The good, the bad & the ugly of managing a remote STEM workforce

The good, the bad & the ugly of managing a remote STEM workforce

As a result of COVID-19, businesses and their employees have had to adjust to a new way of working. And although there are many positive aspects to a remote working environment, there are also a number of challenges to overcome for employers and employees alike.

As a business leader, you will be aware of how you’re managing your own workforce, you will be familiar with the systems you’ve put in place and you will understand what it feels like to work within your organisation. However, no-one really knows if they’re doing the right thing, or what other markets and businesses are doing to manage their workforces.

That’s why, at Gattaca, we want to help our clients better manage their remote workforces by capturing and sharing the problems and successes you’ve reported to us. To do this, we interviewed a range of business leaders from STEM companies across the world to find out how they’ve been navigating their remote workforce challenges.

Similarly, to also understand the point of view of the workforce, we surveyed e working with STEM companies about the experiences they’ve had during this time with their employers, in which we received 530 responses.

Reaction – the initial setup and tactics to get people operational

The first phase that many businesses will have found themselves in this year is what we regard as the ‘reaction phase’. This is what prompted many of use to re-imagine how our businesses would continue to operate, whilst setting up staff to work in a new, external environment.

The response we received from the employees we surveyed were generally very positive, with many being pleasantly surprised at how fast their organisations supported them in getting setup at home and how they received clear messages, at least early on, of reassurance and job security during an unprecedented time.

Some companies went above and beyond, kitting employees out with full home offices and Broadband upgrades, whilst others aimed to ensure that both their staff and customers felt they were still operating within a professional environment. As such, they invested in their corporate branding to bring it into the home office.

Despite the positive intent and goodwill, however, there were some areas of concern around management styles. We’ve been talking about the evolution of the workforce for years, but one of the biggest barriers surrounding this is the innate culture and behaviour of operational management. It was interesting to see that the concerns didn’t so much stem from digital infrastructure, but from management style and mindset, which was restricting employees from feeling supported and being able to approach their managers.

As time progressed, mental distress caused by job insecurity and businesses putting cost control measures in place, began to heighten.  

For a deeper dive into the candidate results, click here to watch our on-demand webinar.

Response – the enhancements that have been made over time

After getting through those early weeks, it was important to look at the ways businesses responded. How did they fine tune the systems they had in place once everyone was working online? What else could they be doing to make things feel more normal?

One of the key positives was communication. The level of communication from most organisations expanded massively with daily calls, weekly team meetings and monthly sessions. A lot of companies also talked about how their external marketing function became an internal communications function.

Despite the distance and separation, the visibility and proactiveness of leadership to be in front of a camera, making themselves available to answer questions and give much-needed reassurance to their workforce was incredibly impressive. Many candidates have commented that this new way of working has enabled them to engage more with their organisation.

To hear more about the importance of communication, click here to watch our on-demand webinar.

Result – How it has impacted the business

The next question to consider was ‘what’s the result of that? How is our business coping and how are our employees feeling?’

Unsurprisingly, productivity increased by around three hours per person, per day. And the reason for that? Travel time has been cut out of the picture, as Matthew Wragg commented:

‘I spent three to four months last year on planes and in hotels in different countries. If not, on trains into London or other cities to go and wait in reception, to sit in the boardroom, to wait for the people to arrive, to say their ‘hellos’, to have a really nice half an hour to an hour conversation.’

Despite this being a huge positive for many people, it is important to remember the fatigue that jumping from virtual meeting to meeting can cause.

One of the main positives that many employers stated in the survey was that they felt more in control of their business than ever before due to their ability to easily connect with employees and see everything happening in one place.

On the flipside, however, despite remote working yielding positive results and enabling people to be more productive than ever before, many employees stated how they felt pressurised to return to the office straight away post-lockdown.

To hear more about these results, watch our on-demand webinar here.

Reality – of what the near-term future looks like

We also asked, ’what happens if we’re stuck like this for a while’? What are businesses worried about in terms of the sustainability of its organisation and, equally, what are some of the things business won’t change? What have the benefits been?’

Despite a few responders stating that they felt pressure to be physically present in the office, it’s clear that, in general, presenteeism is a thing of the past. Many employers recognise the fact that they don’t need all their workforce in one building constantly in order to get the job done.

However, there is still a fear that the blend of home and office life can cause burnout due to the more ‘on-call’ nature of being contactable at any time. Businesses need to make an effort to ensure that flexi time continues to remain flexible.

Watch the on-demand webinar to find out more about what the future of remote working looks like.

Key takeaways

So, what can we take away from all of this?

Firstly, communication is key and will continue to be as we most likely move into a more challenging hybrid working environment. Matthew commented:

‘Not one leader that I spoke to suggested they were set and ready. Everyone was talking about the evolution of [remote working]’.

It’s key that someone who is working from home and communicating with colleagues via Teams has the same experience as someone who is working in the office.

Secondly, businesses need look to other successful markets for inspiration. What are they doing right that you can implement within your organisation?

To watch the webinar in full and gain further information on all the insights shared within this article, click here.

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