01 Oct 2021
So Remote working is a thing now and it looks for many companies like it will never be going away completely. Some companies are going fully remote, some are opting for a hybrid style of a few days in the office and a few at home, and even those who are determined to come back to the office full time can’t deny that there will probably be times where some of their team will be working from home, whether that’s because of COVID or simply an occasional necessity. But working from home is definitely marmite; employees and managers alike seem to either love it, or hate it.
If you’re in the love it camp you’re probably thinking “Yes it has some challenges but the benefits of flexibility, a better work-life balance and reduced office costs surely outweigh them? What’s not to love?”. But many managers have found that their teams working from home has made it even harder to plan their work efficiently. It has been found that about 40% of supervisors and managers have low self-confidence in their ability to manage workers remotely, and 38% of managers agreed that remote workers usually perform worse than those who work in an office (Harvard Business Review, 2020).
What’s everyone doing and when? Without the ability to just wander across the office and see how your team member is getting on with that report, you start to feel out of the loop. Yes you could just message them, but is that micromanaging? It’s harder to ‘check in’ without it feeling like you’re ‘checking up’ when you’re working remotely. You want to trust in your team that they know what they’re doing and are sticking to your schedule, but you know that’s not really realistic. Maybe two or three of your team are needed to work on one project together for an hour this morning but you thought one of them was working on something else that now looks like it hasn’t even been started yet!
What is ‘Job done’?
Lots of companies that are definitely on the ‘Love It’ bandwagon for remote working might say that they’re happy to allow their employees the flexibility to work when they want, as long as they get the ‘job done’. But what does ‘job done’ look like? The job(s) can just keep piling up, it’s never just done, especially in an agency and creative work. When you’re charging clients by the hour, or when you’ve got a big project that needs to be completed efficiently, just working until the job is done, doesn’t work. So at the very least, you need to set a number of hours for employees to work each day. But how can you accurately determine how much work each employee can fit into those hours? And what if something comes up that means someone can’t do that work you’ve planned for them to do? Finding the balance of just the right amount of work each day is hard enough when you’re in the office and you’ve got a clear view of what everyone is doing and any issues that arise throughout the day. Finding this balance with everyone working from home is even harder.
Communication issues (being out of the loop):
When you’re all sitting in different rooms, in different houses, maybe even in different cities, communication is more important than ever to keep everything running smoothly. As a manager, you need to understand how everyone is getting on, what they’re working on, what’s finished or what’s waiting on a client or another team member. But does that mean you need to be messaging everyone all the time? You don’t want to be over communicating, it’s a waste of time and gets tedious. Not to mention, it might feel like you don’t trust your team members. But if you don’t check in and you haven’t heard from them, you’re left feeling completely out of the loop with no idea whether today has been efficient and effective and what tomorrow will look like.
Resource management (time estimation & task allocation):
You might think you’ve planned the perfect amount of work for your team for the day or maybe the week but what if you’ve underestimated how long tasks will take or how difficult they are? Perhaps due to some of the factors above like communication issues or less visibility, your team is now working past their time to ‘clock out’ in order to get their tasks finished. This is only exacerbated by there often being no physical distinction between work and home, especially if someone is working from their kitchen table. It’s hard for an employee to come to their manager and say that they can’t get all the work done when they feel like they should. They don’t want you to think they’re being lazy and you’ve always been good at planning the right amount of work for them while they were in the office so this is new territory. This can lead to burn out pretty quickly, not to mention annoyance and worry.
Do your team members know what they should be doing first? If there is that one task that really needs to be done first thing, you need to effectively communicate that to your team. And equally, if there are tasks that are less of a priority, you don’t want them spending time on those when they could be using their time more efficiently elsewhere. But this is where we link back to the challenge of visibility. If you aren’t sure what your team members are actually working on, how can you be sure that they’re getting the top priority tasks done?
No face-to-face supervision:
Without regular face-to-face supervision you might find yourself stuck in a vicious circle of struggle and doubt with your team members. They might be struggling with less access to managerial support and communication while you might be worrying that they don’t seem to be working effectively. It’s no one's fault, but both managers and team members are right - it’s harder to access support when you’re not right next to your manager or mentor, and this might mean that you’re stuck on a problem for far longer than you would have been, making your work less efficient.
Keeping your team motivated:
It’s hard to focus when you’re not sure what you’re meant to be doing. There’s a lot of distractions at home and it’s difficult to keep your mind from wandering at the best of times. This only gets worse if you don’t have a clear plan of what work you have to do that day. With constant change, the thing that was planned for this morning can’t happen now, so what do you do? Start this afternoon’s task, or wait?
Lack of human interactions:
Working from home is lonely. There’s no getting around the fact that, love them or hate them, your colleagues can become a big part of your social life, especially for people who live alone. When these human interactions are replaced by emails, instant messaging and video calls, loneliness is bound to creep in. This is of course an important wellbeing concern for companies. But it’s also a productivity concern. It has been found that loneliness makes people less effective at work, with less commitment and poorer performance, and that was in the office, so it’s not unreasonable to think these might worsen while working from home, alone.
How can Planless make work more productive when you’re at home?
Planless is a new work management tool ideally suited to support companies of all types with remote working practices, by thinking differently.
No more guess planning. Planless doesn’t need a manager to know what is happening in order to be able to plan your team members' next tasks, simply input the tasks, skills and ranged effort required and Planless will calculate the very best plan for you.
Auto updating. Changes and interference can happen all the time, day in day out and with Planless, these changes can be adapted to and planned around instantly.
100% resource allocation. Planless’ algorithm means your team members are allocated 100% of their time and nothing more. Your plan is based on what can be realistically achieved while keeping employees busy and productive, but never overworked or burnt out.
Communication is key. Comment and chat features in Planless can easily be linked to other tools that you know and love such as Slack and Google Meet, to keep everyone talking and fully informed of developments in projects.
Total visibility. You can see exactly what each team member is working on, when they’re working on it, how long tasks are taking them and keep up to date on where projects are up to, so you’re in a better position to support your team. Planning ahead becomes easier when you know what resources are available.
Getting the job done. Planless’ ranged efforts can be set to guide employees' expectations of how long they should be spending on a task, and time capturing helps to keep the plan up to date in real time.
What's on my plate? This feature keeps your team up to date with work that needs doing, no waiting for ‘time slots’ to come around, just pick up the next thing that’s on your plate and get working on it. Giving your team members more autonomy over their schedule while making sure that high priority tasks are being completed on time.
For further reading we recommend this great article from our friends at Toptal: https://www.toptal.com/insights/future-of-work/remote-not-re-moat