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Business management

Remote and hybrid working: how to have a happy and productive team

We talk to business mentor and performance coach Mark Randall to understand the challenges and long-term implications of ‘the new normal’ of remote/hybrid working. What can businesses do to find a balance that works for them?

The key challenges from the shift to remote/hybrid working

1. A common challenge is how to build and maintain strong human connections in a remote-work set-up

Everyone is set up differently. You might have one person working in a spacious home office with fast broadband, and their colleague working off a coffee table in a shared living room with a lousy connection. Some people are happy working from home for long periods; others depend on social interaction to work at their best.

For new joiners, or those going through difficult times, the sense of remoteness can be particularly strong. We need to make sure we’re doing enough to make them feel connected and supported.

2. Zoom meetings are great for getting things done, but they can easily become transactional

What’s lost is the time we’d spend getting to know each other. It can be tricky picking up on the signs that someone’s not OK – body language and mood can get lost, and sensitive conversations are harder to begin on video calls.

We need to develop a sense of empathy and compassion that functions for this new way of working.

3. Team spirit may be missing

From a corporate point of view, it can be harder to build a sense of shared culture, a team spirit that brings people together. There are also new questions to consider about security and continuity planning when people are working remotely and reliant on internet access.

How can businesses start to address these challenges?

The solutions will be different for each business, but the following general pointers could help.

1. Open communication channels with your teams

Starting to have these conversations and listening to the concerns of your employees about the ‘new normal’ is an important step. You can do this through one-to-ones and team meetings, or you could run a survey to gauge preferences and perspectives.

This will help inform the decisions you make and could form the basis of a new shared digital agreement and code of practice. From agreeing hours at home versus in the office to technology requirements, security protocols and tips for avoiding Zoom fatigue, the agreement could provide a much-needed reference point for the new ways of working.

One thing that’s already clear is that people value flexibility and choice when it comes to their working options. A digital agreement like this will be well received if it grows out of an inclusive discussion. It could even become a selling point for your business.

Starting to have these conversations and listening to the concerns of your employees about the ‘new normal’ is an important step. You can do this through one-to-ones and team meetings, or you could run a survey to gauge preferences and perspectives

2. Digital contingency planning and risk assessment

We need to adapt from a risk point of view. Most of us depend on a secure internet connection to do our job – but what happens if that drops? And if you have people working from mobile devices, either from home or in busy public spaces, this brings with it new security considerations. You need to consider these issues when drawing up plans and policies.

Make sure work devices are protected and employees working remotely maintain the same level of security awareness they would in the office. That goes for the protection of confidential information and alertness to scams and cyber threats. The office is to some extent a protected environment, where it’s easy to ask for a second opinion. At home or on the move, people may be more susceptible to fraud and scams.

3.  Mindful management

In a remote context it can be harder to spot when someone is feeling down or stressed, and for people whose well-being is already affected, it can be harder for them to reach out, and easier to disengage. Staff meetings – whether in-person or by phone/Zoom – that involve a lot of people can become static affairs where a few voices dominate. And in the daily run of meetings, it’s easy for interactions to become transactional and harder to build bonds.

  • Proactively build digital compassion and care into ways of working
  • Take the time to listen to colleagues and be alert to the signs that people might be struggling or just need a chat that’s not attached to work
  • Cultivate awareness and network of support
  • In larger meetings, chairs need to work actively to read the audience and encourage participation

Using team messaging apps for everyday chat, rather than just for work, can help bring people together and build camaraderie. And swapping out some meetings for informal catch-up sessions could also help. What’s crucial is that we’re giving our minds time to relax and reset, and talking to each other about more than just work. This is crucial in fighting mental fatigue and fostering the team dynamic and growth mindset we need to work at our best.

  • Try blocking an hour in the day for focus time, free of distractions
  • Consider introducing mindful practices into your day, or even try them as a team to see what works best
  • Set boundaries to avoid the fatigue that comes with back-to-back calls and hours of screen time
  • Take a minute to calm your mind and focus on your breath, or take a short walk at the start and end of the working day
We’re entering a new era for ways of working

Nobody has all the answers. But those businesses that reflect on the challenges and talk to their people to find the best ways forward will be setting themselves up for success. With good communication, empathy, and a growth mindset, we can continue to build creative teams and meaningful human connections in the digital world.

For more business insights, visit our Bankline blog.

Mark Randall is a certified business mentor, performance coach and mindfulness consultant at Mark Randall Consultancy.

This material is published by NatWest Group plc (“NatWest Group”), for information purposes only and should not be regarded as providing any specific advice. Recipients should make their own independent evaluation of this information and no action should be taken, solely relying on it. This material should not be reproduced or disclosed without our consent. It is not intended for distribution in any jurisdiction in which this would be prohibited. Whilst this information is believed to be reliable, it has not been independently verified by NatWest Group and NatWest Group makes no representation or warranty (express or implied) of any kind, as regards the accuracy or completeness of this information, nor does it accept any responsibility or liability for any loss or damage arising in any way from any use made of or reliance placed on, this information. Unless otherwise stated, any views, forecasts, or estimates are solely those of the NatWest Group Economics Department, as of this date and are subject to change without notice.

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