How small businesses can successfully transition to remote working

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David Davies is the Founder and MD of Sovereign Beverage Company, the UK’s leading exporter of premium beverages. After a successful transition to remote working during COVID, David has recently relinquished the company offices in favour of permanent home working for his team. Here, he shares advice on what other founders need to consider before they implement remote working permanently.

It’s hard to believe that just over two years ago, much of Britain’s workforce found itself working from home overnight. The enforced lockdowns created an historic shift for many businesses, and while home working used to be seen as a perk, it has now become the norm. Surveys show that almost half of the professional workforce are interested in remote working becoming a permanent fixture, with respondents giving reasons such as saving time, saving money, and increased flexibility.

Forward-thinking companies are taking note and offering remote working, with a survey from the Institute of Directors finding that 79% of leaders intend to implement remote working in the long term. Remote working has been found to reduce rates of burnout, and increase employee well-being, productivity, engagement, and feelings of inclusion.

So how can SMEs successfully make the transition to remote working, and what are some of the elements leaders need to consider before deciding if it’s the right decision for their business?

1. Develop your remote working policies and onboard the team fully

Having clear guidelines laid out in an easily accessible policy will help to prevent any confusion for your team. Things to consider include working hours, virtual meeting structure, methods of communication, reporting, device security, and home-working environment. Keep them fluid, at least initially, and take the team through a session together to train them in the new guidelines.

2. Change your recruitment process

This is particularly important when recruiting and onboarding a new starter. You might initially conduct interviews over video call, but an in-person second interview and new starter meeting will assist the onboarding process and help to build that relationship. Encourage the existing team to schedule 1:1 calls to meet and get to know the new starter as well. Look at implementing a buddy system, pairing a new starter with a more experienced colleague to help guide through their induction period.  Check in with them daily at first to ensure they are feeling welcome and supported.

3. Develop social interaction

Allowing the team to have informal channels of communication will help to replace the ‘water cooler’ chat that will be missing from a remote working environment. It’s also useful to build in catch up time to your regular calls, taking ten minutes at the start of the week to find out how the team’s weekends were. You can also plan virtual events such as coffee breaks and after work drinks (with favoured beverages provided by the company in advance) which will help to bond the team and increase a sense of belonging. We’ve held quizzes, bingo nights, and Christmas drinks over video conferencing with great success.

4. Reassess your tech stack

Having several different communications options is key, and it’s worth having both video conferencing and instant messaging available, as well as email. Allowing the team to have informal channels of communication will help to replace the ‘water cooler’ chat that will be missing from a remote working environment. Do you have a ‘one-stop-shop’ for knowledge sharing, document storage, and project management that all team members can access, so that no-one has to waste time waiting for information? What software does the team need to be able to be most efficient?

5. Review each home working environment

Particularly important when making the change from office working to remote working. Does each member of your team have the space and equipment they need to work productively? What do they need to put in place to make this happen? Things to consider include ergonomic desks and chairs, high-speed internet, noise-cancelling headsets, as well as possible alternatives if their home environment isn’t suitable for home working. Transitioning your team to remote working may come with an investment into their environment.

6. Have in-person events where possible

While a full-time office environment may no longer be suitable for your business, keeping some in person meetings and events is great for maintaining employee connection and morale. You may find it useful to have a once-a-month team meeting to bring everyone together at a venue, or biannual team building and social events where the objective is fun, not work.

7. Be flexible

When an employee transitions from office-based to home-based, it’s important to be flexible about the environment they are now in. While it’s reasonable to expect your team members to create a dedicated workspace and a distraction-free setting, it should be remembered that the building they are in is a home first and foremost – there may be background noises that you wouldn’t normally find in an office!

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