Ask Kate: I'm paranoid my remote staff aren’t working. Help!

  • Employee Conduct
A woman confidently poses - caption above her says 'Ask Kate'
Kate Palmer FCIPD - Director of HR Advice and Consultancy at global employment law consultancy, Peninsula.

Kate Palmer, HR Advice and Consultancy Director

(Last updated )

Whenever a staff issue comes up, Peninsula advisers are on hand to help. There’s no query too big, too small, or too bizarre for our experts to unpack.

So, if you’re sitting on a query, don’t hesitate to ask. It’s what keeps our Peninsula clients safe and successful all year round and gives them the peace of mind to focus on their business.

This caller was worried about their employees not working when they work remotely. So, they asked Kate Palmer, Peninsula’s HR Advice and Consultancy Director, for expert advice.

Here’s what they had to say…

Hi Kate,

I’ve recently decided to give my employees the option to work from home on a hybrid basis. They now have two set working from home days a week. I know more and more people are looking for greater flexibility in how they work and I want to be able to offer that to my staff.

My issue is I’m concerned about the risk of my employees not being as productive at home and not being able to get hold of someone when I need to. If I can’t see them, how can I be sure they’re working? Of course I want my employees to have their freedom but I also don’t want my business to suffer. Am I just being paranoid? What would you do?

-Anon

Kate’s reply was…

Hi Anon,

First of all, there is a growing number of job seekers looking for roles that offer flexible working. So, it’s a great move that you’ve started offering this perk in your workplace.

“If I can’t see them, how can I be sure they’re working?”

Microsoft first coined the term “productivity paranoia” and you certainly wouldn’t be alone in worrying about declining productivity in an increasingly remote world. It’s a feeling shared by many employers and employees alike.

Because while more people are wanting to want to work from anywhere and be trusted to get the job done, there are still employers who fear the worst when they’re out of sight.

I’m not saying you don’t trust your staff to work independently, but it’s important to remember that trust is key to any working relationship – especially when working remotely. Otherwise, the relationship is likely to break down on both sides.

You’ve given your staff permission to work from home and that’s an agreement that can only work with your full trust. If you worry about your employee not working and keep your eyes locked on their teams’ availability all day, you’re probably more likely to create a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If your employee’s at home feeling like you’re watching their every move and waiting for them to underdeliver, it’s likely to affect morale and your company culture as a whole.  

It’s not a comfortable way to work – for you or them.

Because if your employee is overly conscious about their performance at home, this can create another issue entirely. If they too are experiencing productivity paranoia, they may burn themselves out by putting in longer hours and not taking breaks in a bid to “prove they're working”. You don’t want that either.

“My issue is I’m concerned about the risk of my employees not being as productive at home and not being able to get hold of someone when I need to”

There’s a much easier way to help manage your remote staff and put your mind at ease. And it’s actually very simple.

Communication. Communication is just as important as trust and will actually help build more trust.

When your employees are working from home, there doesn’t need to be a disconnect. Okay, you don’t want to be checking up on them every five minutes, but there’s nothing wrong with keeping in touch regularly. You can choose to communicate in whatever way works for you; whether it’s a video call first thing in the morning or messaging via your work chat.

In fact, this can help your employee feel less isolated and more in tune with their work.

Regular communication will keep you and your employee connected and on the same page even when you’re not in the same space. So, your employee knows what tasks they need to be getting on with and prioritising during the day.

Establishing your expectations of your staff when they work from home upfront will also help. You could even set up a standalone remote working policy. In your policy, it may help to make sure everyone’s clear on:

  • Whether you have set hours (like nine-to-five) or you’re happy for employees to work flexibly and just establish core hours when they need to be available for work.
  • How you’ll communicate when employees work remotely (for example, will you be using Microsoft Teams?)
  • Whether you’ll need to provide equipment for employees to work from home.
  • How staff can report any issues and who to contact in an emergency.

And if you haven’t already, make sure you carry out a home working risk assessment. By law, you’ll need to make sure your employee’s workstation is safe for work. This applies even if your staff are working in their own home. You should follow specific health & safety guidance for home workers.

“Am I just being paranoid? What would you do?”

I don’t think you’re being paranoid. I think you care.

It can be difficult to have a shift in mentality when you may have never worked remotely yourself or are perhaps of a mindset where you prefer to be in the workplace.

However, it’s important to be open-minded and understand that everyone’s different and has different preferences. Many people enjoy the freedom and convenience that home working brings, hence why so many opt for it. For example, employees might like working from home because it saves them the cost and time of commuting to work every day.

On the other foot, other employees might decide coming into work is better for them.

Businesses that take steps to accommodate their employee’s unique situation and needs may be more likely to retain them in the long run.

And if it got to a point where you were having issues with your employee’s performance, you may be able to reevaluate their working from home arrangement.

You might outline in your policy that if you find out that employees are abusing their arrangement, you will take disciplinary action and revoke the privilege entirely.

If I were you, I’d just make sure I have a rigid remote working policy in place and regularly check in with my staff to see if they need any further support.

If you’d like to discuss this in more depth, our advice line is open 24-hours.

All the best,

Kate

P.S. Got a HR query or staff problem? Click below to get a free advice call today.

 

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