Even though lockdown restrictions have been easing in most parts of the country (Victoria notwithstanding), it is clear that many of us will be encouraged to retain our work-from-home arrangements. Maybe for a few more months, maybe forever.
Working from home is nothing new to us here at Arielle Executive.
Our team has been working from home (as well as from airport lounges, co-working spaces and cafes) for a long time before the concept became in vogue. In fact, our workforce has been 100% remote and distributed for the past 9 years. During this time we have been honing the art of remaining happy and productive while not being confined to a traditional office environment.
Today, I’d like to share some of the lessons that we’ve learned, some of the mistakes that we’ve made and some of the approaches that we’ve established as internal best practices.
The advice I’m about to provide is not theoretical and isn’t derived from running a casual or amateur operation. We are a complex, boutique, market-leading business with multiple teams, strict deadlines and smart, demanding customers.
But first, let’s unpack some of the debate around the pros and cons. Work from home has some well-documented benefits, and also some very real pitfalls – if not managed properly.
For many, it’s difficult to switch off, particularly when personal and professional lines are blurred. To avoid burn out, it is important to set clear boundaries to protect your personal space and mental wellbeing.
Choose a space as free from distraction as possible. This could be in your home, a cafe (COVID restrictions allowing), or even a park bench – but it must be in an environment that allows you to focus.
Set your work hours and encourage your team to do the same. Inform colleagues, family and friends to ensure these times are enforced to prevent burnout. Be respectful that other people (particularly parents) may work different hours to you.
For people new to remote working, the lack of face-to-face contact can be a huge obstacle. For many, the lack of proximity to others has the biggest potential to negatively impact performance by impeding collaboration, hampering training efforts and increasing misunderstandings.
Maintaining strong communication lines is arguably the most important factor in making the work from home experience work.
Schedule daily or weekly team stand-ups to re-enforce individual and team successes. Creating spaces for social interaction is helpful in reducing feelings of isolation, as is scheduling online chats during lunch or happy hours.
Maintain relationships with colleagues for emotional and mental wellbeing. To counter feelings of isolation, organise social time with co-workers either by video call, or incorporate additional time to scheduled meetings for informal chit-chat.
Prioritise one-on-ones, preferably via video conferencing, to raise or address specific concerns, provide feedback and maintain engagement. Video should be used for complex, sensitive or urgent discussions to minimise miscommunication.
Clarify work outcomes upwards and downwards, so the focus is on what, rather than how, outcomes are achieved.
Don’t be afraid to ‘over-communicate’. Remote workers lose the richness of face-to-face conversations and need to compensate in other ways. Use emojis. Make it clear when you’re joking (we all know how hard it is to pick up on ‘sarcasm’ online). To avoid mix-ups, be specific about deadlines and accountability. For example, rather than say “Make sure someone updates the report”, try, “John needs to update the report by this Friday.”
Always assume everyone has the best of intentions. Remote workers rely heavily on direct messaging and emails, so the opportunity for misunderstanding is huge. If in doubt, always discuss any issues you might have with a video call.
4. Leverage Technology.
Technology can be the remote worker’s biggest ally, and the reason why a vast proportion of the workforce was able to transition so quickly to remote working during the COVID-19 crisis.
Many of us are now using apps like Zoom, Yammer, Slack, Trello, Dropbox, Toggl and Asana on a daily basis.
On a basic level, remote workers need a robust internet connection and tools across remote desktop, team chat, screen sharing and recording, video conferencing, cloud storage and project/task management.
It also helps to invest in a good pair of headphones for video calls, preferably noise cancelling with a mute button to block out unwanted sounds and distractions.
There is also increasing evidence that technology provides an important space for remote workers to increase their visibility within an organisation. So providing internal social network platforms is key to helping workers maintain their identity in the business whilst working from home.
5. Maximise Your Peak Productivity Hours.
Whether you’re a morning person or a night owl, we all have periods during the day when we are most productive.
Conversely, if you have a low-energy point (3 o’clock slump anyone?), reserve that time for low priority or process-driven tasks. With no morning or evening commute to factor in, you can be more selective in how you use your time.
6. Be Proactive In Monitoring Mental Wellbeing.
With all its benefits, working from home isn’t for everyone.
Many people still prefer the energy of a traditional office, and the enforced transition to working from home is likely to have negative impacts. And with all the added stresses arising from COVID-19, leaders need to monitor levels of stress and anxiety in their workforce.
Make a point to ask how employees are coping in one-on-one catch-ups. Be aware, however, that many people aren’t comfortable talking about these issues at work.
An anonymous survey maybe a more effective approach, as is referring staff to your company’s employee assistance program (EAP).
Most importantly, leaders need to demonstrate flexibility, understanding and support to help their people adjust in times of disruption.
By providing as much information as possible and keeping the lines of communication open, leaders can make the shift to working from home a positive one, with benefits for all.
Like it or not, working from home is here to stay and will remain a feature of the workplace of the future.
And while it is not without its challenges, it offers exciting opportunities for organisations to attract and retain talent, maximise productivity and maintain business continuity during times of crisis.