Ten Top Tips for Remote Working

Keith McCarthy
Keith McCarthy

Ten top tips to get the best out of remote working –  now mandated to be the norm for 20 percent of public sector employment in Ireland – were suggested by Mr. Keith McCarthy, Group HR Director, RCSI Hospital Group, at a live interactive Dublin  HMI Regional  meeting.

Mellany McLoone, HMI Council Member and Chief Officer, HSE Dublin North City and County, welcomed all those who were attending.  She thanked Mr. McCarthy for his presentation and GSK for their continued support of HMI meetings.

Mr. McCarthy, who has over 20 years experience working with people and organisations, was speaking on “Remote Working: Remotely Working?,” said remote working had the potential to positively impact life in Ireland.

He said his top tips were:

  • Set expectations early and often.
  • Be organised and flexible.
  • Adapt the length of meetings.
  • Track the team’s progress.
  • Emphasise communication.
  • Remember to listen.
  • Build connections and be available to the team.
  • Provide ways to communicate.
  • Resist the urge to micromanage.
  • Celebrate success.

He said remote work was the practice of employees doing their jobs from a location other than a central office operated by the employer. Such locations could include an employee’s home, a co-working or other shared space, a private office, or any other place outside of the traditional corporate office building or campus.

There were a number of different  descriptions of remote working including, working from home, hybrid working and flexible working/flexibility, and it was important to distinguish between them, particularly in the contenxt of local arrangements verses the employment contract.

Remote working was not available to all during the pandemic. Those who were able to work from home were disproportionately urban based, white-collar, and well-educated employees.

Remote workers were less likely to have had difficulties making ends meet and were more likely to have financial buffers such as savings to protect them in case of a loss of income.

A survey by labour market Think-tank Eurofound found that even during the height of the pandemic, 43% of employees still worked exclusively from their employers’ premises or other locations outside of the home.

But, the COVID virus has broken through cultural and technological barriers that prevented remote work in the past, setting in motion a structural shift in where work took place, at least for some people.”

“According to McKinsey Global Institute 2020, more than 20 percent of the workforce could work remotely three to five days a week as effectively as they could if working from an office. If remote work took hold at that level, that would mean three to four times as many people working from home than before the pandemic and would have a profound impact on urban economies, transportation, and consumer spending, among other things.”

Ireland’s Remote Working Strategy, mandated that home and remote work should be the norm for 20 percent of public sector employment.

Looking at the popularity of remote working, Mr. McCarthy said that  the Future of Work Report – Microsoft, showed that72% of organisations had implemented remote working policies (22% in 2019), 71% of all employees favoured remote working and 68% of employers believed remote working was key to keeping staff.

Ireland’s Remote Working Strategy, mandated that home and remote work should be the norm for 20 percent of public sector employment. The treatment of remote working for the purposes of tax and expenditure would be reviewed in the next Budget.

A network of remote working hubs across Ireland should be mapped and invested in.  Legislating for the right to request remote working should be implemented and a code of practice for the right to Disconnect developed.

There were different benefits of remote working between urban and rural communities. Benefits included less commuting time, possibly increased productivity, flexibility, talent attraction and  retention, positive environmental impacts, improved work-life balance, reduced need for corporate space, enhanced business continuity, family and pet care.

The management challenge was that remote working did not easily support creativity, group dynamics, shared ownership and collegiality.

“If these obstacles cannot be overcome, it could result in long-term impacts on firms’ productivity. Research has also found that remote working can lead to an innovation deficit due to difficulties in collaborating with colleagues.”

Mr. McCarthy said other challenges in this new way of working  were managing people in multiple locations, keeping positive tabs, the poor performer, changing mindsets, health, safety and the legal context.

Problems with remote working tended to surface when the best practices and basic principles of how remote teams work were missing. This led to challenges such as:

Productivity drains: Without clear guidelines and policies, employees could lose their motivation and reduce productivity.

Mistrust and micromanagement: A lack of trust, or the virtual equivalent of looking over someone’s shoulder to make sure they were doing their work, could increase anxiety and decrease morale.

Unreliable technology: Inadequate tools and technologies could be a productivity and morale killer for virtual teams. Poor broadband connections, unreliable applications, outdated hardware—all of these could lead to frustration and greatly diminish results.

The reluctant remote workforce: Finally, another challenge could arise when either the employee or employer was not working remotely as an intentional choice or strategy. Remote work was best suited for people and organisations who sought it out for its advantages.

Mr. McCarthy said that although there was no single “right” way of working remotely, there were some general best practices to create the conditions for success. These included:

Clear guidelines and policies:

A culture of trust was  grounded in a healthy understanding of expectations.

Think: Is a person expected to be “in the office” (or accessible for communication online) by a certain time or for a certain number of hours a day?  How is performance measured? What devices and applications are approved for business use?

Team building:

A virtual team was still a team. Managers, in particular, had a responsibility to build collaborative, communicative teams that were invested in each other’s success.

Think: In-person meetings, social events

Robust technologies:

Companies with high performing remote teams invested in the

technologies their people relied on to do their jobs.

Think: Good equipment (Desktop / laptop), working collaborative tools, proper use of status. good broadband.

Build Focus & Clarity – Trust

Some ideas included standardizing meeting length to 30 or 45 mins, mandating meeting agendas, commitment to Focus Days, encouraging Focus Time at both the beginning and end of each day, direction on when to use DM v. Email,, more intentional participation (or not) in meetings. better ways for people to stay up to speed without attending a meeting

Mr. McCarthy advised health managers to check out what was available  “Policies and procedures are in place, they just need packaging and distribution to work for you and the team.  Lots of systems are ready for home access. Define your own, develop mechanisms to make it work.  Insist what is face to face and online and put the structures in place that work for you and the team.”