Remote workers. Virtual employees. No pants required jobs. Telecommuting.
Whatever you call it, the practice of working from home just got its 15-minute of fame. For those of us who have been sans office for years, we know the drill. For those who are new to crunching numbers on the couch or selling widgets at the kitchen table, I offer you some unsolicited advice.
Over the years I have advised clients on how to handle requests to work from home. The advice I have provided has always varied based on the culture and type of work needed. My CPA firm clients can implement remote procedures a heck of a lot easier than my clients who provide in-home services. However, now that companies are being forced into the decision, it’s useful to know some dos and don’ts.P
A common reason for employees to work from home is having a sick child. Anyone would be a fool to think that someone would work uninterrupted if they are also playing the role of caregiver. But let’s be honest for a minute, how many times have you heard someone say they like to work from home because they have LESS interruptions. It turns out that a 2-year study shows that working from home is often a means of becoming MORE productive and not something for employers to shy away from.
Reporting and Project Management
To combat the fear that work isn’t being done, two-way conversations must occur. Due dates, priorities, and reports are helpful.
Oh no. Not another useless report. Don’t ask people to compile unnecessary charts and graphs to demonstrate that they answered 57 emails today. Instead, look at a project management system like Asana, Zoho Projects or Monday to track efforts. While this might seem like micromanaging or just another form of useless lists, project management software is a communication tool that is beneficial regardless of where you are working. It helps everyone on a team know where a project is and what steps have been completed.
Many companies already use chat/instant message tools like Slack. If you aren’t using one now, consider setting it up. Slack allows you to create channels that subdivide conversations. To help alleviate feelings of isolation, set-up a channel for “hallway” or “break room” where people can pop in and socialize. Team leaders should create a way for people to touch base in the morning with a quick hello and say goodbye when signing off for the day.
I know what some of the skeptics are things: “people will just hang out and say hello to pretend they are working.” Yes, some will. But this is not a problem related to working from home. This is a hiring/training/feedback/engagement issue.
Pick Up The Phone.
Quarantined or not, it’s easy to send an email. However, 27 email exchanges can often be solved with one call. Remind people to keep speaking with one another. Whether by phone call or video call, keep the human-to-human interaction going.
Communicate. Then Communicate Some More.
Remember that people are scared. They are afraid of getting sick and afraid of losing their jobs. Have open dialogue with them. Skip the form letter-like emails and opt for a video message or webinar. Speak from the heart. It’s OK to not have all the answers – no one does. But don’t leave them in the dark. Make sure they understand the current company policies on PTO as well as reimbursing for expenses. What are your policies for employees using their own computers and cell phone for company business? If you canceled the company picnic in order to buy 10 new laptops or webcams, let them know the reason. Who should they be reporting to? Who do they speak to about an issue? You won’t get those answers from copying and pasting another company’s email.
The next few weeks will be hard for everyone across the globe. How you respond and treat your employees will have lasting results. Don’t muck it up.
I’ve worked from home off and on for over a decade. I’ve made all the mistakes there are to make. Full disclosure: I do not have kids so I speak from that perspective. I do have 2 dogs and a cat who are very needy and loud.
I cannot stress this enough. Take a shower and put on pants (I know, it sucks, but just do it). Get ready as if you are heading to the office. You’ll likely be on a video call or too so brush your hair and put on makeup if that’s your thing.
Keep a Schedule.
If your kids are home you may have to vary your typical working time to accommodate their needs, but figure out what hours work for you and stick to them. If you work and get paid for a typical 8-hour day, make a plan that gets your hours in without making you feel like you are at work 24/7.
Pick a Spot.
Not everyone is fortunate enough to have space for a home office. This means you may need to make some changes. If you and your spouse live in a one-bedroom apartment and are both home, figure out who works where. Are you both sharing the kitchen table? Is one of you working from the bedroom and the other in the living room? Do what you can to set-up your work area. Make sure your set-up includes storing laptops and putting papers away. This will be helpful when “leaving” work for the day so you don’t feel overwhelmed.
Find Your Quiet Place.
Where will you go to take phone calls and video meetings? Communication is key so let your significant other, roommates and kids know when quiet is required. If you need to take a call from the bathroom, do it. Just don’t flush when speaking with a hot prospect.
On the other hand, be reasonable. My dogs, without fail, only bark when I get on a call. They don’t understand the concept of “quiet time.” The good news is that WFH is not a new concept and people have become accustomed to hearing noises in the background. Even at the office, people talk on phones while seated in cubicle city. Be aware, but don’t freak out if the baby is crying or your husband is yelling at his computer because “the kid in IT is an idiot.” Also, be extra nice to the kid in IT. She’s probably working extra hard now.
Studies have proven that people who take breaks are more productive and feel more energized after a mental break.
If you are used to taking an hour-long lunch break you may want to keep that habit. If you usually grab lunch and gossip with friends, schedule a video call and get those laughs in. If you use it to run errands, take care of something around the house. You are probably going to feel cooped up. Going for a walk can help clear your mind and make you feel less caged.
For some people, the chance to eat lunch at home will make eating healthier easier. For others, the proximity to the fridge or pantry can be problematic. Help your friends and colleagues out by sharing easy recipes or supporting them if they can’t resist the snacky-snacks.
Do Your Work.
If you are reading this, you are probably somewhat career-oriented. You understand the importance of doing a good job and want to advance. Now is the time to prove you can be productive, creative, efficient, invaluable and awesome to your boss. If you have a question, ask it. If you have a point to raise, raise it. Give feedback. Give praise. It might take a while to get used to working from home and to find your groove. That’s normal. If you’re moving along and see a coworker struggling, help them out.
If you have trouble staying focused and off of social media (regardless of whether or not you work from home) apps like Zero Willpower and Stay Focused offer some digital hand-holding.
I’m a believer in face-to-face contact. Body language. Pheromones. Serendipity. These are all benefits of meeting and working in the same room with other people. However, technology has provided us with great alternatives when it’s not practical to meet in person. This too shall pass. In the meantime, be smart, keep working and keep connecting with humans.