Ongoing global health situations have rendered a considerable change in working habits for the modern worker. Fortune Magazine reports that a Gallup poll instituted in March of this year discovered that only 31% of American workers had ever worked from home. This number may already seem considerable at first glance. But by the time the poll was repeated in April, only one month later, that number had doubled to 62%.
This rather surprising finding represented not only a seismic shift in practice, but in attitudes as well. Clearly many employees must have reckoned that a work-from-home job was preferable to no job at all, for starters. Beyond that, however, a growing acceptance of the type of work one could perform from home seemed to have broadened. If it was at all possible to work remotely, businesses and employees generally sorted it out one way or another.
With such a large influx of workers inexperienced with work-from-home routines flooding into the virtual workspace, employers must bring awareness to some of the pitfalls that can turn a well-functioning physical office into a disorderly virtual one. A little effort spent to help users avoid simple mistakes in the virtual world is a critical part of a sustainable transition.
Keeping In Good Communication With Each Other
Have you ever seen a coworker who just looked like they needed a little extra help? Perhaps they’re tired, or stressed. Perhaps their phone is ringing off the hook.
It’s easy to notice when a team member is pulling their third cup of coffee by 10AM on a Tuesday. But an exhausted coworker working from home isn’t going to be noticed the same way. A sleepless night could turn into a missed deliverable if the team isn’t aware that a coworker is struggling and can’t keep up.
The good news is that a coworker in such a situation could be given a break to take a nap and freshen up without causing an embarrassing scene in the company breakroom. If a user can be convinced to just power down the laptop and take an hour or two to recharge, the rest of the day might be salvageable to an otherwise incapacitated worker.
More importantly, however, is the need for the team to know what’s going on in the first place with everyone. That doesn’t mean spilling embarrassing stories of bachelor parties or relationship drama to your coworkers, of course. Rather, during morning coordination meetings or check-ins, a simple ‘how’s everyone doing today’ is a good question to ask.
If a coworker is not at 100%, they don’t have to spill the details—a simple ‘I couldn’t sleep at all last night’ or some other similarly unspecific excuse will suffice. Of course, meeting leaders should be careful not to let a morning status check devolve into politics or other matters. For instance, ‘I couldn’t sleep until 4am’ should suffice without addendums about the electoral matter that caused the insomnia in question.
This advice also extends to other matters beyond one’s condition as well. If a coworker will have contractors coming in to rebuild the kitchen at noon, or will need to step out for 15 minutes to pick up lunch at the convenience store, the team would be better off to know ahead of time. A little advance warning goes a long way to prevent communication delays between remote workers.
Maintaining Work/Life Balance
Most people dread a long morning commute. Shortening the daily commute from the bedroom to the living room has made a lot of people believers in the work-from-home era. However, it’s not without its downsides.
Without a hard barrier separating the two, work and home life can for some people become inextricably mixed. It’s easy to just leave the laptop on after the bell in case someone needs some quick assistance. Sure, greater availability can help get deliverables out faster—after all, if a direct report needs an approval or a simple question answered to get past a critical blocker, resolving that issue quickly can let work proceed without delay, potentially saving several hours of work.
However, the downsides of such an approach can be just as treacherous. A worker who gets used to handling emails until 7pm or 8pm can soon find themselves expected to be available during such hours even if it’s outside of their normal work agreement. After all, those who give an inch today are often expected to give a mile tomorrow. Furthermore, even if nothing is being immediately demanded, the very specter of a critical notification coming in can easily cloud one’s enjoyment of their ostensibly free time. How can one get wrapped up in a back episode of Game of Thrones if they’re subconsciously stealing a peek at their laptop every few minutes?
Fortunately, this behavior is coachable—and beatable. For starters, an employee who finds themselves at odds with the desire to demonstrate their helpfulness can consider signing up for an activity starting shortly after the bell. When the team knows that a coworker has swimming classes at 6pm twice a week, they’ll try to get all of their questions for that coworker answered by 5. It provides an easy way for a person on the timid side to carve out time for a personal life without having to say ‘I turn off my laptop at 5’.
Keeping Your Environment Tidy
It can be tempting to allow Mr. Cuddles to join in on the conference call. Sure, he’s unlikely to reveal corporate secrets, being a cat and all. But it’s less about the profit/loss statements that Mr. Cuddles would no doubt find indecipherable anyhow, and more about just maintaining a semblance of professionalism during the workday.
This means several things. First, during online meetings involving webcams, employees should be properly dressed. While this doesn’t have to mean suit and ties for everyone, neither should it allow for seriously improper attire such as pajamas and bathrobes. Employees don’t have to be on webcam for meetings if the company prefers not to do so, but if the meeting is a video conference, employees should make a semblance of an effort to dress the part.
Second, employees should endeavor to set up a space for themselves at home that can be dedicated to the working environment during the day. If children are present, this can be a way to alert them in a visual matter that Mom isn’t just upstairs playing on the computer all day, but is doing serious work and shouldn’t be interrupted if at all possible. Mr. Cuddles can be quietly left alone to snooze where he won’t walk across the keyboard during important meetings. For the employee who just can’t seem to leave it all alone at 5pm, shutting the door to the home office might help give them a sense of closure for the workday that prevents them from feeling unnecessarily tied to the computer late into the night. And finally, this can help prevent that embarrassing moment where another person living in the house crashes a video meeting without knowing they are doing so, or learning confidential information that should not be shared outside the company.
The team doesn’t have to have their webcams on all day during work hours—in fact, many people find these types of surveillance measures annoying and invasive, or even insulting. But minimizing workplace disruptions by ensuring that employees are presentable and in a secure working environment not only keeps the workday moving with minimal distractions, but help ensure that secure information passed between employees stays secure.
Not every job can be replicated in a work-from-home environment. But many can, and there are a number of reasons why a substantiative switch to a work-from-home environment is looking more and more likely to be the norm going forward. Many employees prefer working from home, and greater collaborative possibilities open up every year as collaborative software suites are improved and expanded upon. Now is a great time for businesses to prepare and refine their processes for work-from-home potential.