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Managers homeworking survey report

Homeworking was mobilised across the Trust in March 2020 as part of the Workforce response to COVID-19.

In May 2020, managers were asked to complete a survey in order to understand and learn about their experiences of managing staff that were homeworking. This included identification of learning, best practice and how the experience could be improved.

142 managers responded to the survey with 87% of respondents working in a non-clinical role.

Executive summary

Key themes

Management support

89% of respondents stated that they were able to easily communicate with their staff, with some noting that frequency of communication had increased. The biggest challenge identified was the reduction in spontaneous communication.

99% responded that they either 'strongly agreed' or 'agreed' that they trusted their staff undertake work from home. However, respondents then commented that due to lack of visibility it was difficult to measure whether work was being completed or the amount of time being spent at work. This demonstrated contradictions in the level of trust afforded to home workers.

Team cohesion

45% of respondents stated that homeworking had positively impacted on team working with 30% noting that it had not had any impact. Of note, 21% reported that regular team meetings had not continued. Correlation evidenced that a negative impact on team working was heightened when there was a reduction in team meetings.

Wellbeing

68% reported that staff wellbeing had been positively impacted and 72% reported a positive impact to staff work life balance. However of note, 23% of respondents had not proactively discussed health and wellbeing with their staff with 68% reporting that health and wellbeing was more difficult to manage.

Productivity

Only 8% reported a decrease in productivity. 25% reported that staff were more engaged and 65% reported no changes to staff engagement. Many respondents had noted that they had passionate, proactive and dedicated teams, so whilst homeworking had been positive it had not impacted on motivation either way.

Overall staff experience

Homeworking was positively received with 87% responding that they would be happy to support homeworking after COVID-19.

Recommendations

The following recommendations have been put together as an outcome of this survey:

  • Virtual Training for managers to cover:
    • Managing remote workers and embedding a culture of trust
    • Effective communication
    • Team building
    • Health and safety
    • Measuring productivity through output
    • Peer to peer training, providing examples on successful emedding of homeworking across departments and roles
  • Guidance developed on:
    • Supporting the wellbeing of homeworkers
    • How to work effectively at home and looking after wellbeing
    • Holding virtual meetings (including technology available)
  • Dedicated homeworking webpage for easy access to all training, guidance and supporting documentation
  • Updating of the current homeworking procedure to account for the increased availability of homeworking across roles at the Trust
  • Homeworking to be positively promoted across the Trust and clear communication around the intention to continue to promote it as a long term solution

Introduction

Pre-COVID-19, the workforce directorate had been preparing to roll out a homeworking programme which would actively encourage the take up of homeworking amongst a defined group of corporate staff. The response to COVID-19 saw homeworking rolled out on a greater scale and to a wider array of roles. This included clinical roles not previously considered.

Between March and April 2020, 1,505 remote access licences were enabled. Prior to this period, typically there had been 50 staff per day accessing Trust systems remotely. This has increased to around 1,600 staff per day accessing remote systems.

In May 2020, managers were asked to complete a survey in order to understand and learn about their experiences of managing staff that were homeworking. This included identification of learning, best practice and how the experience could be improved. Homeworkers were also surveyed to enable both viewpoints to be taken into account. A separate summary has been produced in response to this but reference is made to it within this report.

This report has been compiled to provide a summary of the responses to the survey and propose recommendations.

Background

Management plays an important role in creating a successful working environment, especially when homeworking. Managers need to be more proactive in their approaches due to not having a visible reference for staff wellbeing and productivity, with trust becoming a critical element of the working relationship.

Managers were surveyed in May 2020, with 142 managers responding. 87% of respondents worked in a nonclinical role, with 68% working in the corporate division. 58% reported, prior to COVID-19, they had not had staff regularly homeworking. Only 8% reported that their staff had regularly worked from home with 34% responding that staff had worked from home on an ad-hoc basis.

The body of the report has been separated into five key areas, these are:

  1. Management support
  2. Team cohesion
  3. Wellbeing
  4. Productivity
  5. Overall staff experience

Each area will outline the response provided including both quantitative and qualitative data analysis.

Key themes

Management support

61% of respondents found managing staff who worked from home no different to managing staff on site. 33% responded that they had found it more difficult with only 6% finding it easier. A number of respondents identified that it had taken a time to adjust to new ways of working, but standards and 'normal' work patterns were now becoming integrated.

79% responded that managing staff at home required a different skill set. This is recognised within research which outlines that trust becomes pivotal as well as a conscious approach to communication.

99% either strongly agreed or agreed that they trusted staff to complete work from home.

99% responded that they either strongly agreed or agreed that they trusted their staff to complete their work from home. However, some respondents commented that due to the lack of visibility they were not able to see if staff were working and therefore were unable to measure how productive time was, or have assurance that the necessary amount of work was being done. These responses therefore conflict with each other. They indicate the need, for some managers, to move away from productivity being measured through visibility of staff working. Instead, management moves to a focus on outputs and staff empowered to have accountability for their work.

89% were able to easily communicate with their staff.

89% of respondents found that they were able to easily communicate with their staff, with some finding that the frequency of communication had increased. This was due to not being reliant on finding a room, reduction in travel across sites and online meetings being more accessible for everyone to attend.

58% of respondents stated that they had communicated every day, 35% communicated a couple of times a week and 7% communicated once a week.

69% of respondents stated that staff had communicated with them either the same amount or no differently whilst working from home. This is largely corroborated by responses to the staff homeworking survey. However of note, 6% of respondents, from the staff survey, outlined that they had been communicated with either only once a month or not at all.

The biggest homeworking challenge was the reduction in spontaneous communication.

The reduction in spontaneous communication was identified as the biggest challenge. Induction and training of new staff were also reported as more difficult to navigate. This was due to shadowing and on the job learning opportunities being significantly reduced. However, it was acknowledged that there was a reliance on 'doing things how we have always done them' and that new practices needed to be developed.

A small number of respondents stated that they had struggled due to a lack of dedicated video technology equipment. This appears to be due to awareness and training as video technology is available.

Finally, 86% repsonded that they had maintain regular 1:1s with their staff

Team cohesion

45% of respondents stated that homeworking had positively impacted on team working with 30% noting no impact. Of note, the positive impact included comments that:

  • 'A more conscious effort has been made to keep in touch'
  • 'My team have been more proactive in contacting each other and working as a team'
  • 'They are communicating more and sharing advice'

87% stated that staff had maintained regular communication with each other whilst working from home with 84% reporting that collaboration on group work had remained positively.

21% of staff reported that team meetings had not taken place.

Conversely, 25% responded that homeworking had negatively impacted on team work. This negativity was attributed to the lack of face to face contact and loss of:

  • 'Impromptu opportunity to chat with staff'
  • 'Contact seems more formalised now'

The negative impact on team work appeared heightened when there was a divide in staff working from home and working on site within a team. One respondent stated that staff working from home can often 'be forgotten about'.

The absence of team meetings for 21% of respondents were correlated with the negative impact to team working. Team meetings are critical in enabling team working and team cohesion to remain effective when homeworking. The staff survey also identified that 34% respondents had stated that team meetings had not continued whilst working from home.

One respondent of interest outlined that one positive of homeworking had meant that many normal disagreements of working in an open office, for example temperature and noise, had been removed and this had helped with team cohesion.

Wellbeing

72% positive inmpact on work life balance.

68% positive inmpact on wellbeing.

44% reported feeling less stressed.

68% responded that they believed that working from home had positively impacted on the wellbeing of their staff with 72% adding that staff had reported a positive impact on their work life balance. In addition, 44% respondents stated that staff had reported feeling less stressed and 28% reporting no changes to their stress levels.

23% responded that they had not discussed health and wellbeing with their staff, with 18% also stating that stress levels had not been discussed. It is concerning that nearly a quarter of managers have not proactively sought to discuss health and wellbeing, especially when taking into account the significant impact of COVID-19 upon staff wellbeing and stress levels.

63% reported that they felt that it was more difficult to manage staff health and wellbeing when they were working from home. This is most likely due to the loss of social interaction resulting in some managers finding it more difficult to identify and address problems with physical, mental and psychological wellbeing.

'We are more aware of staff wellbeing than we were previously. We ask how are you today out of genuine concern, rather than small talk'.

'I have offered more support as I am aware that staff are under more pressure, which is not necessarily work related'.

'I have included more positive affirmation in written communication as it is more difficult to get the opportunity to say well done in passing'.

Of note, the staff homeworking survey outlined that some respondents had felt expectations set by managers were that they had to be available at all times when working from home. This appeared heightened amongst staff working part time hours.

97% responded that they had been happy to be more flexible with staff working hours during this period.

Finally, one manager reported that they had worked longer hours working from home then they would normally, so home working had not been good for their health and wellbeing. It is important to ensure that managers are regularly reminded to look after their own wellbeing as well as the health and wellbeing of their staff.

Productivity

'Providing staff with the opportunity to work in an environment where they feel safe, they are more willing to engage and are happier to go above and beyond for the Trust'.

Only 8% responded that productivity of staff had decreased. 19% responded that productivity had increased and 37% reported that it had remained the same. The remaining 36% had reported that they had been unable to determine due to change in work activity.

Some respondents noted that limitations with IT and equipment had impacted on productivity as aspects of work were unable to be completed at home.

'Allowing colleagues a bit more freedom and according them some trust has gone a long way'.

25% responded that staff were more engaged with 65% responding that there was no difference in engagement levels. Many respondents noted that they had passionate, proactive and dedicated teams, so whilst homeworking had been positive it had not impacted on motivation either way.

Staff experience

87% of managers would be more likely to allow staff to work from home after COVID-19.

Respondents reported that they recognised the benefits of enabling staff to work from home and that they believed a split of working onsite and homeworking would work well for their teams. Many reported the benefits of homeworking for them including less time travelling between sites, less distractions and the increased use of virtual meetings to enable better communication with their teams.

Finally, 83% responded that they would like to receive training on how to lead staff remotely, acknowledging that a lot of learning had taken place as the changes had progressed over the weeks.

Conclusions

Overall, homeworking has been positively received by managers across the Trust. 87% reported that they would be happy to support staff to undertake home working after COVID-19.

Respondents noted that positives of homeworking included, an increase to staff wellbeing, work life balance, team cohesion and, for the majority, increased opportunity for them to communicate with their teams.

Additionally, 19% reported an increase to staff productivity with only 8% noting a decrease. With consideration to the impact of COVID-19 on stress levels and closure of schools and nurseries resulting in many staff juggling child care with working from home, it is not surprising to reflect some impact on productivity levels. That this impact is noted at only 8% is significant in supporting the deliberation that home working enabled staff to remain productive amongst a pandemic. Certainly, one respondent noted that enabling homeworking had supported staff to feel more engaged and happier to 'go above and beyond' for the Trust. It is recognised that focus must now shift to implementing proactive approaches to supporting the health and wellbeing of home workers, as 63% reported that this was more challenging to manage and 23% had not taken steps to talk about health and wellbeing with their staff.

Increased pressures on managers in response to COVID-19 may account on normal management practices, such as team meetings and regular 1:1s, being sidelined. As business starts to return to 'normal' it is imperative that these practices resume. As noted it was identified that the reduction in team meetings for some areas had negatively impacted on team cohesion. Regular team meetings are essential for home workers in order to ensure effective teams are formed and team identity and goals achieved.

89% of respondents noted that homeworking had enabled them to communicate effectively with their teams with some noting that they had been able to hold daily team meetings. However, some staff had noted that manager's expectations were that they had to be available at all times when working from home. There needs to be recognition therefore of the new environment in which staff are working in and redefining of expectations discussed and agreed. In addition, many respondents noted that the disappearance of spontaneous communication had been one of the biggest challenges. It is important that managers set time aside to build opportunities for these to take place virtually.

There is still a mind-set from some respondents that staff need to be visible to have assurance on productivity. This requirement for visibility does not recognise that often management and staff are not collocated when on site and that a focus solely on work inputs is limiting. Instead, management practices should focus on communicating output requirements and supporting staff in achievement of these, wherever they are based.

The survey results indicate a divide between proactive managers who have fully embraced homeworking and adapted practices to reflect this, to the alternative whereby some have still tried to continue with previous management practices and thoughts. From the responses it is evident that where homeworking has been fully embraced, regular team meetings, 1:1s and discussions around wellbeing and productivity had been adapted to meet this new environment.

Finally, there has been uncertainty from respondents around whether continuation of homeworking post COVID-19 will be supported by the Trust. Therefore, there need needs to be an active promotion of homeworking and clarification of it continuation.

Recommendations

The following recommendations have been put together as an outcome of this survey:

  • Virtual Training for managers to cover:
    • Managing remote workers and embedding a culture of trust
    • Effective communication
    • Team building
    • Health and safety
    • Measuring productivity through output
    • Peer to peer training, providing examples on successful emedding of homeworking across departments and roles
  • Guidance developed on:
    • Supporting the wellbeing of homeworkers
    • How to work effectively at home and looking after wellbeing
    • Holding virtual meetings (including technology available)
  • Dedicated homeworking web page on the Trust intranet for easy access to all training, guidance and supporting documentation
  • Updating of the current homeworking procedure to account for the increased availability of homeworking across roles at the Trust
  • Homeworking to be positively promoted across the Trust and clear communication around the intention to continue to promote it as a long term solution
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