The UK workforce has spoken loud and clear: Remote work is no longer just a perk — it’s indispensable. Even so, some People teams are still struggling to adapt the support they provide for remote and hybrid employees.
Up until now, many companies have relied on reactive responses put in place during the coronavirus pandemic lockdowns. And that’s no longer good enough to fulfil the demands of employees who now see remote and hybrid work as the norm — not the exception. With the number of employees working from home in the UK showing no signs of slowing down, now is the time for HR leaders to address these remote workplace challenges with a longer-term mindset.
In this article, we’ll explore some of the main challenges faced by companies when they’re considering how to embed effective remote working practices into their workplace culture. We’ve also shared some expert tips for how to overcome these.
The Benefits of Remote Work
Remote work can be great for employee engagement — but only if it’s done right. The top five benefits reported by UK remote workers include:
- Improved work-life balance
- Fewer distractions
- Work completed more quickly
- Improved wellbeing
- Easier to think of new ideas
The current employee-led market means if companies want to attract and retain top talent, they must offer the option of working remotely. But at the same time, they need to find ways to resolve the challenges that remote work presents.
5 Challenges of Remote Work (Plus Ideas to Help Your People Teams Adapt)
Employees are clear on one thing — they want the flexibility to choose between remote, hybrid, or office-based working arrangements. The onus then is on employers to ensure their policies are equitable no matter where each employee is based. This requires an agile approach that enables companies to better respond to employees’ changing needs.
We spoke to UK-based HR experts who offered some ideas and strategies around how to change or improve your flexible work policy to address these issues.
1. Adapt employee wellbeing policies to fit remote working environments.
Remote work can offer employees plenty of benefits — but if it’s not managed correctly it can also negatively affect their mental health and wellbeing. Research shows that loneliness, increased stress, feelings of isolation, and blurred work-life boundaries can all affect employees working remotely. Some employees may feel unable to switch off when their workspace and home are in the same space, with burnout becoming more common as a result.
What to do: Leaders can prioritise the well-being of team members who are home working by remodelling the way they’re supported using one-to-one check-ins, open communication, and taking steps to reduce burnout. “Coaching and training tools can be used to help employees examine their work-life balance and see which areas feel out of kilter,” said Desiree Anderson, MD of Crest Coaching & HR. She also recommends “putting wellbeing topics on the agenda of your meetings to help employees identify the signs of stress, anxiety, and burnout.”
2. Prioritise employee engagement with regular check-ins.
Sometimes — especially in a hybrid working environment — remote employees can feel like they’re not truly part of the company they work for. Over time, this can lead to them feeling overworked and under-appreciated, leading to a lack of engagement. Almost 60% of UK managers said the engagement and motivation of their team members is their top challenge. And rightly so, with 39% of employees saying they struggle to stay motivated.
What to do: “Employee engagement is mostly about the emotional connection each employee feels towards the company they work for,” said Anderson. Cultivating increased engagement relies on, at least in part, regular check-ins to help leaders and employees stay in sync and feel connected. “Tools including weekly updates, one-to-ones, engagement huddles, and pulse surveys empower HR teams to identify road bumps before they snowball into major challenges,” said Dave Carhart, Head of People at Lattice.
It’s also important to consider the learning styles of your remote team.“Kinaesthetic, visual, auditory, or neurodiverse learning styles should be taken into account by business leaders in terms of scheduling and monitoring tasks. Most team members learn and work in different ways, and so a mixture of hands-on activity, colourful dashboards, interactive forums and detailed information should be given to inspire all,” recommends Anderson.
3. Build asynchronous communication processes.
Asynchronous work is becoming the norm for remote teams, but 62% of companies don’t have an async-first policy. That means employees may feel frustrated when they’re required to attend a face-to-face meeting that they don’t really need to, at a time that's outside their normal working hours. Many companies are still struggling to adjust to the processes and expectations for how async works — but they’re lagging behind employee demand.
What to do: For companies who have recently made the transition to remote work, taking inspiration from more experienced peers may help. Lara Velho, Head of HR at Echobox said: “Even before the pandemic and the rise of remote working, some of our team members have always been fully remote. This has enabled us to refine our asynchronous communication strategy over time and establish tools and processes that work across the business.”
“We use robust project management and productivity tools to help ensure effective remote working. These have helped us to scale globally and work asynchronously across time zones. Our tech team recently conducted an ‘Async Week’ experiment where team or group meetings were cancelled for an entire week in favour of asynchronous communication tools and methods. The objective was to determine which of our regular meetings could be substituted by asynchronous communication tools and methods,” she added.
4. Step up IT security and support.
Remote work creates additional vulnerabilities for companies, especially if employees are using their own devices, or aren’t aware of how to identify a potential threat. According to IBM, the three most common causes of company data breaches are stolen or compromised credentials, phishing attacks, and cloud misconfiguration. Offering support for remote employees’ tech issues is also a challenge. While a third of UK remote workers report experiencing tech issues, only 28% of UK companies currently provide IT support outside office hours.
What to do: Providing comprehensive cybersecurity training, plus 24/7 tech support can help minimise the potential of data breaches, and ensure that your employees aren’t adversely affected by tech issues. “We’ve adopted a cybersecurity awareness and training platform to deliver security onboarding to our new joiners in an asynchronous manner, regardless of where they’re based,” said Velho. “Previously, new employees were sometimes left waiting days for their cybersecurity training, also leaving our company open to security risks,” she added.
5. Create transparent growth opportunities and career pathways.
Buffer’s ‘2022 State of Remote Work’ report found that 45% of respondents thought career progression may be more difficult for remote workers. In some situations, remote work may limit opportunities for peer-based learning or creating connections with senior staff. In a hybrid team, there may be unconscious or proximity bias toward office-based employees which may come into play during performance evaluations. Plus, if employees don’t get the growth they’re looking for, they’re more likely to leave.
What to do: Companies need to consider how to use tools like informal online networking, training, mentorship programs, and people success platforms like Lattice to create career progression pathways that offer equal opportunities. “Thanks to the strong internal tools, systems and processes we have in place, we can proudly say that remote working is not a barrier to growth opportunities at our company. In fact, one-third of our team leads and department heads are fully remote,” said Velho.
Companies also need to consider that career progression is more fluid than it once was. “Career pathways are becoming less linear and more ‘web-like’ with a combination of part-time, temporary, contract, and freelance work. Growth opportunities, therefore, need to be in real-time rather than part of a formal and long-winded development plan,” said Anderson.
Connection and Communication Are Key to Navigating the Challenges of Remote Work
We’re no longer looking towards the future of work — we’re living through the now of work.
The good news is that the future for remote work looks bright. As Velho said: “For companies with the right tools and workflows in place to foster communication and connection within teams, remote working need not be an obstacle.”
But ignoring the roadblocks to communication and connection can lead to employee dissatisfaction. And in today’s job market, it’s easy for employees to look for a new role which better meets their needs. Companies now need to take action to evolve their strategies, make improvements, and develop a long-term mindset that doesn’t just offer minor adjustments — but rethinks how we work entirely.
Ready for more insights? Download Lattice’s UK-centric eBook: Rethinking Work: Attracting and Retaining Talent in an Employee-Led Market to discover additional detail about how to keep your employees engaged — and make work mean more.