Interview with Ed Beccle, the 20-year old Co-founder of Grasp, On Working From Home

In this period of working from home, now is the time to make sure your employees are properly mentored

Working from home has traditionally always been a desirable goal, the ultimate luxury to escape the morning commute and micromanaging bosses. But now, in the midst of the current health crisis, many office workers have been unexpectedly and suddenly forced to do this.

Where home working was previously the reserve for the self-employed or a single day in the week, now the situation is completely different. Never before have we seen entire workplaces move online in a matter of days.  And with most of our day-to-day office interactions via email and direct message, we could be forgiven for thinking the transition would be relatively easy.

Moving tasks, writing documents and calling clients might be achievable from home, but the wider social benefits of working in an office are likely to take a battering.  One of the advantages of office life is the feeling of being part of a wider team, with a chance to collaborate with those next to you and connect on personal and professional levels face-to-face. Relationships with colleagues, regular social interaction with a wide range of people and even just being somewhere that isn’t your sofa, push us to be better at our jobs.

A positive workplace culture cannot be immediately transferred online. Entrusting digital communication to simply replace our regular face-to-face conversations in the workplace could result in widespread disengagement amongst employees.  A bad workplace culture often comes about because you don’t have the means or tools to get to know your workforce.

Good relationships between employees are crucial for fostering a positive and comfortable work environment. Research by Business in the Community (BITC) has shown that work‐related mental health problems are caused largely by lack of support, lack of trust in managers, and high pressure – all things that may be exacerbated when employees are apart.

Many of the best conversations which have a lasting impact on our working week take place organically when you are waiting for the kettle to boil or in the queue for the cafeteria – these are now off the table whilst we self-isolate. We must recognise this and attempt, where we can, to replicate these ‘water cooler’ moments digitally.

But while tech cannot completely replace a carefully developed workplace culture, it can be used as a tool to keep us connected, and often in ways that go beyond what can be achieved at the watercooler.  We’ve all been using Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Facetime so much more during lockdown, and have become used to video calling to the extent that in the future it is likely to change how we work for the long-term, talking to someone on the other end of the country instead of travelling there.

Another good way to maintain a workplace culture in these challenging times is to introduce an online mentoring programme; introducing employees based on skills they need to develop, and skills they have to offer. One-on-one relationships are essential for cultivating a supportive and comfortable workplace environment, especially when employees are apart.

A successful mentoring programme can have a huge impact on both employees and business leaders looking to boost wellbeing and encourage innovations between their staff.   Empowering employees to spread their knowledge is highly motivating.  A network of meaningful, positive connections around the workplace can go a long way in improving workplace culture.

Data shows that mentored employees have a 20% higher retention rate, are seven times more engaged with their work, and six times more likely to be promoted, demonstrating the huge impact a successful mentoring programme can have on both employees and business leaders looking to rally their staff.

Mentors will also be able to pick up any issues that crop up during the expected teething problems when moving an office online, easing the load off traditional management. Pairing employees who do not normally work together can allow fresh eyes to be cast on projects, and create new avenues for feedback to be communicated to senior management.

A case study from Sun Microsystems showed that retention rates were significantly higher for mentees (72%) and for mentors (69%) than for employees who did not participate (49%). Employees who participated in the programme were five times more likely to advance in pay grade, and mentors made even more progress. See more statistics on working from home.

Mentoring allows employees to shift the focus from the immediate tasks at hand for a moment in their day. We developed to promote the value of mentorship, and its ability to tackle silos in large companies which can fuel cultural disengagement in the workplace, which may well become more prevalent when working from home. Our platform uses data to match employees based on their skills and interests, and allows them to connect, strike up a relationship and learn from one another.

To foster productive, collaborative and nimble working environments we need to recognise the role personal relationships have to play in our day-to-day. Creating a workplace online for a scattered workforce means moving all of it, not just what is directly linked to tasks and projects. This isolation period will be difficult for many of us – let’s create a positive workplace to come back to.