Suddenly Working from Home?

Published on December 16, 2020

Many people and organizations are transitioning to full-time remote work suddenly as a result of the Coronavirus (Covid-19) health crisis. For some companies, remote work is a regular benefit and practice for its employees, but for many, it’s a new way of working that presents new challenges — especially as people try to manage in a small space while juggling family who are home as well.

People are all at once discovering the benefits and frustrations of remote work. And because no two people are alike, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. But organizations can take cues from great workplaces. Their teams can get more done and feel better when technology, space and how people work come together. Working from home should be no different.

Here are some practical guidelines organizations can provide to their teams for how to improve the work from home experience.

Think About What People (and Their Teammates) Need First

Establish and stick to boundaries: Some find it tempting to be “on” constantly when working from home. Others find being home distracting and challenging to stay focused and productive. Identifying boundaries can help people maintain a healthy and productive balance. Keep in mind each person may have different boundaries depending on their life or the day. Ask people to decide on their schedule each day and try to stick to it.

Be transparent: If people are not at their computer, be sure they communicate that with their colleagues. Make calendars visible to the team, have people update their status in any team/collaboration software your company uses or even ask people to leverage their out-of-office auto reply. Tell people to let the team know when they’re going to be away and when they’ll be back, especially when they work in different time zones.

Build belonging: Think about ways to keep relationships intact while working from home. Consider creating a group chat for social interactions – during stressful times, everybody loves a good meme. Set aside time for more informal conversations to foster team cohesion. Team leaders should schedule coffee with a colleague over video to catch up. Remote workers need more of these checkpoints than those who are in the office.

Agree How Teams Will Work Together

Create consistent connections: It can be easy to slip into a siloed work experience when everyone is working on their own. Institute a quick daily virtual team connect to keep work moving forward.

Provide a variety of tools: The tools available to distributed teams aren’t perfect. No one technology does it all. Pick some consistent tools for instant messaging, video conferencing, sharing documents, file transfers, etc. But, don’t stop searching for the next best thing. You may find a process that sticks around long after this uncertainty has ended.

Make work visible, virtually: Take a lesson from agile teams and start a virtual project board. List your team’s tasks, progress and deadlines to keep everyone on the same page. Plus, team members get the added benefit of knowing where to jump in and help when needed.

Look Beyond Laptops

Turn cameras on: Conference calls invite participants to multi-task, or worse “zone out” – because people are hidden from view. Video should be the default setting for any remote collaboration. Seeing facial reactions and body language lets people “read the room,” plus they are less likely to interrupt or speak over one another. To do it well, suggest people keep the computer at eye level. Put it on a stand or further back so it isn’t looking up someone’s nose. Have people look into the camera and use natural light, but avoid putting their back to a window or they’ll look like a silhouette.

Prevent data disruptions: If possible tell people to use a cable/Ethernet connection, because Wi-Fi can be unreliable. If they’re on a video call, close any open applications to preserve computing resources for the video. Video requires more bandwidth, so if people need to share a big file, they might want to consider using a second device.

Hear and be heard: – Suggest people avoid rooms with lots of hard surfaces that echo (like a kitchen). Choose rooms with rugs or other softer materials (like a living room). Headphones provide a better experience than computer audio. And, if people switch from one video platform to another, be sure they close one before opening another because the software may grab hold of their microphone. Finally, if someone is late to an online meeting or not speaking, mute their audio to avoid disrupting the conversation.

Have People Pick Places That Work for Them

Find focus: – Not everyone has a home office, so suggest people think about establishing a territory that clearly signals “I’m at work.” People should discuss protocol with other members of their household to signal when they’re “at work,” even if they’re reading on the sofa. If someone tends to be distracted by other household demands, find a way to create visual boundaries so they don’t see the dirty dishes. If acoustics are an issue and they can’t shut a door, noise-reduction headphones may be their new best friend.

Vary your posture: A risk of working from home is becoming more sedentary. People should look for ways to vary their posture and the spots where they work throughout the day. Sit, stand, perch, go for a walk — activating the body, activates the brain and can keep people from going stir crazy.

Consider proximity: Have people look at the physical distance between themselves, their furniture and their technology to make sure it’s comfortable and effective. Residential furniture isn’t designed to be optimal for work. Is their laptop easy to reach? Can they avoid “text neck” and slouching over a coffee table? If they spend the day typing at their dining room table, for example, they may feel like their shoulders are in their ears.

Show personality: Joy is one of our six primary emotions and research shows experiencing joy actually makes people more productive. Suggest people surround themselves with things that make them smile like a bright colored coffee cup, inspiring pictures or silly tchotchkes. It may seem trivial, but it’s proven to make a difference.

If your organization is suddenly finding itself working from home long-term, it will take time to establish new rhythms and practices. Working from home sounds simple enough, and even desirable. But when people have been working alone for days or weeks at a time, it can feel isolating and be difficult to stay connected with teammates and engaged in work.

When people create a healthy routine, an effective place to work, and use technology to get work done while maintaining relationships, they’ll be more productive and feel good while doing it.

Christine Congdon is a Grit Daily contributor, Editor of 360 Magazine and Director of Global Research Communications at Steelcase. In her work at Steelcase, Christine is deeply focused on the role of physical environments in shaping the behavior of people at work. She is co-author of “Balancing We and Me: The Best Collaborative Spaces Also Support Solitude” featured in the Harvard Business Review and regularly writes and speaks about workplace issues for a variety of publications and conferences. Chris collaborates with leading organizations to help them rethink the strategic role of their physical environment and is a passionate advocate for the idea that organizations can leverage their workplace to help shape strategy, brand and culture.

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