Working in the New Normal

Since reopening our offices on the 1st July, it's been obvious that for a lot of businesses, returning to the pre-lockdown way of working is still a very distant pipe dream hiding somewhere over the horizon. The pressure is on business leaders to find a new way of working that keeps their business operating, saves jobs and even provides growth opportunities for the future, all while avoiding exposing their teams to unnecessary health risks.

In my role, my main concern over the last few months, has been to ensure that our business continues to provide great service to our candidates and clients and more importantly, remains compliant with the different laws that impact on what we do as recruiters.

Here I'll share some of the challenges we've faced and what we've learned in overcoming them. If you're trying to work out how to reopen safely and bring staff back from furlough, I hope you can find some or all of the information I've shared helpful.

Lack of face-to-face supervision

The recruitment industry has been notorious for judging staff on how long they spend at their desks. Thinking back to when I started out as a recruiter, the office hours were 08:00 am to 6:00 pm Monday to Friday. In reality, what this actually meant was arriving at 07:30 and staying until whatever hour of the evening escape could actually be made. It was hard work and family life definitely suffered. The shocking thing is that thinking back with what I know now, I don't think I or any of my colleagues actually produced any more profit for our employer then if we'd worked more sensible hours, focusing more intensely for shorter periods of time.

One of the concerns of managers, is just what staff are doing when they're not being watched every second of the day. Some supervisors can feel that if they cannot be face to face with their teams at all times, work will be missed or workers will shirk off. I would counter that by saying this: where managers have this fear and it's not unfounded, it actually points to a fundamental issue with recruiting the right staff in the first place. That's where a strong recruitment partner who understands your business can pay dividends because they can help you identify and hire the right staff, first time.

Studies show that for many workers, they actually put in more effort and produce better results when they can work from home. They repay the trust invested in them in spades by working harder, smarter and more effectively.

I feel that the real challenge when remote working as a manager, is to provide the right level of support for staff who may be faced with challenges in their work. It's about being available and approachable, putting aside your own pressures and focusing on the needs of team members. I'm no mental health expert, but not providing support to staff leads me onto the next challenge.

Social isolation

I cannot even begin to imagine what lockdown has been like for people who live alone, especially if they've been working from an empty home during the day. Work can be tough and we all feel pressure to overcome challenges and meet targets. This pressure can be bad enough when there are friendly faces all around us, but when there is no chance to offload to a colleague it can become impossible.

Over the last few months, it's been critically important for us to stay in contact as a team, even just informally during the period when everyone was furloughed. Even for those of us who aren't natural extroverts, a total lack of communication can harm the sense of belonging we all need and longer term, this can impact on staff retention. Where businesses are faced with remote working for the first time, my number one piece of advice is for managers and supervisors to focus on being more human and approachable in order to keep their teams working effectively.

You don't want to have to deal with a pressure cooker situation developing that no one saw coming.

Lack of access to information

Working remotely needs organisation. If a company that has always been office based suddenly finds itself in a remote working situation, staff can find that they cannot access basic information that is critical to their role, especially if it's only stored in a filing cabinet located in a now locked office. The challenge is to make this information securely accessible while still ensuring compliance with relevant laws, such as GDPR. We know that is not always possible overnight.

As a recruitment company, we use a dedicated software package for recruitment. This means our candidate and client data is always secure. For other documents, one of the key tools we have used is Microsoft Teams. Teams isn't just a tool for video conferencing and chat, it can be really useful as an index of documents when used in conjunction with Sharepoint or Onedrive.

One of the first things we did prior to Lockdown was to make sure that all the key documents staff used daily were indexed and linked to in Teams. This ensured that any staff member could access the information they needed at the click of a button. We prepared for months and months of remote working prior to lockdown, not knowing that the government were going to offer furlough as an option. The current situation, where a blend of remote and office working is the norm, is now made much simpler by those preparations.

Establish structured daily check-ins

A daily team meeting, with all staff present either in person or remotely, maintains the team dynamic and supports a sense of common purpose. There is nothing worse than a team that has become demoralised and disjointed, especially when business is tough and effort is needed from everyone.

Provide several different communication technology options

At The Recruitment Geeks, we have established clear guidance on what communication tool is appropriate for each scenario. Emails are for external contacts, either with clients or candidates. Microsoft Teams is for internal communication that is work related and the company Whatsapp group has replaced water cooler conversations. Each member of our team can still answer the main telephone line from wherever they are or transfer calls to colleagues and this has worked seamlessly.

The structure we've chosen works for us and is secure. How you organise your business communications needs to be right for your business and situation but the key factor for us was to ensure that no one outside of the company should notice any difference in the service they receive.

Personally, I've been surprised by the number of organisations I've dealt with where I know they're operating and yet the main switchboard number is left to ring and ring unanswered.

Does that help with a customer's perception?

Provide opportunities for remote social interaction

Our team meetings are always allowed to begin in an informal way and this gives space for people to chat and reconnect. Work is important but the social aspects of working cannot be ignored. I don't know about your business, but for us, staff socials are an important part of what we do. Going out for a curry as a team is just not feasible right now and it looks like the new way of working is going to be here for a long time or possibly even forever. Managers need to ensure teams stay unified in a common purpose and encouraging chat is just one tool to achieve this.

Finally, if you're a manager facing remote working for the first time, I hope this can encourage you and give you some ideas for the situation you're facing with your team. If you have some ideas we've not mentioned, leave a comment with what works for you.

As well as looking after quality and compliance, Brian specialises in delivering recruitment projects for companies across the UK and is focused on finding the best talent to fit the ethos of the organisations he works with. Brian works in a highly personal way to tailor the recruitment solution that will work best for your organisation and has a proven track record of successful, timely and cost-effective project delivery. Whether you're looking to grow or are finding it hard to attract the right candidates, Brian will be happy to meet with you to understand your requirements and discuss solutions that can help you achieve your growth plans while saving you the time and energy that you could otherwise use to focus on your business. 

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