There are many reasons for initiating a Smart Working project but one of the most common is the need to reduce real estate. Defining the project, identifying appropriate personnel and job roles, establishing procedures, managing consultations and setting the roll-out agenda and timescale are all significant projects in their own right.
As a result, it is very easy to focus on closing buildings and “getting people out there” (whether that means home, hub or hot-desk working). But what happens once they are “out there”?
It is quite possible that some (or all) of the original project team may be redeployed or disbanded at this stage – just when the real, long-term projects are beginning. Whether the challenge is showing managers how to manage staff no longer under their constant supervision or showing those same staff how to manage themselves when they are not constantly supervised, there are new procedures to be created, resources to be provided and progress to be tracked.
It is also important to appreciate that problems arising out of failure to manage the new culture effectively may take some time to become evident (in much the same way that reduced absenteeism is almost certainly masking increased presenteeism in the current economy).
To ensure that Smart Workers are effective wherever they “touch down”, here are 10 simple rules. They are by no means comprehensive but give a good overview and, for clarity, focus principally on computer users:
- Ensure they have proper health and safety training appropriate to their new environment.
- Ensure you provide clear guidance about appropriate behaviour. Don’t take it for granted that common sense will prevail! If they spill boiling water on themselves whilst making coffee in their own home during work hours, or trip over the cat whilst getting their laptop out of the car, or set up their workstation on the landing and roll their chair away from the desk and down the stairs, how can you minimise the likelihood of, and your liability exposure to, such events?
- Think about the physical ergonomics. If they work at the kitchen table on a dining chair at the wrong height and use a laptop without a separate stand, keyboard and mouse, then musculo-skeletal problems are almost inevitable. Back, neck or upper limb pain will, at the very least, inhibit productivity. In the longer term, this may lead to absenteeism and, potentially, litigation.
- Provide guidance about posture. Assuming the equipment makes good posture possible, personnel need to be trained to understand what good posture is, how to achieve it and why it is important.
- Carry out proper risk assessments. A home workstation will be very different from something provided in the office. Use a DSE risk assessment that is specifically designed for home workers. A computer-based version will be easiest to manage.
- Set up a mechanism to remind and prompt users to take breaks, step away from their desk, stretch and refocus. This can be done through periodic email reminders, internal chat/social media tools or dedicated software such as CtrlWORK.
- If they spend a lot of time on the telephone, ensure they use a headset.
- Make sure that any equipment you provide is simple to use and obvious to set up. If not, assume it won’t be used!
- Check regularly that individuals are coping. Is the new way of working matching their work-life balance expectations? Are they managing the workload? Are they feeling isolated? Early recognition of problems and prompt interventions to address them are essential.
- Cut them some slack! If they want to start work at 07:00am and then walk the dog for two hours at lunchtime, think seriously about whether the business can accommodate that and whether it will significantly increase both productivity and job satisfaction.
In one of my recent monthly eBulletins, I provided a list of the tools we offer to address all these issues. More details here. As always, I welcome comments, ideas and challenges !