Managing the transition to home working 1440 x 639
Mike Cooper

5 June 2018

According to Public Health England, a widespread transmission of Covid-19 in the UK is now “highly likely“.   

The latest government guidelines for anyone who has come in contact with a confirmed case of Covid-19 is to self-isolate at home for 14 days from the last time they had contact with the infected person. 

We are already seeing schools closing, and some big businesses working from home, but this is easier said than done, for some. 

Even in Japan, where traditional workplace culture means spending long hours in the office, they’ve been forced to re-evaluate remote working as an option. With schools likely to shut down too, authorities have urged companies to allow people to work from home as they attempt to curb the virus. By overturning a workplace culture that dates back decades, it is likely that many of these firms will be ill prepared for the transition. 

The UK’s battle plan was set out this week, amid warnings that cases of the coronavirus could accelerate. Boris Johnson is expected to announce more measures which could include asking workers to stay at home. And, Matt Hancock stated that if the virus spreads further, we could see big events being cancelled as well as school closures, and dissuading people from using public transport. 

Add to this, the challenge of accessing NHS establishments too, such as hospitals and GP surgeries, which may become partially or fully closed for a period of time, and it’s clear that remote working needs to be seriously considered. 

Remote working

So with the threat of such disruption, how can you prepare for a sudden shift in working practice, and transitioning to a remote working team? It’s not simply a case of logging on from the comfort of your home-office. For remote working to succeed, employers need to fully embrace a unified communications strategy. It will enable people to work efficiently, from any location they choose. Even roles that require collaboration, regular meetings or real-time interaction can work with the right unified comms in place. 

Maintaining the flow of communication amongst team members is critical and this can be achieved using a number of channels, including screenshare, messaging and video, as well as email and telephone. Employees can also access customer and company information via cloud-based software, which can be quickly and easily shared. 

A diverse and remote workforce can be challenging to reach. But by adopting a multi-channel approach, this ensures that team members don’t feel isolated or out of the loop. On the contrary, communication between employees and managers can be strengthened. 

With many people on red alert, waiting to see how the government’s battle plan works out, now’s the time to get yourself prepared for the possibility that your Account Managers may need to retreat to self isolation over the coming weeks. Whilst developing the technology and processes for the short-term, (and keeping your workforce away from surgeries, potentially preventing the spread of coronavirus), it’s also valuable to think about the long term, and the business benefits to a flexible working strategy. 

Pharmaceutical sales teams can remain successful when working remotely, engaging with HCPs using a multi-channel method. We have numerous case studies that prove remote teams can actually out perform Account Managers on the road – so this can be seen as an opportunity, despite the initial challenges. 

Transitioning to a remote workforce

Depending on your position within a pharmaceutical organisation, there are different challenges and considerations: 

Senior Leaders

It’s important to get on board with the multi-channel method, and note the benefits to the business. This isn’t just a short term solution. Having a remote team outside of the office can help with: 

  • Remaining operational during bad weather
  • Encouraging greater productivity. According to a survey from Fuze, 83% of workers do not believe they need to be in an office to be productive.
  • Reducing operating costs. If you allow your staff to work remotely, you’ll naturally need less office space to accommodate them. Thinking about the future of work in 10 years’ time, how many businesses will be operating from a traditional office?
  • Reducing turnover and retaining more experienced workers. With increasing demands outside of work, such as caring for families or elderly relatives, remote working can be an ideal solution. By offering a more flexible way of working, you’ll provide a desirable work-life balance.
  • Going green. Despite cars being less polluting than they were 4 decades ago, if you really want to cut your carbon footprint, don’t take the car.
  • Time efficiency . Imagine how many calls/emails/video conferences can be conducted in the time it takes to drive to an appointment and back again – not forgetting the waiting around in surgeries. Paul Black, COO at OUTiCO says “Time is the one commodity we cannot increase, and as such it is unquestionably our most valuable asset. Whether you are a business owner, leader or employee we all have an obligation to ensure we use it wisely.”

For Managers – Maintaining operational sales remotely

If you’re managing a team remotely, organisation needs to be a number one priority. It’s helpful to set up a cloud-based project management tool that everyone can get access to, so you can share files and information easily. 

  • Keep in touch with your remote team by scheduling regular catch-ups – remote working software allows easy collaboration regardless of your location.
  • Remote work can boost productivity. A study by Stanford professor Nicholas Bloom, spoke to 500 people who worked both remotely and in a traditional setting. The research concluded that the productivity among home-based workers was equal to a full day’s work each week.  And the home workers found it less distracting and easier to concentrate away from the office. Additionally, employee attrition decreased by 50 percent among the home workers, and they took shorter breaks, had fewer sick days, and took less time off!
  • A reduction in stress equals a happier team. A report from OWLLabs last year found that people who work from home at least once a month are 24% more likely to report feeling happier and more productive at their jobs. Factors like ditching the commute and having greater control over their work environment and schedule, played a big part in helping remote workers feel less stressed.

Trust me, I’m a Manager

Building trust is so important, and a key factor in employee engagement. People who feel trusted by their employer have higher levels of productivity. Gallup explains

 “When employees don’t trust organizational leadership, their chances of being engaged are one in 12. But when that trust is established, the chances of engagement skyrocket to better than one in two. That’s more than a six-fold increase.” 

Keeping up with continued, open communication is the most effective way to keep a team collaborating well. Also, leading by example and being available for your team creates a culture of trust. In a study of globally distributed teams, results showed a direct connection between lack of trust and unpredictable communication patterns. This is easily preventable with regular catch ups and transparent calendars. 

Managing remotely

  • Without the right digital tools, you can’t communicate effectively, or collaborate with your team. By utilising cloud-based unified communications – blending voice, text, and video solutions – you can enable employees to successfully connect and collaborate. It makes sharing information a doddle, across multiple locations, and any device.
  • Set clear expectations from the start, around performance and project priorities. Setting schedule requirements from the start eliminates any possible frustration further down the line.
  • Provide positive feedback. It’s easy for remote workers to feel that they are out of sight and out of mind. Regular communication is key to successful management, so ensure you keep your team informed via video meetings, and weekly check-ins, to provide them with project updates and positive feedback on tasks completed.

How to conduct a remote meeting

  • Remote meetings connect workers, and bring everyone up to speed. So the last thing you want is a technical glitch to ruin your real-time collaboration.
  • Choose reliable software.
  • Video calls enhance the meeting as facial expressions play a big part in communication.
  • Watch your numbers – too many participants might affect the flow of natural conversation.
  • Time is of the essence. There are times when long meetings are necessary, but shorter meetings of around 30-45 minutes will keep everyone focused. Anything longer may benefit from scheduled 10 minute breaks.

For the Sales Account Manager and Teams

How to be effective from home:

  • Create some distance between your work space and your home space. Ideally a dedicated office can help keep distractions away, and shut work away at the end of a day. However, you can also effectively turn a corner of a room into a small office space too.
  • Take your time choosing an office chair – poor posture can cause all sorts of problems, and ultimately affect your enjoyment at work.
  • Make sure your surroundings are organised in a way that keeps you motivated and productive.
  • Despite being told that people are more productive outside of an office, it can take some getting used to – even some trial and error ways of working. Eventually you will build up a series of habits and start to form a daily routine. For example, will you dive into your inbox as soon as you log on, or will you map out your day hour by hour before getting started?

Healthcare Professionals are open to different modes of communication

Whilst face-to-face contact is a preference of some HCPs, there is plenty of evidence to show that HCPs are also open to different channels. In fact, over 82% of HCPs surveyed by Star OUTiCO, agreed it was important to have a choice of digital channels when engaging with a pharmaceutical company. 

Each channel has its own benefits, and can complement face-to-face meetings: 

  • Video conferencing/screen sharing is a simple interface for fast, online meetings. It allows you to have a conversation as well as evaluating facial expressions and body language, without the need of a long car journey. Screen sharing is an engaging and easy way to share important documents and discuss valuable information.
  • Email – A fast and flexible method, once we have permission to use email. Many HCPs prefer this method of communication because they can review the content at their own pace.
  • Telephone calls work for those HCPs who want to have a conversation with a trusted advisor. It saves times and is a really cost-efficient way to build relationships.

Technology provides opportunity

The rise of technology has provided a huge opportunity to develop a flexible working practice. Multi-channel communication, when implemented correctly, can breathe new life into colleague collaboration, improve productivity, and positively impact the bottom line.