Supporting and managing teleworking staff

Written by Sterling Content
June 19, 2020


Written by Sterling Content
June 19, 2020

The outbreak of the novel coronavirus has forced corporate Japan to adopt remote working. But, as more firms gain first-hand experience of its advantages, including reduced costs and greater flexibility, telework might increasingly become a choice rather than a necessity.

As businesses continue remote working, even with the gradual return to the office, the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan hosted a webinar addressing how firms can better support their people during this time. 

Since Robert Walters Japan launched telework for all staff in February, its priorities have been the health and wellbeing of employees, being transparent with employees via effective communication and providing a seamless customer service, shared Jeremy Sampson, the firm’s managing director.

Wellness activities for staff include online fitness, yoga and meditation classes, as well as a counselling session with Tokyo-based NPO TELL. Communication, meanwhile, has comprised pre-recorded interviews, webinars, townhall meetings and newsletters.

“We’ve tried to focus on employee engagement,” said Sampson of the efforts.

Deborah Hayden, managing director of Finsbury, said the crisis has shown firms the need for extra care and effort in communications, with both internal audiences and external stakeholders.

Ongoing empathy is also vital. Employees might be working in a smaller, less work-conducive space or even be working alongside young children or elderly parents. Caring responsibilities, anxiety and stress can have an impact on performance.

Fatim Jumabhoy, partner at Herbert Smith Freehills, said setting expectations can help managers to maintain staff productivity. These expectations include not only output, but also work style and interaction with colleagues, superiors and clients.

Sampson said allowing staff to compare their productivity with colleagues can help create accountability.

Addressing performance will be more challenging if managers’ only interaction with staff is to “request or critique work,” Jumabhoy added. Regular check-ins, including by video call, could help, by giving managers a better understanding of employees and fostering good working relations.

“Poor performers are likely to be struggling in this new dynamic,” said Hayden. “Don’t put square pegs in round holes; play to people’s strengths. Work with employees on outputs and talk them through issues and challenges … we, as employers, owe it to them to help them be more successful.”

Still, today’s challenging work environment should not deter firms from tackling poor performance, according to Jumabhoy. She suggested managers follow the same processes as they would at the office. Disciplinary steps, though, now need to be tempered and “appropriate for the world we live in.”

Other aspects of business, such as staff onboarding, also need to be delivered via telework. Richard Lyle, senior director at Intralink, shared that his firm had successfully carried out an induction of new staff via Zoom, albeit by adding “a little extra TLC.”

Hayden noted that managers need to “carefully manage” the integration of new staff, by setting up mentoring systems, clear protocols and daily check-ins.

For Lyle, hosting a company-wide on-nomi (online drinking party) had proved useful in introducing staff, promoting communication and boosting morale.

As firms begin to resume office-based operations, the panellists said firms need to ease any anxiety and stress that staff may feel around returning to the office.

Matsuhiro Kanada, senior consultant at Arup, said staff are likely to be more concerned about office air quality, ventilation and humidity levels, which can have an impact on transmission rates of the novel coronavirus. 

“Office management needs to listen to issues like these, address them and show they care,” he said.