COVID-19, otherwise known as the coronavirus, is having a dramatic impact on our daily lives, including how we work.
Unlike the week last, when companies were “encouraging” employees to work remotely, governments are now starting to close businesses as countries go into “lockdown” to contain the spread of the virus. For those who are most vulnerable in our society, these measures are necessary.
However, and for the majority who contract COVID-19 in which the threat of serious illness is minimal, the same measures pose an entirely different set of challenges. For example, by being forced to work from home, how do remote employees build healthy, productive relationships with clients and coworkers?
In making a successful transition to remote working, it is important to recognise that employees require an entirely different set of social and interpersonal skills. In other words, how we interact virtually versus a face-to-face engagement in the workplace is very different. Therefore, managers must understand how they can help their team to make the transition to working from home so that individual employees do not feel isolated or out-of-the-loop.
In this regard, it is encouraging to note an HBR report indicating that 30% of companies already provide their employees with training to help them to work effectively from home. Said training includes how to use technology to build more human-based relationships.
But technology is only one element of being comfortable and productive in a virtual environment.
Business as usual
Besides having accessibility to technology, there are a few obvious steps employees need to take to ensure they are as productive at home as they are at the office.
To start, and as any virtual veteran will tell you, they need to have a “business as usual” mindset. By keeping to a normal daily schedule as if they were going to the office, including getting up at the same time, getting dressed, taking breaks are all an integral part of creating a sense of normalcy. In short, having and maintaining a routine is important.
Making them aware of the temptation to respond to the inevitable distractions at home and how to avoid them will also prove helpful.
It is also a good idea to have regular check-ins with your team, including a weekly team meeting as this not only creates a sense of continuity but allows everyone to share notes regarding their common work-at-home challenges.
These, as well as other guidelines, will ensure that your team is both productive and remains connected.
While communicating via text and email is convenient, important subtleties like voice tone and body language are lost. As a result, and in those instances where meeting face-to-face is preferred but not possible, technologies like Zoom, Skype or Microsoft Teams, to name a few are great at establishing and maintaining that personal connection.
When you do use text and email to communicate with people with whom you usually interact in person, be mindful of the fact that you should adopt a conversational tone recognising that what you write and how the receiver interprets it may be entirely different. As an aside, this is a good protocol to follow whether you are working from home or the office.
Once again, for those employees who have experience working from home, the above guidelines are going to be obvious. However, for those who are entering the virtual working realms for the first time, providing direction will help them to make the transition easier while getting them up to speed so much faster.
Of course, there is another reason for creating a work-from-home playbook; what is now the exception is very likely to become the norm even after the passing of this present crisis.
Without going into the economic and strategic aspects of such a shift, depending on the business, the emergence of the “remote workforce” model was inevitable. What the coronavirus pandemic has done is to accelerate the timetable.
As an organisation, this is a call to action to join the 30 per cent who are already starting to prepare for a new workplace reality.