Within the past few years, remote working has seen a significant rise in workplaces around the world. Some workplaces have shifted to fully remote operations, while others offer remote work as an optional perk for employees with long commutes. Since 2005, remote work has grown by 140 percent, and many employees identify remote work opportunities as a major perk when considering whether to work for a company.
More recently, within the past few weeks in fact, remote work has gone from a modern workplace perk to a necessity for businesses concerned about protecting their customers and employees from the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus). For the office workers who are now carrying out their duties from home and the managers who are now virtually leading spread-out, remote teams, this presents a difficult new challenge.
As we work to ensure that our team members and our customers remain safe and healthy during this uncertain situation, we wanted to take this time to share some of our advice for those of you who’ve suddenly been thrust into working (and managing) from home.
1. Keep a structure.
It’s easy to stick to a schedule in an office. Even if you don’t have set hours, there’s usually at least a clear window for when it’s time to work and when you’re off duty. When you’re working remotely, it can be hard to maintain the same level of organization.
- Set work hours. If working hours haven’t already been established by your employer, establish set working hours. Treat these hours like you would any other hours at work. You wouldn’t stop working in the middle of the day to spend a couple of hours reading or gaming, right? And this goes both ways—in addition to establishing when you’re on the clock, make sure to give yourself the same hours off that you would normally have.
- Establish your workspace. Even if you don’t have your own personal office, you can take over your desk or clear out a spot at your table and dub it the “work zone”. Do you normally like to spread out across your desk in the office? Find a way to do the same at home.
- Don’t get distracted by household chores.It’s one thing to take 30 seconds to move the laundry from the washer to the dryer, or to check on the pot roast in your slow cooker. It’s another to vacuum the living room or make a quick pharmacy run during “work” hours. Make sure to focus on your work. It can be difficult if you have family members home with you, but find a way to communicate that you’re at work and not to be disturbed—whether it’s a sign on the door, a locked door, or a pair of noise-cancelling headphones.
2. Communicate everything.
Suddenly, it’s no longer as easy as leaning over to ask your teammate a question or stopping by another coworker’s office for a quick catch-up. Most conversations will happen in writing, and the lack of body language, facial expression, and intonation can easily breed misunderstanding.
You don’t need to micromanage, but you should aim to communicate more frequently and more specifically than usual. What would seem clear in a face-to-face session might not be as clear in a quick email, and you won’t have the benefit of overhearing pertinent conversations when you’re working remotely. Ask yourself: is there any ambiguity here? Could anything I’m saying possibly be misunderstood? Odds are, you’ll be able to say yes to both questions. Communicate as frequently as possible. There’s no such thing as too many details.
3. Take measures to prevent isolation.
In addition to putting a jump on your business communications, don’t forget to frequently reach out to your team on a personal level. In 2018, 21 percent of remote workers reported that they were concerned about feeling isolated, not just informationally but also socially.
We’re not encouraging you to put yourself or anyone else at risk. But along with frequently reaching out to other members of your team to communicate and collaborate, consider other ways to boost connectivity. Some managers have implemented “team lunch” conference calls for everyone on their team to virtually eat together and catch up. While this may not be feasible for your team to do every day or even every week, talk with your team and work out some ways to create socialization.
4. Be patient.
Let’s face it. Technology has revolutionized the modern workplace, but it can create its fair share of issues. Just this morning, the massive influx of remote workers in Europe caused Microsoft Teams’ chat tool to briefly go down.
These events can be frustrating, but they are inevitable when working from home, and even more so when you and your colleagues are not accustomed to regular remote work. Understand that technical difficulties are bound to happen—especially within these initial days—and that some people may take some time to adjust to the new status quo. It can be easy to get annoyed, but think instead of what you can do to help your teammates through the transition.
5. Take time to breathe.
New updates about coronavirus are constantly pouring in, and it can be easy to feel distracted and even overwhelmed by the news, particularly for those who have preexisting health problems or worry about the safety of their loved ones.
In most office settings, you’re free to step out for some air if you need a breather. Just because you’re not in the office doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t let yourself have breaks if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Build breaks into your schedule and communicate with your team and managers if things are growing difficult for you.
For managers and higher-level employees, make sure to check in with your teams and direct reports during this tumultuous time. This is an uncertain, overwhelming, and even scary time for a lot of people, and it can be hard to focus on everyday work in these circumstances. Be mindful of the situation and aim to work with your teams, not against them.
For many of us, this is one of the most frightening, challenging things we have experienced in our adult lives. Along with taking the right measures to stay hygienic and prevent the further spread of pathogens, the best thing we can do right now is work together to ensure that our customers and those relying on us have our full support, with whatever we can offer.