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How to get the best from remote working staff

Doom and gloom are everywhere.  The disproportionate reporting of the media seems to be reaching a fever pitch. Attention-grabbing headlines scream that a fifth of the UK workforce won’t be at work at the height of the Coronavirus epidemic.  So what? In August, 14% of the workforce is off in any one week and the world doesn’t stop. I do think everyone needs to get a grip. Far more concerning is the impact on the economy of all this unnecessary panic.  Never has the message, ‘Keep calm and carry on’ been more needed.

The disruption is likely to lead to more people working from home.  I can tell you now, any flaws in your business that might have been hidden before this are likely to be revealed in full, glorious technicolour.  There’s a saying that culture is how people behave when you’re not in the room. If your culture’s strong, remote working should present you with no issues.  If it’s weak, there could be a whole lot of trouble waiting down the line.    

So what should you be thinking about to prepare for this?  How do you get the best from home-working?

Ensure staff have the right equipment

Sounds pretty obvious but unless your team have the right tech, working from home is going to be catastrophic.  They need a phone system that allows them to work in the same way as they do in the office. So if you have an office-based PABX, get rid of it. Move to Microsoft Teams or some other hosted PABX solution where it matters not where your staff are, or what device they’re on.  And if you still have desk-tops in the office, people are going to need lap-tops as a priority.

Companies are responding in different ways to the current crisis, to make home-working easier. HBR has taken away the pay-wall so that people can read and research information from home.  Microsoft is offering a free, six month trial of the premium version of its Teams Chat App. Google Hangouts have given their enterprise version away free to anyone who’s currently using GSuite. 

LogMeIn is giving away “Emergency Remote Work Kits” for three months. These are designed for non-profits, schools and health care organisations that aren’t already customers. The company also says it will work with existing small-business customers to provide access during the same time period. The kits include GoToMeeting, GoToWebinar (where users can host presentations for up to 3,000 users) and LogMeIn, which provides remote desktop access from numerous devices.

Trust your team

Ah – trust.  This is a biggy. Be honest.  When you’re looking around for a member of staff and someone tells you they’re working from home, what’s your first reaction?  Does your inner mill-owner kick in, thinking ‘Huh – really? I bet he’s not working.’ Working from home is one of those meaningless terms like work/life balance.  There’s working and it shouldn’t matter where you do it.

I find the lack of trust in organisations really sad.  So often, I’ve had conversations where it’s clear that managers or executives don’t trust staff to do the right thing. That’s no way to run a business. If there’s little trust, it probably stems from a lack of trust at the top, within the executive team.  They cast a long shadow. And that’s on you to fix.

A guy sat next to me recently and said, ‘We tried working from home and it didn’t work.’  There was genuine glee on his face. He knew it would be a disaster and felt vindicated. His view of humanity as a bunch of lazy, worthless toe-rags had been proved.  That may be the case in his business but it’s not like that in the best places to work.

Set clear expectations

With trust comes accountability, and this becomes much more important with a remote workforce.  To me, it boils down to the first question on the Gallup Q12 survey for employee engagement, ‘I know what’s expected of me at work’.  The reason why you may be disappointed in someone’s performance will often be due to an expectation gap. You can either take the view that people come to work to do as little as possible or think, like me, that they get up every morning wanting to do meaningful work with good people. And that at the end of the day, they’ll feel like they’ve achieved something. There’s no chance of that unless they know what’s expected of them.

Clear individual expectations are the final piece in a long and complex jigsaw.  This begins with having a clear strategy – a BHAG, purpose, core values (with expectations of behaviour linked in) 3HAG, 1-year priorities, 90-day priorities, individual priorities and KPIs/objectives for every member of staff.  They need to see how their responsibilities fit in with everything else and metrics should be part of this mix. Daily measurement is essential. Above all, they need to know what a good day looks like. And that good day should always be recognised and celebrated.

It’s like a game of football or rugby.  The white lines are visible, the team know the rules and can see the score in real-time. People are in the right positions and they know what to expect of each other.  Only then can that team be coached to reach its potential.

Encourage time-blocking

Working from home takes a special kind of discipline.  I suggest you encourage staff to time-block their day to prioritise progress against their daily KPIs.  Research shows that it’s only realistic to plan about 60% of your time – roughly 5 hours a day. Typically, people work most effectively in the morning so they need to get on with the most important tasks first thing.

Also important is a regular, disciplined rhythm around email, only checking it at certain times (ideally not before noon). This will mean staff aren’t constantly at everyone’s beck and call and will minimise distractions from their prioritised tasks. 

Keep the same, regular meeting rhythm

Daily huddles, weekly 1:1s, monthly all hands – whether you’re working in an office or from home, a regular meeting rhythm will keep everything in sync.  Keep your usual meeting regularity intact all through this period of coronavirus disruption. Make sure you’re using video for this – there should be no conference calls without video. This is why Zoom’s share price has gone through the roof in recent weeks.  Make this non-negotiable – there should be zero tolerance for anyone who resists this. In fact, if you DON’T have a daily huddle at the moment use the fact that staff are now off-site and remote from one another to start your daily huddles in each team.

Talk through any stucks your staff might be experiencing and how you can unblock the bottlenecks.  Work out the daily priorities and keep score against their KPIs. You might want to bookmark the day with a closing check-in or even one at lunchtime. They only need to last 10 minutes. In the past, I’ve left the conference bridge up all day so teams can chat freely with one another. It doesn’t cost any more to do this and will help your staff feel less isolated.  And if presentism is your thing, you’ll know when Betty isn’t at her desk or on her sofa…

Create a virtual water cooler

It strikes me how much value there is in those moments when you’re making a cup of tea and bump into someone in the kitchen.  You remember that you’ve forgotten to email them about something and have a serendipitous conversation. This ‘water-cooler’ chat is important, helping to grease the wheels of a business and it tends not to happen when people work remotely. 

One of my clients always has 60% of their staff working from home or client sites.  They’ve recognised the importance of everyday banter and make time for staff to chat on videoconferences before they get down to their meetings.


Rest assured – we will get through this.  The UK economy is strong and, so far, the Government seems to be taking a measured approach.  In the short term, this could be an opportunity to assess any weak areas in your business, maybe strengthening culture and reviewing your strategy. You may learn some valuable lessons from this period of disruption which could help your business grow when the crisis is over. 

Written by business growth coach Dominic Monkhouse. Find out more about him here.

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