Working from home/hybrid work was ushered in courtesy of the global covid pandemic – in February this year, research* we conducted indicated that a massive 92% of advice practices were then offering their team the opportunity to work from home. Even though this % could well have dropped since, it’s fair to say that hybrid work is now a well and truly entrenched feature of many advice practices.

Here are 7 essential truths we’ve come across in our work with clients in 2023:

1. “There is no remote work. There is only work” (Mike Walsh, Futurist).

Whether you work from an office, your home or a mix of both, the job is still the job and all elements for effective people management still apply. This means that every staff member is entitled to:

  • An up-to-date, clearly documented job description (63%)
  • Backed up by agreed and documented performance objectives (51%)
  • At least an annual performance review/appraisal – wherever possible conducted in-person (48%)
  • Remuneration which has been independently ‘validated’ to ensure competitiveness

As our latest Future Ready IX whitepaper revealed, there was plenty of scope for Australian advice firms to do more (with the % shown in brackets above, reflecting the current state of play as at Jan 2022). Working from home doesn’t provide business owners with a ‘get out of jail’ card to allow people management standards to slip.

2. Ensure staff have the proper ‘tools of trade’ to be able to discharge their role effectively and efficiently.

Our February research* indicated, for example, that 36% of firms were not providing their support/administrative staff with dedicated IT hardware such as laptop, printer, webcam, headphones etc.

And while nobody would disagree that fast and reliable internet access is pre-requisite for every employee regardless of their work location, we found that only 11% of practices were covering the cost of home internet subscription for their administrative staff, and 21% were funding home internet access for their advisers.

3. ‘Remote’ doesn’t automatically lead to disconnected (but it can) and it certainly doesn’t reduce the importance of community, culture and communication (but it can).

While video calls, webinars and telephone calls can address almost every aspect of team interaction, they don’t provide the person-to-person experiences – the ‘how’s things’ conversations, the general sense of belonging and reassurance, the incidental opportunity to ask questions or pass on experience and knowledge.

65% of Australian firms reported holding weekly or fortnightly team meetings and these included staff working from home. While we’d prefer this to be a much higher %, it’s nevertheless a very solid result – our hope is that for these meetings, attendance is mandatory and the participants are visible (not hidden by a screen saver!).

In today’s marketplace, where the race to find and retain good people is well and truly underway, staff more than ever want to hear from their boss – how the business is going, is it tracking to its plans, what are its future goals and so on. For those practices that don’t mandate specific times to be together in the office – please bring all staff together at least annually but preferably six monthly.

These gatherings can serve any number of purposes – business updates, training, team building, milestone recognition, the opportunity to say thank you for a job well done etc. Sure, it will take time and require resources to organize but is it really worth the risk of not doing?

An informal, unscripted ‘how’s things?’ call from the boss is always valued and appreciated by the recipient.

4. Trust and confidence go a long way.

A common question: If I can’t actually see my people, how do I know the work is being done (aka staff productivity). For some, it’s a major concern. Old-school perhaps but it’s a real thing nevertheless.

Enter all things ‘boss ware’ – a blunt response to the issue of productivity. Leaving aside having confidence in/trusting your people, this issue is essentially the same as if people were working in the office. The only true measure of productivity is surely the output. Dah…I know.

As long as there’s a clearly articulated/documented set of goals which are realistic (achievable) and measurable, what else do you need?

5. It’s in my head (‘trust me’) doesn’t cut it in today’s world.

While we were all willing to do what it takes to survive during covid enforced lockdowns and to take things on face value, it’s now time to crystallise and formalise your policy on WFH – ideally developed in collaboration with staff.

Ensure it’s part of your employment agreements and marketing collateral when searching for new hires (this can be an extremely important a factor for many when deciding to join a new firm).

6. Staff can find themselves challenged (when they don’t want to be) – ten early warning signs that your remote workers may be struggling;

i) A noticeable drop in productivity, with turnaround times slowing down and deadlines being missed.

ii) An increase in negative client feedback or complaints.

iii) Adverse feedback, comments, observations from your professional network (development managers, referral partners and product providers).

iv) Staff are complaining about their colleagues.

v) Emails are being sent out of business hours, late at night or on the weekends.

vi) Attendance/participation in team meetings is well below the usual experience.

vii) Proactivity has been replaced by reactivity. Suggestions not forthcoming.

viii) Requests for holidays and sick leave are on the increase.

ix) Poor results from your most recent staff satisfaction survey.

x) Pulling out of training/development courses

7. A quiet staff member isn’t necessarily a satisfied one.

The only way to be sure is to ask for feedback. And while for smaller sized practices, the owner will instinctively know if someone is unsettled/unhappy, it’s a fact that often staff are more comfortable providing feedback about the business and the environment they work in to an independent third party.

Let us know if you’d like to learn a little about how our staff satisfaction service could help you.

Irrespective of how you approach this matter, the bottom line is – regularly seek feedback, listen to what’s being said and be prepared to take action if warranted.

For your consideration.

*Staff Salaries & Benefits Research Report: Swimming at the Deep End of the Talent Pool, Business Health, February 2023