Managing and Motivating Homeworkers in the New World of Work

Posted in : Supplementary Articles NI on 13 May 2020
Legal Island
Legal Island
Issues covered:

In this webinar recording, Sarah Travers hosts a discussion with Legal Island Chairman Barry Phillips on managing and motivating employees during home working, alongside Louise Smyth, Managing Director, MCS Group and Emer Hinphey, Partner, Think People.


  1. Welcome and Introductions
  2. Remote Working During the Covid-19 Pandemic
  3. Maintaining Productivity During Remote Working
  4. Team Meetings During Remote Working
  5. Motivating and Engaging Remote Workers
  6. Importance of Good Technology in Facilitating Remote Working
  7. Social Interaction and Remote Working
  8. Trusting Remote Workers
  9. Remote Induction
  10. Recognition of Good Performance
  11. Job Design Checklist
  12. Poll Question
  13. Q&A

The Recording


Welcome and Introductions

Sarah: So hello, everyone. Thank you for joining us for our webinar this morning, "Managing & Motivating Homeworkers in the New World of Work." It's kindly been sponsored by Mooqi Employee Engagement Software. So our webinar this morning, everyone, and we're delighted to have so many of you with us today. It's a very important topic. It's expected to last about 45 minutes, and we have a packed schedule.

We're going to pack a lot into 45 minutes. We do hope to have a question and answer session at the end if there's time. In case there's not enough time for your questions to be answered during the webinar to our expert speakers, you can email the speaker. We will get their emails to you and you can email them and they will answer you directly, so that's a fantastic opportunity today. All the contact details of the contributors today will be given to you in the post-webinar email which will be sent to you later this morning.

So first of all, I just like to introduce and set out what's actually happening today, introduce you to our contributors. First of all, we have Louise Smyth, Managing Director of MCS Group. And Louise is an experienced commercial recruitment professional and a trainer with 25 years experience in the people and talent industry.

She joined the MCS Group, the largest specialist recruitment firm in Northern Ireland. And her exposure to the dynamic changes and recruitment and retention throughout her career has given her great insights into the future of work and indeed, the changing needs of employees. And never before I think have we seen such changing needs for employees given the current crisis at the moment.

Our next speaker then, we're delighted to have with us today, Emer Hinphey from partner Think People. So Emer is the co-founder and managing partner of Think People Consulting. She's recognised as a leading commentator on business transformation, talent management, and leadership development. Emer has a background in occupational psychology and has held senior positions in the banking and energy sectors.

She's passionate about working with clients to improve as Emer's experience, advising boards and leadership teams as meant she's very highly regarded within her peer group. Emer is an advocate of the application of psychology to help us understand ourselves and our teams, and how to use this knowledge to create brilliant organisations.

So once again, those skills really critical as we're trying to manage our homeworkers and because we're all individuals, we've all got different personalities, people are coping in different ways with the current situation. And just yesterday we're seeing more information that has provided more clarity for some but more uncertainty for others. So how do you manage people and their different needs from you as a leader?

Well, we'll also hear today from the man behind Legal Island, Barry Phillips, BEM of course CEO of Legal Island. And Barry is the founder of the company which is a leading compliance company of course in the UK and Ireland. He's a qualified barrister, mediator coach and trainer, and he's also the author of a book on "Small Business Employee Engagement" along with his MD, Jayne Gallagher, which is being launched online tomorrow. So there you go, news hot off the press, and it contains a specially added section on motivating homeworkers so look out for that.

Barry's company is in that very exclusive club of employers that has achieved Investors in People Platinum, an accolade currently afforded to just 1% of organisations in the UK. So once again, Legal Island is leading from the front and tackling issues head on, and knowing that homeworkers need answers, need reassurance that everything's going to be okay which can be difficult to provide in such uncertain times.

So we'd love to sort of hear from you as well. We will have time for those questions. Remember, you can email to the speaker that you want to put a question to. There is a reminder of our program today. Louise coming up first, then Emer on how to manage homeworkers for optimum performance, there's a task. And Barry, really, how you keep yourself motivated? Let's keep this positive today and that really is absolutely key. So Barry will share his insight on that.

But, before we move on, we'd love to ask you to take part in a poll. It's very easy and we will give you the results of our poll at the end of the webinar. So we have three questions for you. So which of these do you believe reflects your opinion on those currently working from home during the crisis? So many of you are doing that today.

When a return to the workplace is possible would you prefer to one, continue working from home, two, return to previous way of working, or three, do more work from home than before? So there's your three questions. We'd love to hear what you think. So would you after a return to a workplace is possible, would you prefer to continue working from home, number one, number two, return to the previous way of working, or number three, do more work from home than before?

There are your three questions. What do you think? Let us know. I think we have over 450 people listening in to the webinar today. So that will give us a real indication of what people are thinking right now wherever you're listening from today. So that's enough for me for the minute. I'm going to hand you over, first of all, to our first contributor, and that is, of course, Louise Smyth.

Louise Smyth, of course, is the managing director of MCS Group. And Louise is someone who's been around the block and works with many of Northern Ireland's leading employers.

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Remote Working During the Covid-19 Pandemic

What's your take on working from home, Louise? I'm going to hand over to you.

Louise: Thank you, Sarah. Hopefully, you can hear me okay there. Morning, everyone, and it's really great to be on the webinar this morning. And I hope I can give you a good snapshot of what we are seeing here at MCS across the spectrum of the Northern Ireland and also the wider UK economy in relation to remote working. It's not just as a reaction to your current pandemic, but what looks like from a longer-term future of work perspective. And I'm just going to grab our slides here if we don't mind. Let's see.

Okay, so guys there's a slide up there that I'm showing you there this morning. And from my past experiences of recessions, and there's been early '90s, financial crash in 2008, and now we've got COVID. And generally speaking, organisations tend to look different from when they go into something like this to how they look coming out. And I'm not sure maybe some of I've already seen this Chinese symbol crisis before but sometimes it's used in leadership programs or motivational talks.

But the translation for crisis in Chinese is that with danger comes opportunity. And for many of us in this webinar this morning, and the space of a week working from home moved from a nice to have employee benefit to a necessity to survive. And I think through virtual and video and from Zoom to Loom, BlueJeans to Microsoft Teams, I think we've all found a way to conduct business.

As business leaders, I think everyone has had to find efficiencies from each corner. And the pandemic I think has probably moved this working from home option as a major opportunity for businesses that I think that will probably be here to stay moving forward. And when I speak to a lot of our MCS customers who before this would have totally, they're totally been opposed to working from home. I think it has proven that a large chunk of employees can work from home. And so despite a lot of companies having really serious reservations in the past and for us as recruiters we've seen a continuing rise in homeworking and flexibility.

I think probably a lot of companies are using this as a benefit for also attracting and retaining talent. And of course, the numbers of people working from home totally differs by industry. And if you look across our economy, the most prominent provider of work from home practices today is probably within the IT and digital industries here in Northern Ireland. And it's a story I have when I started working in MCS. I was dating . . . the first client was a guy from Ballymena and he had a California-based just a web design company.

And they basically niched in the global music industry. So this guy from Ballymena was building websites for some of the biggest names in popular music, Kanye West, the Foo Fighters, Lady Gaga, and he had this remote team of workers all over the world. So he didn't care where anyone came from. He just wanted the best developers out there.

And at that time we ended up recruiting him at a team based in Spain, Portugal. And the last candidate was a girl in Warrenpoint. So this was an example of a business that had a global team. And over the years, he had really fine-tuned the art and science of leading, managing, and engaging homeworkers. And it actually was a massive competitive edge for him in finding talent.

I was also looking up to weekend, the Sunday Times had an actual headline which said, "Find your new normal, ditch the commute and head to the countryside." And because of the surge in remote working, the state agents are saying either been bombarded by inquiries for homes in the country. I think some people will probably don't want to rush back into the heavy commutes and the rush hour traffic, and I think a lot of them are . . . a lot of people like to know are really treasuring the time now for their families as well.

So when we look at the end of the office as we know it, I think there's going to be major, major transition when we come out of COVID moving forward. Sorry, I just went back one. Oh, sorry, guys. I just went back two, sorry, just one click and bear with me. Okay, Sarah, can you possibly just have a look at those slides.

So, guys, when we look at the surveys for working for home . . . thank you. And when we look at the surveys for working from home there's a lot of information out there and working from home, the new term is working from anywhere. And if you look at that versus traditional office space setups, there's really good positive feedback on the data on remote working. But I think we have to be really mindful when we read the data, and also observe what's happening in our own businesses today, is that we're not seeing working from home in the current climate as the normal for different reasons really.

The first is, working from home for many of us today was forced upon us. It was a kind of life and death. We had to go home to save lives. Number two, it doesn't suit all industries and skill sets or personalities. The joy of a 30-second commute to your desk these days as opposed to 40 minutes in the car can sometimes be offset with some of us aren't great at managing work from home and our home lives and requires a lot of discipline, a lot of motivation, a lot of social interaction is gone. So in the long-term, it doesn't work for everybody.

This third reason is some of our short-term working at home setups probably need major improvements today. You do need good space, you do need good working environment and a really good tech infrastructure for this to work effectively. And then probably the fourth reason I think that has to be taken into account for working for home is privacy. If you're like any of the rest of us, and I know homeschooling and having the kids around, and just the general madness in the house at the moment, doesn't really bode well for productivity or mental health.

So again, I don't think we're seeing working from home in its truest form at the moment. Now, for me today, you know, I'm delighted to be on this webinar because I'm just going to move slides . . . So, Sarah, thank you. I think some of our customers in MCS, they have already announced that if employees can work from home, they will continue and possibly until the end of this year because until we get a vaccine, we will be working alongside this virus. So for many working for home or hybrid model of this could be a real lifeline for many businesses.

And I know for me, and for a lot of us we've had to quickly learn how to manage and lead remote teams. And I think we do need frameworks and policies on best practice guidelines. And I think there's some legal areas there that probably need fleshed out as well. And probably for me, the one thing that I felt was that my core managerial competencies had to be really heightened through all of this. So for me, I'm delighted to be involved in the work webinar this morning. I think pandemic has pushed many of us into unchartered waters and I'm really delighted to get to hear some of Emer and Barry's learnings here in the sessions.

And I think it would be really valuable not just for the short-term and here and now, but I think if we're looking to the future, there are major opportunities of reshaping our workforces. And I'm really finding great talent as well as basically getting a bit of balance to our lives. And for me, that's actually a good thing. So look, thank you for your time. And any questions, just drop me a line later on, and back to you, Sarah.

Sarah: Oh, Louise, thank you so, so much for that very, very positive start to our webinar today. And yeah, as we're seeing this as an opportunity and brilliant to hear about your client from Ballymena, as well as we learned from people who've been doing this for a long time. We're only scared of what we don't know. But if we can understand a little better how it works and that it can work, and that people can in fact be more productive, then the opportunities are endless.

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Maintaining Productivity During Remote Working

So let's move on now to our next speaker who's going to look a bit more about how to manage those homeworkers for optimum performance. This is some advice now from Emer Hinphey from Think People. So I'm going to hand over to you now, Emer. Good morning.

Emer: Good morning, Sarah. Thank you. Thanks to you as well, Louise. So I guess, for me, I'm delighted to be invited to join a conversation. I can't promise I have all the answers but what I can do is share some data, some thinking, some of the ideas that I see from what we're doing and from what our clients are doing, and also from what we're getting wrong. Because I think that kind of challenge of maintaining productivity while working from home is very, very real. And for the reasons that Louise described is not the same as normal working from home.

So please do pump your questions in. I'm really anxious to see the comments that are wrapped up in those questions. Because a lot of us we learn from each other. And this is literally new for everybody. There are people like the gentleman in Ballymena, the majority of organisations have worked in the past was sort of, I suppose, mixed methods of remote work and not this kind of a working environment that we're in today.

And there has been this gradual shift, and there's great research out there that talks about how performance improves in remote working environments. And the piece of research actually, that Louise referenced is a guy called Nicholas Bloom. He's a professor in Stanford University. And then the piece of research that really opened up people's minds to the productivity benefits remote working was with, what do you call it? A travel agent.

And the study of 500 people 250 in a control group, and 250 who have volunteered to work home at home, they saw a 20% increase in productivity or just attrition, less breaks, less sickness, and other things. But we're not going to all today, not to mention the other commercial benefits. But what that sort of analysis fails to recognise, I think, in our current context is a number of things. They were selected based on their job. Was it a good job, and was it suitable for homework?

They volunteered. They all had to have a private room. They had to have six months experience in their environments. So they knew business, they knew people, they built relationships. They had a good broadband. And even with all of that, and despite the performance increases, 50% of them said they wouldn't like to work permanently full time because of the isolation.

So even for seasoned homeworkers, it's not ideal all of the time in some environments, and certainly in the current environment there are probably some further challenges. So I'm experiencing the same technical challenge that Louise did in getting the slide to move forward. But if you bear with me, I shall persevere. No, I'm not sure, Sarah . . .

Sarah: We'll have a look at that for you now. There we go.

Emer: So that's kind of nice . . . this nice idealistic view of remote working where I have more time and more flexibility and more time to think and better work-life balance, and that is reported in normal circumstances. If we could maybe move that on-again, please, isn't exactly what we're dealing with at the minute.

And again, you know, we've all had these conversations, you know, sitting on the floor and nursing a child, trying to do web calls. The barking dog that I had next door that means I had to leave room at the last minute, people are dealing with these distractions all the time. So the first context that is totally different is our individual and personal circumstance have significantly changed. But what is also something that I think as managers we need to really start to consider now is that we've moved from kind of crisis make it happen really quickly mode into actually we are going to be working alongside this virus for some time.

And for people who can work from home, we will be expected to work from home, and many may choose to work from home. And the pieces that are absent that helped the Stanford study I think are the things that really where businesses can get a little bit of traction, because the planning that was absent, the processes that are absent, all of that stuff now needs to be backfilled.

How do we create a structure that makes it easier for people to do what they need to do working from home within the context of working during a crisis? And I heard a great line at the very early stages of a webinar on this, which is we're not at home working, we're at home during a crisis time to work. And those are two very different things. So, for managers, I think the big challenge is, how do we manage for productivity? And what is the productivity that we can realistically expect when people are in crisis?

So there's big adjustments that are being made, managers are having to work through those and we're having to solve all the really complex problems at the same time. So what does that do? And we maybe move the slide forward again. Please, thank you. And here is a living example of the kind of challenges we face. We've tried this, it all works. And of course, then when you want it to work, it doesn't.

So what are the sort of things that we can do in terms of being realistic about productivity expectations, and then managing and supporting people for the best productivity that they can deliver? And all of this in the context of exactly what Leeanne said, managers need help too. Managers are also people with families, chaos, all of that stuff. So for them to be expected to have it perfectly without the experience of managing homeworkers and the routine of homeworking, then they're just gaps all over the place.

So everyone needs to cut each other a little bit of slack. I think it's probably a good starting point. And then sit back and think, well, what are the kind of structure and mutual expectations that we can put in place at the minute. So in the absence of these policies, procedures and systems, and tools, what are the things that we might be able to do to control as my colleague Louise calls it control of the controllable.

I think the first important thing that managers can do as a tip is have a conversation with individuals about what productivity can be realistically expected. And that as a two-way agreement. Home is a big pressure people now whether it's children at home, whether it's the isolation of being on your own, whether it's having to pop-out to look after elderly parents or elderly neighbours. There are so many things that are interrupting the ability to just sit and work from 9:00 to 5:00 or whatever your working hours are.

So what is realistic? It has to be an important first question. Client of ours Liberty IT has strapline which you think sends a tone of message culturally which is home first. So effectively the message to people is we appreciate the productivity may not be what it was, we still have things that we need to do. So let's be clear about what you can do and what we know we can't.

So we're getting those mutual expectations clear, and I'll come back to that individuality piece in a second. I think structure over structure as possible helps because everybody knows when they need to be online. So there are things that we do in our normal working environments that I think can be replicated relatively easily without the deep infrastructure that we might have if we move to more permanent working remotely.

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Team Meetings During Remote Working

So when do your teams meet? Agree to those meeting times. Get them on everybody's diary. People can plan their crazy daily days around that expectation that I need to be there at that time. Same for individual meetings. Understand when people start time, break time and end time is, and agree with people when you will be available but also when they won't be available so that everybody knows when everybody's available, when they're not available, and when meetings will be held.

And that includes whatever meetings are one-to-ones, daily stand-ups or check-ins that all of those things still happen, but with very, very clear communication around when. So forget about the structure and when things are going to happen. Then I think the other piece is around rather than that there's micromanagers all over the country, I think having absolute nervous breakdown by the lack of day-to-day control that is available, but maybe that will really help not move just culturally in terms of how we work but also how we lead, and shifting into that much more trust-based focus around clarifying outputs and expectations and letting people get on with it.

But I think in this context, having some kind of daily, weekly, monthly tick, and it will very much depend on the employee and the type of work that you do, is can you explain what your outputs are? So what have you achieved today, and this week or in this month? And has two things, it's good for the manager so the manager can communicate back what has been achieved, but also where the gaps are.

But for individual team, I was talking to somebody in Queens yesterday who in a very profound way said, I really love to be planned. I feel really guilty that I know I'm not doing as much as I normally do. I don't feel like I'm getting the same results that I always did. So what I started to do is just plan for my week, because I can't plan further ahead so I'm getting a handle on what I can plan. And then I can see at the end of the week what I have been able to do. And that just made them feel better because they were able to see for themselves that they have achieved stuff because the day can feel a bit hectic. All the Zoom calls, all of that stuff, I think a lot of people finding productivity has been interrupted rather than improved in the short-term scenario.

Another piece that can be really useful and that we do by virtue of being I suppose that we saw times a business were consultancy, but getting people to just monitor and track where their time goes. But from the ethos of being able to see how time is being used in order to put in place things that help make you more efficient, to take away things that are wasting time as opposed to just checking on where people are. So some of that helps, I think, with just getting a bit more of a handle on what's happening, but what should be happening.

Workspace and tools, Louise mentioned, I think some of that will be short-term until the crisis is over. It's hard to mobilise equipment and software, not to the same extent. But we're starting to increase the number of tools that people have available to them.

And I think the other thing that we can do genuinely to increase productivity is create breaks. There is this view that if I keep my head down and I work all day, I will get more done. The cognitive psychology and neuroscience around this tells us that just isn't true. People's brains are frazzled. They are losing focus. People are reporting feeling it's harder to concentrate. And a lot of that is coming from this constant, constant Zoom calls, feeling like I need to be on with the family with work.

And actually your ability to do good thinking when we have so many different pressures and we're juggling all of those constantly, makes people less productive. So it's having faith that we encourage people to take space in their day that they will actually be able to perform better, and will feel better, and will be less stressed. So that structure piece is massive. And it will very much depend on the individual, the individual company and the individual and the teams, what you do as a business.

So a couple of short things here because I'm conscious of allowing Barry on very shortly to take this more from the other side and how we're engaging people in this environment. But, as Sarah said at the introduction, people cope definitely. And I think as managers, we need to be really cognisant of the fact that some people really aren't coping very well and some people are finding it actually life is easier.

So there's a real spectrum of opportunities for some people and challenges for others. So I think it's really trying to get a handle and an honest handle on individual circumstances and where they are to be . . . I think if the anecdotes that we all experience in any given day where people are some days, they're all over it and other days, because for some reason, I just feel like today I'm just not doing so well or I can't concentrate the same.

But the individualisation I think goes beyond just knowing how people feel. I think it's also more detailed than that. So the kind of things that some of the organisations we work with have been doing and that we've been trying to do ourselves is agreed working patterns. So, again, another organisation I know their HR, talent leader gets up at 6:00 every morning now. She does her work before the kids and kind of . . . is there when the kids get up. Has got a head start in the day, brings her elder son into her room with her and does homeschooling while on some calls because he's a bit more self-sufficient.

And then in the afternoon, there's a little swap with her husband. He gets a bit more space, she takes time out then and then comes back in the evening, when she has a clear head and is able to work. So her work pattern now is fundamentally different. But if that's agreed with your manager, and you know that in those two hours in the afternoon when you need to look after the kids or go visit your parents or whatever that is, you won't have the guilt of people ringing you and looking for things and feeling like you have to explain yourself.

It allows people to focus when they're telling you they can focus and it allows them to be able to actually breathe out and do the other things they need to do. And that pattern will be totally different for everybody. I think it's about also considering that some of that might be at night-time. Some people are saying, "I need time at the weekend." They're still working the same hours but it's in a way that actually means they can work without feeling exceptionally stressed and pressured.

I think encouraging people to put busy time in their diaries. The Zoom fatigue is known very well. It's a real thing. And there are lots of psychological reasons for why it is the case. And we have to work really hard even just to try and keep some eye contact because we're flicking up and down between looking at the person on the screen and looking at the camera. That in itself is tiring.

And a very interesting insight I saw is that Generation Z and millennials are finding, an Engine Insights study, that the virtual calls are absolutely getting in the way of them doing more much more than Boomers and Generation X which we might not have expected. So creating time that is call-free time, clear breaks between Zoom calls, make sure that people take 15 minutes between each Zoom call. Otherwise, you're just going back to back in a way you don't do in offices. You don't get to go to the toilet. You don't get to say hello to your colleagues in the hot call, you don't get to grab a coffee so people aren't moving, and they're concentrating for hours and hours on end.

And the other thing I guess, which is sort of blending up the individualisation and the communication is, what do people need? More experienced people might need less of your time. Less experienced people might need you to check in every day. So I think agreeing on those individual communication strategies and reviewing them regularly will also help just people to get what they need without the over communication or the overdrive on communication that a lot of people are now complaining about. So I think we need to pull back some communication just to let people do what they need to do it and actually get some work done.

And I think the last thing I would say in the interest of time because I guess we could talk about this stuff all day, is that when you don't see people in the corridor, you don't hear the gossip, you don't hear the crack, you don't hear the grapevine information.

And a lot of reports are suggesting people feel that they know less about what's going on. So something as simple as a short weekly update saying, what is the current business strategy? What are our clients doing or not doing? What changes are we making? How do we think the business is looking? Do we have any idea now? Do we still not? What changes have there been legalised?

For example, this we have lots of information to share. And so the people . . . and if it's nothing that you said, everybody, nothing has really changed from last week, but we're just letting you know that we have nothing more to update you with. And I think with all of that it gives us an opportunity to at least do our best until we can shift to an environment where, of course, most companies are definitely thinking about . . . you know, 60% of companies at the moment report that they will make remote working a permanent opportunity.

So there is an opportunity for organisations who have time to start to build the processes and systems that will give them a bit of competitive edge post the chaos and the crisis, and when we get into some sort of normality. So that's it from me. A lot said in a very short period of time. I'm going to hand back to you, Sarah.

Sarah: Brilliant. Thank you so, so much, Emer. I really do believe that never before do we recognise as much the differences in people and the way that they cope with certain scenarios. So I thought that was fantastic. Are you communicating too much or have other people just gone to grind and are not communicating at all?

So yeah, definitely setting those goals. What can we expect managing expectations is super advice. Thank you so much, Emer. So what about rallying the troops at home when you're not there literally in front of them face-to-face? We move on to our final speaker of the webinar, of course, Barry Phillips is the CEO of Legal Island. So he knows an awful lot about motivating and indeed engaging staff. So we'll hand over to you now, Barry.

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Motivating and Engaging Remote Workers

Barry Thank you very much, Sarah. And hello to everyone in the webinar. And immediately I need to admit to something of a nostalgic weakness for homeworkers because Legal Island was founded and developed using homeworkers. When I started a company in 1998 our first five employees were all homeworkers simply because we just didn't have the cash at the time for bricks and mortar offices.

We had a employee who was working from home just outside of Dublin, another one in Magilligan on the north coast, northwest of Northern Ireland. And I remember at the time she used to talk about her 10-second commute from the kitchen to the office upstairs. And she used to tell me about many of her lunch breaks which were taken as walks on Benone Beach. And she would have a view of Mussenden Temple in one direction and Donegal whilst walking back in the other direction.

And I couldn't have thought of a better advert at the time for the benefits of working from home than that. I want to talk today in terms of motivating homeworkers, it's just to talk first of all about core motivators for all employees. And I'll touch on that very briefly because I want to spend as much time as I can on demotivators for homeworkers, and also raising motivation levels for homeworkers as well.

Sarah, you were kind enough at the beginning to mention the book that I've just written with my colleague here, the MD and Jayne Gallagher which we're launching tomorrow online. In a book, we talked about eight core areas relevant to employee engagement. And I'm sure these won't come as surprises to those in the webinar this morning.

Very briefly they are remuneration, well-being, values, vision, mission sometimes also described as purpose, job design, recognition, learning and development, comms interpersonal, internal, and leadership. And we actually talk about the eight in the book, we talk about two plus six because we do advise the reader particularly for those just starting their business to spend their first attention on remuneration and well-being, really getting those right, but not ignoring the other six as well.

And suddenly as the fog of the coronavirus lessens and we look to see what's the other side, sadly, it's going to be a recession, possibly a depression. And those core issues, those core eight are going to be vital for us to work on and to look at. And as business leaders and as HR people, we have to go to those eight and we have to be creative. We have to be imaginative. We have to be resourceful in terms of how we deal with those eight.

Of course, knowing that for many employers are going have very restricted budgets, but at the same time, it's going to be critical that we get good levels of employee engagement. So going on to the demotivators, and the demotivators. If Rolanda, if you could just move the slide on for me, that would be good. I won't start . . . I don't know whether this is a call-to-arms or whether it's just a plea to everybody in the webinar but I think there's a real danger here if we have this new animal of the homeworker.

Homeworking is not new but homeworking as standard and as the base position is new. And right at the get-go here, I just like to say this, that it's really important that we protect and we fight for the status of the homeworker because I can't help but draw parallels to part-time workers. And in some organisations, by no means in many organisations but in some organisations, I still pick up the sense that the part-time worker is of a lesser status than other types of workers.

And this is what we really need to fight against in terms of the new homeworker if I can use that expression. We have to be really vigilant to make sure that the status of the homeworker is just the same as if any other type of worker. I think that's really important for us to do right at the start. And that really leads me to my first point here, and that is the out of sight for a homework shouldn't mean out of mind.

We need to understand that the homeworker is likely to be just as engaged and just as loyal and committed to the employer as other types of workers and they should enjoy the same rights to training, the same rights to promotion, to career progression as everybody else. And I really do think at an early stage, we need to fight to protect the status of the homeworker so that homeworkers or employees that might think about opting to become homeworkers won't be deterred because they'll immediately think that if they do opt for any substantial amounts of time working from home it's likely to affect their career progression in the company.

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Importance of Good Technology in Facilitating Remote Working

And we've touched on poor technology and that I think is really important. In the old days, five years ago, 10 years ago, whatever you call the old days of technology, it used to be Wi-Fi that was the real culprit. My experience now is more to do with the setup, the IT setup in companies. And it's important that as we go to more having more homeworkers, that the IT people are brought in to make sure that all the settings are right and facilitate good, strong communication with our homeworkers and in particular access to data and files and folders so the homeworkers have that same access as those in the office.

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Social Interaction and Remote Working

Emer already talked about isolation and loneliness and what I call “onlyness” if you're the only homeworker, are you going to feel very different to everybody else? And I think we just need to be very mindful of that, and to always remember that work is a very important part of social life and of living and a lot of people enjoy the social contact that comes with work.

And I was talking to Roger Pollen of the Federation of Small Businesses recently. He said the first thing that they did in their office was they were all required to work from home is to have a water cooler period at 10:00 for 15 minutes when just everybody went online and just talked and said hello and chatted.

He said sometimes it was business-related, often it wasn't. But the requirement was they did that every day just for the social part of that. At Legal Island we do quite a bit of fun things every day at the moment. One of the things that we're doing each member of staff is invited to send out three things to other staff members, three statements about themselves, two of which are true, one of which is a lie and the employees just to get back and try and work out which is which in all of that.

And even talked about disrupting work-life balance that of course, is really important and I know a number of companies already have rules in terms of communication. Outside of standard working hours, some employers even go as far as switching email off and servers off and so on. But we really do I think have to encourage managers to understand that the sacred nature of quality rest downtime and actions of sending somebody an email later versions at 4:30 on a Friday afternoon for submission on Monday at 9:00 are just not acceptable if they think, "Okay, we can just . . . they can just chuck some of their own weekend time at this."

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Trusting Remote Workers

So we need to be careful there. And trust is something that has already been talked about. And trust for me is key when it comes to homeworkers. And I think performance management around homeworkers needs to be rested on outcomes as even mentioned in outputs rather than monitoring and surveillance of staff and on staff activity.

I remember in 1998, people would say to me, but if you can't see your workers at home, how can you be sure that they are working? And I used to say to them, well, they may be in the office, but how can you be sure that they're just not playing games on the computer or talking to somebody on the phone, Friends Reunited was the big, popular one at the time there. So, Rolanda, if you could move on to the next slide, that would be great.

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Remote Induction

I just wanted to talk about induction on onboarding very quickly. And techniques may have to change here. If we're having people coming in for induction, perhaps for a week or two before being released, back to home working be it full time or part-time, then there's obviously going to be a focus on that homeworker getting to know colleagues, particularly team colleagues very, very quickly.

So I can see those in HR having to really look at induction in boarding processes at the moment, and asking whether they need to be amended. Inclusive leadership, diversity inclusion, everybody in that space is now talking about the importance of inclusive leadership and now with many homeworkers and that is especially the case.

But it's interesting, isn't it? How much this Zoom meeting has changed things, and the opportunity that comes with this. I was in meeting last week with about 10 people. It was a meeting that was down to last 50 minutes and I thought, okay, I'm just going to give five minutes to everybody. Five minutes airtime to everybody in the meeting here, and it struck me it's a lot easier to control the culture of a meeting.

Very often in a meeting, you might have a dominant personality that just completely takes over the meeting. Here, you can just give everybody the same airtime. And you can hear from perhaps the quieter people in the meeting, the younger people, the inexperienced who tend not to contribute as much as the seniors. So there's opportunities here to really change the dynamics of things.

Preserving the team spirit, online and offline, we mustn't fall into the assumption that simply because somebody is working from home they don't want to attend the face-to-face social events. It may just be that they're even more keen to do that. So we need to bear that in mind as well.

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Recognition of Good Performance

And excuse me, the final thing is recognising great performance. I just wanted to say there that it's very easy to fall in the trap of just thinking, "Okay, recognition, yes, it's important. I'll just fire this person in email and say well done." But don't forget the old traditional forms of recognising people, which I think are going to be doubly special and important to those working from home. I'm thinking of the old, old style writing a letter, thank you. Or even just it's 4:00 on a Friday phoning somebody up and saying thank you for your really hard work this week.

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Job Design Checklist

So this brings me really on, Sarah, to the last section, which is a very quick look at the resources that we thought would be relevant to those with an interest in homeworkers. And the first of these is a job design checklist, which we actually devised at Legal Island prior to the outbreak of the coronavirus. And I was talking with Louise about this. I think it's a very beginning of the year.

And what we were trying to do with this checklist is encourage those responsible for designing jobs to actually think first of all, whether that job does need to be done in the office, and whether part of it or all of it could be done somewhere outside of the office, was normally at home. But also think about the hours, does it need particularly to be full-time? Does it necessarily need to be 9:00 till 5:00? Could other hours suit it as well? So it is basically meant for those that are responsible for job designs just to prompt them to ask really important questions first of all, rather than just adopt default terms and conditions.

So on to the next slide. And, Sarah, you mentioned the "Mastering Small Business Employee Engagement" book, also the online launch of that. Just mention that tomorrow, we'll be sharing our 10 top engagement tools with everybody. If you'd like sign up to that, you can do that. I'll send you more details on that in an email which will follow this shortly.

On to the next slide, just to remind you about the Mooqi. Mooqi is a new web and mobile employee engagement platform. It provides employees with a safe way to share their thoughts and feelings about work while helping employers learn from the insights to shape and better-informed business through better business culture.

And again, to the next slide. You know, all the talk at the moment seems to be about insights for children necessarily and educating them at home. But it's important not to forget adults too and workers in particular. There's so many courses that are available many for free online at the moment. And Coursera is probably the most popular.

I know a lot of people are spending time at home and reading and catching up on business books, self-development books. getAbstract is a great website, which does abstracts of many of the standard textbooks in the business and self-development space. I understand their abstracts are free now just until about the 18th of May. So if that's of interest to you, get along there and is an alternative to getAbstract which as far as I'm aware, is always free. And I used that last week in which we found the summaries much better than getAbstract.

And moving on to the next slide. Just to remind you that we have a number of modules at Legal Island which are relevant to homeworking, data protection, and well-being, and protecting yourself when working. If you'd like more information about that, then that will be in the email.

And finally, not to forget our friends at Bespoke Communications. Sarah Travers and Camilla Long are both specialised in doing online facilitation and presentation skills. So, if you think that you could do with that sort of training, definitely do get in touch with them.

And on to the next slide, and Rolanda, if you could get the next slide there, I think that'll take it to Q&A and back to Sarah. So back on to Sarah, thank you.

Sarah: Barry, thank you very, very much. Yes, in that picture of me there, it really shows how long my hair has got during this lockdown. Thank you so much, extremely insightful. We've 10 minutes left on our webinar. So we have a very . . . Remember, we did ask you a couple of questions.

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Poll Question

We're carrying out a poll today. The folks at Legal Island and indeed Mooqi, very, very keen to hear that when a return to the workplace is possible, would you prefer to one, continue working only from home? Two, return to a previous way of working? Or three, do more work from home than before? We'd love to know what you see.

And of course, as we've been hearing everyone is an individual and everyone has been coping in a different way to the change and the circumstances. But there we have some results for you. So look at that. Wow. Okay, so we have 84% have answered when the return to the work is possible they would prefer to do more work from home than before. Interesting, 84%.

So 10% said they wanted to return to the previous way of working, and just 5% want to continue working only from home. So that's not popular but definitely that blended model, a bit more flexibility. Definitely a better work-life balance, but maybe when the kids go back to school too, that would be even easier to achieve.

returning to work preferences

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Thank you so much to our three speakers. We have just time for three questions, one for each of you if possible. So remember all the way back at the start of the morning we spoke to Louise Smyth. Louise, obviously an expert in recruitment.

Louise, generally what do you see happening within your industry, within the recruitment industry on the island of Ireland? Do you see cutbacks and downsizing happening?

Louise: Well, you know what, I think, Sarah, you may have to look at the numbers that have been furloughed. And if you look at the UK numbers across the board, quarter of the workforce and they said are 7.5 million people have been furloughed up until now. And look, we have seen it in all industries really where business levels have dropped. That's everything from if you look at even the things that aren't been affected like the food, medical, pharmaceuticals, some of the manufacturing companies, and PPA, but they still have business levels coming in.

And unless the business levels to return to a pre-COVID level, then it'll be inevitable there will be cuts in staff and redundancies across most sectors. And that's probably including government bodies as well. And the furloughing and that whole pattern of furloughing, and if it didn't exist, we'd probably would today have tens of thousands of people being made redundant.

But it's there, thank goodness, and to stave that off until business levels return. And look, it just depends on which the economist you're listening to or what day of the week that people are reporting on this. But some are suggesting we're going to get a strong bounce back. And if this furlough scheme can hold things in place until that happens, then there will be less of a bloodbath. But in reality, the schemes, while the business is limited, the schemes are there to take away some of that pain. So that's probably what I see across all the sectors, Sarah, at the moment.

Sarah: Yeah, thank goodness for the schemes. Yes, thank you very much, Louise. And

Emer, there's a question here for you. I think I know the answer you might give me before I ask it, but would you recommend any tracking devices for homeworkers to monitor work done? Controversial.

Emer: I'm actually now more curious as what you think the answer I was going to give, Sarah. I have to check that with you. But I think for me, I just kind of cringe inside at the very term tracking device for a human being. I think it goes back to this question around, bouncing off the fact that businesses need to be commercially viable. We need to use our time productively. We need to use our resources most effectively so that we deliver what we need to deliver and we're doing it most efficiently and effective way possible.

I think once we talk about tracking people, we've lost the trust that is essential to getting the work, the type of work environment that communicated in the way Barry described. As I said, we use a timer utilisation tracking system to see what people's hours go against utilising time and not and that will be familiar to a lot of professional service businesses. But as part of that thing, you know, is it big brother strategy around, "I just want to see that you're working as you should or are we taking this on an output basis in saying that, what are the things you're responsible for? How long does it take to do them? And can we just make that move better?

Because the reality is the manager will know if somebody is not doing what they're supposed to do. But there are. There's millions of apps out there. I mean, things like Trello and, they're both quite good for just online collaboration around projects and allocating tasks and timeframes, etc., without at very measuring people's every move.

And there are big organisations who will . . . So some of the big public authorities have in my conversation with them talks about increasing home work after that the lockdown and I don't think they've done it before. And I know organisations that got into flexible working. We need to record time and attendance. I think there needs to be a cultural shift alongside recording time for policy reasons to also saying, we need to not just be measuring their time but also what are people doing within that time? That's maybe quite convoluted answer.

Sarah: No, no. I expected you wouldn't be at all right for the tracking devices, but just given what you're saying too, of what, you know, measuring output, you still got to produce things. But I think it's the recognition again, that people do things at different times in a different way in a home environment but thank you for answering that question.

And we, in the final minutes of our webinar, closing questions for Barry, then.

Barry, what impact do you think as a business leader, homeworking will have on business creativity?

Barry Well, great. That's an interesting question, Sarah. It's interesting. I was reading the FT over the weekend on I think it was Saturday and it was a journalist there who was talking about just this. And he was saying that, on the one hand, this is for many entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs, a big pause, if you like, and an opportunity to do some really good quality thinking.

So he was saying this could be an exciting period. It could really lead to some great innovation. But what he also said, which I noted, which I thought was quite good, is that a lot of business ideas come from chance or casual encounters, or chats with staff. And a lot of particularly the bigger businesses will get their ideas with staff just chatting, and meeting one another.

And it just reminded me of the top story about Steve Jobs where . . . whether this is true or not, I don't know. But I heard somewhere that when he was designing the Apple offices in America, he insisted that the toilets were put right in the middle of each of the floors because he was hoping that this would encourage better circulation of staff from all departments. And he knew from that circulation you'd get better meetings and circulation of staff and generation of ideas.

So last, there's a lot I think to take from this. And there is a word of caution, which I think is that we do need to look carefully at how in organisations we come up with ideas. And if suddenly we have a whole load of people homeworking, then we need systems or methods to tap into their input as well and to bring in their different ideas and their views. So that's something else I think that long-term we need to think about. And back to you, Sarah.

Sarah: Thank you, Barry. Yes, these are testing times. But sometimes as we heard right at the start of crisis comes opportunity and indeed creativity, all of those small businesses as well out there who are having to adapt, having to pivot, having to change, having to be flexible to survive, but then realising there are benefits in doing so.

So listen, it has been a fantastic webinar this morning. Thank you so much to each of our speakers this morning, to Louise Smyth from MCS Group, to Emer Hinphey from Think People. And of course, to Barry Phillips, CEO of Legal Island. Legal Island, of course, have many more webinars coming up for you during this time. I know people are finding them so useful and they're absolutely inundated with people.

We've been delighted have so many of you here with us today. Thanks again for taking part in our poll, where we find I think it was 84% of those who took part this morning, would when we're told we can go back to the workplace would like to work a little bit more from home. So, so interesting to get the views from you this morning.

But having said that, only 5% said that they wanted to work at home full time. So that's very telling as well. Thank you so much. We're going to end that webinar now. So I hope we'll see you again sometime. In the meantime, take care and stay safe.

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This article is correct at 13/05/2020

The information in this article is provided as part of Legal-Island's Employment Law Hub. We regret we are not able to respond to requests for specific legal or HR queries and recommend that professional advice is obtained before relying on information supplied anywhere within this article.

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