Working from home is an essential part of the new world of work. But COVID-19 has seriously accelerated this practice. Experienced homeworker Martin Belton gives managers 10 tips to help them successfully manage the transition.
Homeworking is nothing new. But for reasons we all recognize, the concept is now being extended to new groups of employees, managers, and leaders. For all of them, this brings a new raft of responsibilities, actions, and tools to learn. Specifically, it falls on our managers and leaders to create an environment to support these new workers. Let alone ways of encouraging best practices in this new world. This is important. A poor homeworking environment will lead to a lack of motivation and understanding beyond anything we see in normal day to day office workings. I have therefore provided 10 easy-to-follow tips to help you provide a great homeworking ecosystem. They are as follows:
1. Arrange daily conference calls: Many experienced homeworkers and managers will tell you that a short pre-arranged call every day is the single most powerful tool you can have. This can be a group call for a large team. It teases out opportunities and challenges like no other tool and connects everybody instantly. Note that they don’t have to use video; voice will be fine. Attendance is the key.
2. Ensure the technology is adequate: An obvious issue, not to be underestimated, is to make sure that everyone has access to the right hardware, software and internet connection speed from day one. I would encourage you to consider additional financial support to make sure systems are up to scratch. Short term lease schemes are available if you’re not keen to lay out capital at this time. Those costs will be nothing compared to the loss of productivity that can result from workers sitting idle or a data breach.
3. Assess suitability. Given the current crisis we might not have this luxury, but assessing an individual’s ability to work alone at home will pay dividends. It’s not always easy to work out who will or will not be comfortable working from home. Your assessments should be based on sound logic rather than invalid assumptions. Assessing the human factors involved such as personality traits, motivation, preferences, motives, values, and home circumstances will help determine if any accommodations are required. Some people may benefit from partial homeworking rather than losing all face-to-face interactions.
4. Check out all the legal implications: Working from home may demand additional written agreements. These may, of course, already exist. As well as covering remote work expectations, you may also need agreements to cover equipment, expense, confidentiality, and security issues.
5. Don’t skip the training: Likewise, it should also be obvious that everyone can access to the right software. In remote working, it becomes even more critical that these tools are used consistently throughout a team. This is not quite as easy as it sounds. For instance, leading tools that support homeworking are Microsoft Teams, Slack, and Zoom but there are many more. These systems are fairly intuitive but supporting user confidence will accelerate their speed to productivity. People are apt to use it and store information in different ways which might increase risk to data security and so training Is essential. For employee engagement, productivity, and data security a good degree of training and practice might be required.
6. Make sure support is available: In any group of employees, someone will struggle with new tech. And if it’s not the tech, it might be the isolation or the changing work environment that cause frustration. Whereas it’s easy to ask someone sitting next to you or by the water-cooler how they are doing, it’s more difficult when they are working at a distance. So make sure that you have a support structures in place to tease out and provide the support required.. Embrace this early as change can be unsettling and cause real problems – people don’t always like to admit that they are struggling with the new culture or can't use all the tech!
7. Metrics are critical for managing remote workers: This is true for both for managers and employees. Agreeing, setting and discussing expectations becomes more important when people work from home. Using and referring to scorecards, KPI’s or OKR’s regularly helps everybody understand your expectations and how they will be assessed. Note this should not be an excuse to change your organizational objectives and goals; there will be sufficient challenges to deal with anyway. But you should be aware that remote solutions call for the use of the fixed and objective methods which these tools provide.
8. Spread the news: The lack of an office means you have to provide other methods for social interaction. That interaction should include both information provided by the organization and personal information that anyone wishes to share. The tools are less important than the messages. It could be something as simple as a WhatsApp or Slack group. Sharing good (or even bad) news; maybe an account win, or big sale, employee award is motivational for employees working from home. You could also consider having a “dress up” for work day and start your day with a video conference, or creating an area for shared online positive experiences just for fun.
9. Townhall webinars: Weekly webinars are an effective way to share knowledge, ensure a consistent vocabulary and engage your employees This can be made stimulating and enjoyable by representing a wide range of views with different presentation styles. The leader will manage the call but bringing in presenters from other departments, team members, product managers, or support staff can be very effective. Alternatively, bring in an external expert to promote new working practices or to promote personal wellbeing such as mindfulness.
10. Buddy up and have mentors available: Inevitably, working from home can sometimes feel like you’re working alone. It helps if you have a buddy or a mentor to turn to and share your challenges and successes. In mentoring programs, both the mentor and the student often benefit. But mentoring may not always be appropriate. In which case, an ‘assignment’ buddy - someone working on the same or similar project – can be equally supportive. Evidence suggests that this both motivates and increases accountability on a project.
Ultimately working from home suits some people more than others, just as some people hate coming into an office or a factory every day. But by providing the right atmosphere, tools, and support, this can be more effective than feared.
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