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Virtual Reality: How Do You Manage Remote Employees?

A recent survey by Timewise found that 63 per cent of permanent, full-time staff enjoy some degree of flexible working – including working from home & flexible hours. Indeed in our own client base, of mostly technology and business services based businesses, we estimate that this figure is closer to 95%, showing that those doing 9-5 in the office, really are fast-becoming the minority. Added into mix the other shifts in the workforce of today which include the rise of the gig economy and the increasing use of freelancers, SME leaders who have such flexible and diverse workforces are now being presented with even more interesting challenges when it comes to management. 

Because although the cost benefits of working with remote teams can be a no-brainer, managing employees across different locations (and sometimes time zones) is an entirely new skill in itself. If not done effectively, these virtual teams can become a real headache, lead to unsatisfied, disconnected employees and in some cases even negatively affect your customers. 

First off, you’ll need to take the time to work out how you want to manage the teams first: some may prefer to micro manage and use technology as their control (one company I know makes a point of sharing with any new employees the fact that they collect data on their key strokes whilst working away from the office….) however our experience has shown that this leads to a quickly deteriorating relationship between you and them. Or alternatively empower all with a simple results-only approach, something which can leave the employee feeling autonomous ( although please note that this shouldn’t be confused with a total absence of contact with your employees from one week to the next & does require clarity over the results actually needed and the support to get there…).

You should also help your managers develop these skills, it can be pretty daunting to be given the task to build up rapport with teams you may never meet face to face, so put some measures in place to encourage relationships to be built and avoid the team becoming too reliant on purely communicating electronically.  Phone calls and Skype can be great at over riding the initial awkwardness and getting people to connect in a more ‘normal’ manner.

Yikes! If you feel like this could be a problem waiting to happen for your growing business, get on the case now, read on for our top 10 tips to managing remote employees:

  1. Hire The Right Skills

You need ‘doers’: people you can trust to just get on with the job, without you holding their hand all the time. So we would always recommend assessing their result-orientation as part of the assessment process.  Great communication skills are also a must here, as you need people who recognise the importance of constantly keeping their colleagues in the loop and building relationships from afar. 

  1. Hire The Right Managers (& support them)

If you decide to delegate the day to day management of your virtual team members then of course you need to ensure you’ve got the right managers in place. They need to be comfortable with a more results-based style of performance management and giving their direct reports the space to approach tasks in their own way (without dictating to them how to do it). They will however be required to offer a lot of support and encouragement to their virtual team (often more than those who are sitting next to them and interact with them on a more regular basis), so a positive outlook and approachable demeanour are hugely important. A flexible mindset is also key: managing effectively across different locations and time zones is always not a 9-5 job …

  1. Onboard Carefully

On-boarding is even more important with remote workers than office-based ones, as it can be even harder (and take longer) to make them feel like part of the team. Bear in mind that sometimes they won’t meet their team for months after they’ve joined, this part needs to be as friendly and welcoming as possible & what goes on in real life (introduction, shaking hands, high fives if you’re than way inclined…. etc) can be translated into Slack and Skype just as easily with a bit of effort. In addition to a lot of 1:1 support, being clear over objectives & encouraging the team to interact, make sure you have a raft of suitable introductory videos for them to digest for the bits of ‘downtime’. And these shouldn’t just be on training, but also on the vision and culture of the business as well. To a certain extent the onus is on you to- after a full briefing – take a step back and leave them to it.

  1. Have Clearly Defined Ways Of Working

Well thought-out processes provide structure and direction for getting things done – wherever you are and whatever time it is. Project management and other software can be especially helpful here, but just as important are what norms are expected: when, with whom and how often you are expected to share information and for what purpose. There are an equal amount of businesses where 1-2-1 email is still very much encouraged as there are those who copy everyone and anyone into every email, so be clear on what type of working processes there are in yours to reduce the stress of the team and encourage efficiency in this regard. 

  1. Make Document Sharing A Priority

One of the most important virtual team disciplines is how the team shares and edits information. Dropbox, Googedrive, OneDrive as well as a whole host of other document sharing systems are a godsend here, however in addition to being clear over what is used for which information, be sure to share any security protocols with the team when you use these too (I still haven’t forgotten the moment when one unfortunate new member of a team I was working with deleted three month’s work overnight…).

  1. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

You won’t be bumping into each other in the corridor, so the emphasis with virtual teams is on the leader in particular to make an effort to stay in touch and keep channels of communication open. Constantly ensure your virtual team members know what they are supposed to be doing and how this fits into the bigger picture of the business as a whole. Reiterate your business objectives and vision throughout the year and remember that your culture and values are being reiterated with every interaction you have with them. Which is the right  method of communication is important too: Instant messaging is great for quick team interactions & keeping people in the loop, video chat is great for team meetings to ensure non-verbal cues are communicated also however if members of your team work in different time zones, make sure that you have an overlapping period where everyone is working and organise your virtual meetings during these times. Got anything sensitive? Give the general Slack/Convo channel a wide berth and book in that 1-2-1 phone call……

  1. Create A Team Culture

If people know what’s going on and what they’re all working towards, then you’re one step closer to this, however you’ll need to make a bit of an extra effort initially to make sure this really sticks. Some I know encourage leaderboards on their software in all sorts of areas (from steps to sales made) to try and encourage a bit of healthy competition and camaraderie. Another set out to lead by example by assigning a member of staff an extra role to make sure all events are loaded up and shared with everyone (until it became the norm for everyone to do the same). And always mark birthdays and other special occasions with some sort of a card / gift (of even gif??), remembering the typical whip round no longer applies, but that most love a nod on their special day still!

  1. Promote Individual Accountability

Whilst how virtual employees complete their tasks should be largely down to them, they must still be accountable for their contribution – and have it recognised. A message board where everyone posts what they’ve done that week is a good idea as are monthly one to ones, as is using online performance management software to help transparency, such as 7geese .

  1. Provide A Means For People To Give Feedback Easily

Understandably, it may take some virtual team members longer to feel comfortable enough to give constructive feedback. Set up a feedback portal to ensure that any issues or frustrations are addressed and that no fresh ideas are missed: there is tonnes of software out there to help this on a more structured way (CultureAmp and Peakon are just two which spring to mind right now), but as with the general communication, lead by example and share your own feedback first in an open way which encourages others to do the same.

  1. Get Everyone Together Once In A While

Working on one’s own suits many people down to the ground. But to develop and reinforce an even better team dynamic, individuals should see each other face to face and get to know each other. In Real Life. Team away days needn’t cost the earth and are often the number one way to help improve team efficiency.

TheHRhub is the ultimate HR support service for startups and SMEs. For advice and help on any HR issue contact us today on 0203 627 7048 or drop us a line at hello@thehrhub.co.uk

Image : Twenty20

HR Horrors: What to do when your employees get shouty on social

There are definitely nights we all come home from work wanting to have a bit of a rant about the latest office politics. And for the vast majority of people, they recognise that this kind of chat is best reserved for their partner or BFF’s to discuss face to face rather than taking to the masses via Facebook or Twitter (not least because if you’ve ever done this and paid attention to those around you, you might have just noticed some eyes glazing over….).But if you’re connected with any of your team through social media as many of you might be (read more on our article ‘Is it ever a good idea to be Facebook Friends with your Employees‘ for our take on this…), you might occasionally have a sharp intake of breathe when you spot a post which is less-than-complimentary about your own workplace/ management style or one of your other colleagues. 

The obvious thing to say to avoid something like this happening, is to make it clear to everyone joining the business that it’s not acceptable (in any instance) to slag off the company and specify that action will be taken should they do so.  

But what if you’re too late?

These circumstances present a unique set of challenges. And if you find yourself in this situation, it’s really important that you know exactly what to do to address the problems and get things back on the right track.

Speed is everything and you should take the conversation offline

Take screenshots of the post you’ve recognised and request that the offending post be removed. Follow it up by scheduling a face to face chat as soon as you can, if this is not possible jump on a call however.   

Don’t jump to any assumptions before you’ve got all the information, listen to what they have to say and take action on the situation. Consider the nature of the comments made and their likely impact on your organisation. It would help if you can give examples of what might be classed as ‘defamation’ and the gravitas that their words could have on your business, staff, customers and clients, before going on to discuss the penalties that may need to be considered. You should also be clear in outlining what is regarded as confidential in the organisation, referring back to any initial employment contracts that may have detailed this.

Make sure you don’t just go through the motions, listen to what they have to say then act with integrity, do not let emotions overcome common sense, keep everything in perspective and do it all in a timely manner.  If the remarks have caused offence to other employees within your organisation treat them with respect and take the appropriate action to record their views, any disciplinary measures will need to take this into account and be documented.

Nobody wants to have difficult conversations, as a leader though, it’s your duty.

Send out a reminder to others

You want to get a grip on the situation quickly, treat it with severity but equally keep your cool and don’t blow things out of proportion. Just by being proactive and nipping it in the bud can help you get things back on the right track without any hassle or fuss – sometimes examples need to be made but no one wants to lose a good employee if it can be avoided. A simple guideline should be enough to avoid further scenarios cropping up.  For example, a company wide note to say, any issues regarding the below should be addressed to HR and not discussed on social media;

  • The employee’s own wages and benefits
  • Complaints or criticisms about management
  • Labor disputes
  • Working conditions
  • Safety concerns
  • Certain situations of harassment in the workplace
  • Sensitive political or racial views

Social networking can be an excuse for avoiding face-to-face conversations. Often a quiet word by a line manager can avoid issues that lead to disciplinary and grievance problems. Emails, texts and messaging systems can leave line managers reliant on communicating electronically lead by example, enjoy more face to face conversations or calls, where the correct tone of voice can be heard and miscommunication can be instantly corrected.

If you have concerns about how equipped you are to manage HR policies and procedures, then we can help. We’ll pinpoint any potential issues that are at play in your workplace, and give you practical advice around what you need to do next.  theHRhub is the ultimate online HR support service for Startups and SMEs – providing software, templates, expert advice, whitepapers and up to date news and views, straight to your mobile or tablet. It’s like having an HR director in your pocket but without the price tag!

Call us on 0203 627 7048 or drop us a line at hello@thehrhub.co.uk for a no-strings chat about your HR needs.

Image : Twenty20

 

When the office goes viral: handling the coughs, colds and sneezes season

According to recent research from Aviva, 70% of workers admitted they have gone into work whilst feeling ill. Though some might say that their dedication to the job is admirable it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out why having sick people at work might cause issues.

Who knew a sneeze could carry as many as 100,000 germs and apparently be fired up to twenty five feet!? Yikes!  Germs are spread so quickly, so it is a easy to see how before you know it, you could have a situation on your hands that is starting to look distinctly like an epidemic. One colleague ‘sharing’ their germs can mean a whole host of ‘lucky’ recipients all fall down the week after.

Why do we do it?

In Britain we like to adopt a stiff upper lip, and just get on with things, battle on through and enjoy the satisfaction of not letting a little cold beat us. But sometimes it’s less to do with our national culture and more to do with people feeling guilty or fearful of being absent for any period of time.

Of course though, either way there are certain things that you can do as an employer to make sure that office illness doesn’t knock your business off course…..

6 Great Ways To Combat Presenteeism In Your Business

  1. Ensure that you have a sickness and absence policy that’s fit for purpose: It should focus on supporting your staff as well as achieving your goals and objectives. A policy can rarely cover every instance of sickness or absence, however you can use it to set expectations on what you want team members to do in certain situations e.g do you let people work from home when they’re a bit ‘coldy’ but otherwise happy and strong enough to function (but when they are still likely to spread germs)? Or do you have a firm ‘go-home-log-off- and-get-better’ stance?
  2. Lead From The Front: When you or a member of the senior team are ill, make sure the policy guidelines are followed correctly – it’s the best way for behaviours to become part of the cultural norm.
  3. Address workload issues: More than 40% of employees who took part in the study said that they were too afraid their workload would pile up if they were to stay off sick. It may be time for you to take a look at your wider practices, and assess where problems might exist that need to be addressed. For example, is the distribution of the workload amongst the team fair and correct? Is there a system for sickness cover within teams for tasks to be distributed out when someone is off with illness? Is there any low value, frustrating work that can be farmed out elsewhere? And crucially, is the total work required for a project by an individual or team realistic in the time given or is it contributing to their wellbeing in the first place? All this of course can only be brought to light if employees feel able to let you know when things are getting too much…
  4. Consider Mental As Well As Physical Sickness: A new PwC study claims 34% of the UK workforce may have a health and wellbeing issue, with the most common being anxiety, depression and stress. It’s clear that there’s still a lot of work to be done in terms of supporting staff with mental health issues, and tackling the stigma that often exists around non-physical health and wellbeing.  When creating your sickness and absence policies, it’s vital that you consider how you’ll be playing your part in creating positive change.
  5. Encourage Decontamination: It may sound a bit extreme but a simple action like offering hand sanitiser to your staff, or encouraging a dose of desk disinfectant, can go a long way to preventing bugs spreading. Especially in offices where you hotdesk or share a workspace.

If you have issues in your workplace surrounding presenteeism or sickness absence, then it may be time to call in the professionals. We can assess the effectiveness of your existing policies and procedures, ensure that you’re compliant with relevant legislation, and help you to move forward towards exemplary leadership.

Get in touch via hello@thehrhub.co.uk or call 0203 627 7048 to chat about how we can help you on the road to employee magic!

TheHRhub: on demand and online HR support for startups and SMEs

Photo credit: iStock

10 Top Tips For Managing A Virtual Team

With the rise of the gig economy and the increasing use of freelancers, SME leaders are increasingly finding themselves in the position of managing employees across different locations and time zones. This type of leadership requires a differently nuanced skill set to leading a team that you can see in front of you and, if not done effectively, can be real headache not only for you but for other members of your team and your customers.

Here are our top 10 tips to managing remote employees:

1. Hire The Right Team

You need ‘doers’ – people you can trust to just get on with the job, without you holding their hand. To a certain extent the onus is on you to, after a full briefing, take a step back and leave them to it. You also need to hire good communicators who recognise the importance of constantly keeping their colleagues in the loop.

2. Hire The Right Managers

If you decide to delegate the day to day management of your virtual team members then of course you need to ensure you’ve got the right line managers in place. They need to be comfortable with a more results-based style of performance management and giving their direct reports the space to approach tasks in their own way (without dictating to them how to do it). They will however be required to offer a lot of support and encouragement. So a positive outlook and approachable demeanour are hugely important. A flexible mindset is also key – managing effectively across different locations and time zones is not a 9-5 job and may involve some travel.

3. Onboard Carefully

Onboarding is even more important with remote workers as it can be even harder to make them feel like part of the team. As well as a lot of 1:1 support, make sure you have a raft of suitable introductory videos for them to digest. And these shouldn’t just be on training, but also on the vision and culture of the business as well. Dedicated buddies and mentors are a crucial part of the onboarding process too.

4. Have Clearly Defined Ways Of Working

Well thought-out processes provide structure and direction for getting things done – wherever you are and whatever time it is. Project management software can be especially helpful here.

5. Make Document Sharing A Priority

One of the most important virtual team disciplines is how the team shares and edits information. If you have a team project management tool then this may also have a facility to share files. If not good old Google Docs is a great alternative.

6. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

You won’t be bumping into each other in the corridor so the emphasis is on the leader in particular to make an effort to stay in touch and keep channels of communication open. Constantly ensure your virtual team members know what they are supposed to be doing and how this fits into the bigger picture of the business as a whole. Reiterate your business objectives and vision throughout the year and remind them of the business’ culture and values on an annual basis at the least. It’s important to chose the right method of communication too. Instant messaging is great for quick team interactions, whilst video chat is the best option for team meetings to ensure non-verbal cues are communicated also. If members of your team work in different time zones, make sure that you have an overlapping period where everyone is working and organise your virtual meetings during these times. Remember that anything potentially sensitive requires a 1:1 phone call.

7. Create A Team Culture

Keep them up to date on what’s going on in other parts of the business – so they always feel in the loop. Try and involve everyone somehow in important events and projects and find ways to celebrate success together – even its just adding a little bonus to their pay packet or sending a voucher. Always mark birthdays and other special occasions with a card or gift.

8. Promote Individual Accountability

Whilst how virtual employees complete their tasks should be largely down to them, they must still be accountable for their contribution – and have it recognised. A message board where everyone posts what they’ve done that week is a good idea as are monthly one to ones.

9. Provide A Means For Virtual Team Members To Give Feedback Easily

Understandably, it may take some virtual team members longer to feel comfortable enough to give constructive feedback. Set up a feedback portal to ensure that any issues or frustrations are addressed and that no fresh ideas are missed.

10. Get Everyone Together Once In A While

Working on one’e own suits many people down to the ground. But to develop and reinforce a true team dynamic, individuals need to see each other face to face and get to know each other informally. Team away days needn’t cost the earth and are often the number one way to help improve team efficiency.

 

TheHRhub is the ultimate HR support service for startups and SMEs. For advice and help on any HR issue contact us today on 0203 627 7048 or drop us a line at hello@thehrhub.co.uk

 

Image: Canva

How SMEs Can Support Working Parents This Summer

The school holidays are just around the corner. And while the kids will be demob-happy, the summer break can be a real headache for working parents.

“So what?” You might say. “Their kids. Their problem”. But it’s definitely in employers interests to do more to help. The number of parents leaving the workforce to seek more flexibility by working for themselves is ever increasing. A survey of 2000 working people in the UK by on-demand staffing app Coople found that one in 5 parents had missed a significant moment in their child’s life because of work. A even more worryingly, 11% said working late and not ‘switching off’ had distanced them from their children.

So with the long school holidays looming, we’ve pulled together a handy checklist for how small business can (reasonably) support parents this summer:

  1. Flexible Hours: Every employee has the right to request flexible working – whether this be flexible hours or location. In both cases, this request must be made in prescribed form and employees are entitled to only one request a year. Fixed office hours can be impractical for parents during the holidays. And the flexibility to work when they want to (often in the early morning or evening) can be a god-send.
  2. Flexible Locations: This does’t always mean working from home. In fact, if the kids are there it’s often the last place parents want be if they’ve got work to do. Working in a location closer to home, however, with a shorter commute could really help. Professional work spaces are popping up all over the place and are a great option here. Not only will they have excellent broadband they can be a valuable networking opportunity too. With both flexible hours and flexible locations, it’s important both parties are clear if this is a permanent of temporary change. If it’s for the short term, be sure the time frame is understood.
  3. Parental Leave: Staff that have worked for their employer for more than one year can ask for unpaid parental leave to help with childcare. Parental leave generally allows each parent to take up to 18 weeks unpaid leave per child before the child’s 5th birthday. This leave must be taken in blocks of one week and in theory should be requested 21 days in advance (although you may choose to be lenient here). If employees fall within these guidelines, you’ve got little choice but to let them take it unless there are sound business reasons why not that would stand up to scrutiny at a tribunal.
  4. Time Off For Dependents: Any employee (however long they have worked for you) can ask for “time off for dependents” to deal with emergencies. This would be unpaid and whilst there’s no set time, if its regarding a childcare issue 1-2 days would be reasonable, before it then becomes Parental Leave (above).
  5. Summer Childcare Guide: There are often lots of summer childcare options available locally but sometimes it can take hours of research to get all the information. A great task for the work experience bod if ever there was one. Make such information easily available to employees on the intranet or noticeboard and who knows, if there’s significant interest you might be able to negotiate a discount or even provide minibus transport from the office and back.

Want some help on how better to manage the team? TheHRhub is the ultimate HR support service for startups and SMEs. Get in touch today for a no-obligation chat. Call us on 0203 627 7048 or drop us a line at hello@thehrhub.co.uk

 

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How To Manage Holiday Requests Like A Pro

Over the next few weeks, you’re likely to have holiday requests coming out of your ears. And whilst you would like to accommodate everyone, the demands of the business means this isn’t always possible – particular during the summer holidays.

Of course employees are entitled to request holiday, but you are not legally bound to give  it. The Working Time Regulations 1998 permit an employer to refuse a worker’s request, provided the company serves a counter-notice at least as many calendar days before the proposed leave is due to commence as the number of days being refused. But this sometimes isn’t the best course of action for positive workplace relations, so here’s how you can manage requests like a pro and keep (nearly) everyone happy.

The Secrets To Managing Holiday Requests Effectively

1. Have A Holiday Policy In Place

If you’ve already got a holiday policy in place – circulate it now. If you don’t and can foresee managing holidays being an issue this summer, it would be wise to write and communicate one pronto. This ensures all holiday requests are processed fairly and consistently.

A holiday policy needs to include:

  • how holiday should be requested
  • to whom such requests should be made
  • the circumstances in which holiday requests may be refused

You might also want to consider:

  • how many department members/ senior managers are allowed off at once
  • the maximum number of days that can be taken off in one go (detailing any extenuating circumstances here such as weddings/honeymoons)
  • how much time in advance requests need to be given
  • how much time line the employer has to respond to requests

There may be additional requirements unique to your business/sector you would be wise to include too. For example to protect against fraud, finance companies often require certain staff to take at least one 2 week holiday a year.

2. But Be Aware Of How Holiday Requests Are Dealt With In Practise

Equally important to having a policy is how holiday requests are dealt with day to day by your line managers. In particular, there should be consistency across the business in how holiday requests are prioritised. Is it on a first come first served basis? Or for popular holiday days such as Christmas, should employees be granted time off on rotation?  Managers need to be seen to be prioritsing holiday requests fairly and consistently. Otherwise they could be accused of favourite and even discrimination.

3. Make Sure The Holiday Calendar Is Visible To All

Sharing the employee holiday calendar with the team is one of the easiest and most effective ways to avoid holiday scheduling problems. It empowers team members to propose holiday dates that avoid clashes with their colleagues and gives those remaining at work the ability to plan projects/meetings accordingly.

4. How To Say No To A Holiday Request

Sometimes, with all the love in the world, granting holiday just isn’t possible. Here’s what to do if you need to have ‘that’ conversation….

  • Do it quickly: More quickly than stated in your holiday policy if you can, as a sign of goodwill. As always, face to face is best.
  • Explain your reasons: Reference your holiday policy so the individual knows it’s not personal. Talk them through the need to cover off certain business areas of that period  Reiterate the business decision behind the refusal and ensure them that it is nothing to do with their performance (unless it is).
  • Offer an alternative: Such as other dates when a request would be manageable. For accommodating others, some business offer one or two extra holiday days as a way of saying thank you.
  • Tell them how much you value them: When  a holiday request is denied it can make individuals feel undervalued, particularly if they have been performing well. Make sure they leave the conversation feeling positive about themselves and their contribution to the business.

5. What To Do If The Cheeky Beggars Take The Day Off Anyway…

Clearly, it’s a  bit suspect if an employee calls in sick for a day they previously asked to take off as holiday. Gather evidence if you can (social media can be invaluable here!) and hold a return to work interview when they get back. Tell them about your concerns and then explain the impact their absence had on the rest of the team. This is usually enough to stop repeat performances without getting too ‘heavy’.

 

For more tips on achieving leadership across your teams, theHRhub team are ready to help. We are the ultimate online HR support service for Startups and SMEs – providing software, templates, expert advice, whitepapers and up to date news and views, straight to your mobile or tablet. Like having an HR director in your pocket but without the price tag! Call us on 0203 627 7048 or drop us a line at hello@thehrhub.co.uk for a no-strings chat about your HR needs.

Image: Canva