It’s a strategic priority”, said Ursula. And, because people are often reticent to reveal their fears, “We may need to poke the bear a little bit and drill deeper in a way that helps people feel connected.” Liese acknowledged many managers feel uncomfortable in this space. “How can we support management levels to enable them to have appropriate conversations with people.” She stressed the importance of mental health first aiders at this time and called on businesses to invest in mental health awareness training for their managers.

  1. Stay connected

The overall message to leaders was to stay empathetically connected to their teams. This was vital both for remote teams but also for furloughed members of staff. There is a common perception that furlough is the first step towards redundancy. This is not the case and employers can help massively by communicating regularly with furloughed staff so they feel part of the community and important to the business.

Both speakers called on firms to contact HMRC if they had any concerns about what they could communicate with staff and push back on restrictions if required. Liese said, “If HMRC understood how scared people are about their rules, I think they would be shocked.”

They also had messages for employees, who might be feeling guilty, isolated and overwhelmed by competing calls on their time and their attention.

  1. Be Kind to Yourself

Our personal and business lives have been mashed together. It’s not easy fulfilling several roles simultaneously. “Being kind to ourselves is the critical thing”, said Liese. It’s a pandemic, no one expects you to do everything you did before.

  1. Time Chunk and diarise as much as possible

A recurring motif was the idea of time chunking – giving structure to your day as much as possible. It may come in the form of a family conference, if children are old enough to understand and engage with parents in planning the school, play and parental work diary.

  1. Set boundaries with colleagues

If home schooling, or exercising, be straight with colleagues. “I am available to talk about work at these times, but I am busy with the family between x and y, so will not be available.” Most will be facing similar pressures.

  1. Stay connected

Where have we heard that before? It’s just as important for employees to keep in contact with their employers as the reverse. Whether you are struggling or have just had a great idea, let others know.

Ursula and Liese have created a free, online guide to remote working, which is available to download here.

For more information on Workforce South and how the group assists HR professional across the region, contact Kate Proh on kate@businesssouth.org