Have you recently heard of flexible working hours, scattered workgroups, employees in different cities, home office, gig economy (which means smaller orders to freelancers and independent freelancers)? Call it what you like, the days of the good old ‘9-to-5 job’ are numbered and have long since ceased to be the norm in new business models.
Remote work can be a new business model, meaning that companies can build empires completely location-independent in a new and disruptive way. But this flexibility also has risks, both for employees and management, as the traditional distinction between office hours and absences fades.
For companies that rely on gig workers, there is a danger that new risks will only become known when something previously unforeseeable happens. If drivers are attacked by food delivery trucks on the road or professional dog walkers are chased, they could make headlines. Still, often it is the more intangible stress factors for workers in the new economy — isolation, insecurity, retreat — that employers should be careful about.
So what can be done to reduce these emerging risks?
Isolation is a severe risk for remote workers, whether you are a miner flying in from home or a contractor working from home. Separation from peers can hinder performance, not only because individuals miss the constant flow of company information and management interactions they experience around the proverbial water cooler, but because it can lead to depression.
It makes it harder to compare your performance with that of your team or colleagues or to feel convinced that you are doing enough to be helpful to your team and your bosses.
It can also undermine trust in the organization and the team, which can seriously hinder productivity and increase the risk of incidents, losses and other problems.
A Harvard Business Review study written this year by Joseph Grenny and David Maxfield found that employees in remote locations felt more betrayed, influenced by local colleagues, uninformed about changes that are going on in the project, and neglected when it came to fighting for their business people.
The use of video conferencing can help create a greater sense of inclusion. In essence, instant messaging is no substitute for face-to-face interactions or, in the worst case, for telephone conversations.
Author of Power Your Tribe: Christine Comaford writes that in turbulent times, increasing reward and recognition for your employees helps people feel valued. In contrast, increased involvement helps to reduce feelings of distrust and isolation.
SHARING INFORMATION AND PROCESSES
It has never been easier to share information: Whether you use online documents like Google Docs, cloud-based storage systems like Dropbox, a dedicated portal like SharePoint or a corporate intranet or VPN; all employees must have access to the documents, policies, communications channels, procedures, checklists and other information.
It’s also important to share other information, such as corporate updates, so smart companies can ensure that their meetings can be held online in the “town hall” style.
Communication is critical, so make sure your team is always in touch. Collaborative platforms can play an important role here, especially those designed with the workplace in mind.
The most important thing for risk management is that you communicate policies and procedures clearly and effectively and ensure that employees follow. Measures can include training workers to take responsibility for improving their safety — as proposed for food suppliers such as Deliveroo and Foodora — as well as monitoring workers and obtaining feedback from customers and partners.
Data can play a significant role here. Digital inclusion, social media monitoring and peer or customer reviews make it easier for employees to understand what is required of them, what risks they might take, and how to deal with them.
So all in all:
- Meet regularly
- Share information and processes
- Formulate expectations