Get more from home working in 2021

JUST like most of last year, it’s quite clear that most of us now have with little option but to continue working from home.

While many business owners and employees will be understandably frustrated that most offices are empty again for at least a few months yet, it’s vital that we continue to look at the positives. In fact, many of us are quite content to continue to adapt, and there is a significant amount of new research to support it being a long term trend.

Deloitte UK, which has itself already announced the closure of four of its 50 local offices as a result of more remote and flexible working, says almost all 90 chief financial officers from blue chip companies predict that by 2025 the level will be five times higher than before the pandemic.

A new survey by the FDA public service union said that even in Westminster, 97 per cent of civil servants want to be able to work from home after the crisis, with a third preferring at least three days a week. Over three quarters even said they worked harder at home.

Without doubt, it doesn’t suit everyone and that in the long term a hybrid approach might be required to address concerns around home broadband speeds, space available, home distractions or difficulties monitoring performance. Of course, many people also just simply want to go to work in the way they always have.

Careful workload planning, training, advice and regular check-ins are important to ensure staff are comfortable with their arrangements.

For the short and long term, however, home working does provide many unique solutions, enabling more agility and flexibility in working arrangements, greater productivity, improved work/life balance and even less sickness absence. There are also considerable cost-savings, from a reduced commute and less need for expensive office space.

As 2021 starts, most of us have already embraced or experienced the riches of MS Teams to keep business going, to interact and get work done – but for many companies its potential has hardly yet been fully realised.

Now one of the most sought-after collaboration tools for teams around the world, there are countless valuable add-on apps which can easily be integrated to help lift your business potential even more, empower your teams and get the job done.

MICROSOFT PLANNER - This is an amazing way to keep track of tasks for you and your team. A really efficient to-do app that comes with Office 365 which simplifies task management. It’s used for personal and teamwork planning, with a simple card-based interface that shows you the plans you’ve created or been added to by other people, checklists, status updates and more.

TRELLO - A simple, free and popular project management and team collaboration tool which looks and works like yellow stickies on a whiteboard — you can organise teams, projects and workflows by simply dragging and dropping cards around the screen. Tasks can contain rich information including images and file attachments, plus they can be assigned deadlines and other status tracking data.

ATTENDANCEBOT - A useful app to track holidays, appointments, sick employee shift planning and hours. It is especially helpful for remote teams. With simple 'in' and 'out' messages, clock in and out and keep a track of your work hours and export accurate timesheets right within Microsoft Teams. You can even track time spent on projects and clients and visualize this data on a dashboard.

YOUTUBE - YouTube app integration within Teams allows you to search for specific YouTube videos directly from your Teams app. Integrated with Teams, it can help teams easily share links to business-related playlists and channels and is really useful for staff training.

KARMA - This one allows you to give kudos to your team. Using the app, employees can give each other karma points and move up the leader boards. You can give kudos to a good reply in a thread or a particular, officially recognising encouragements and ‘thank you’s that sometimes aren’t recorded.

:: Eric Carson is co-founder, owner and chair of Rainbow, Northern Ireland’s largest independent supplier of telecommunications services