Remote workers. People who work from home. People you may never meet in person, or rarely see in the office.
How in the world does this work? Can it even be done? Can we trust our employees to work instead of binge watch shows?
Obviously, we’re not talking about people who need to physically be present in your office. In today’s world, with advances in technology, many people who had to go into an office can easily and affordably set up a home office. Many of us simply need a decent computer and high speed internet, both of which are easy to come by.
I started my work-from-home, remote worker journey in full force in January of 2006. This is when I got laid off from a general manager role at a software startup. At first I started a very serious (although flawed) job search campaign, with my laptop and a cell phone. Within weeks I was coming up with new business ideas, one of which I’d choose to pursue. Since then, for almost 15 years, I’ve only had a “real job” once, for about 10 months, where I was (mostly) required to go into the office. To be honest, I didn’t need to be in the office. I had set up my home office and had systems in place to be an effective remote worker. I was self-motivated and my family knew when they could (or couldn’t) interrupt me.
With the Coronavirus news sweeping across the world, a lot of people are being sent home to work. There are gobs of articles about how to work at home, how to set up your office, how to actually do real work instead of goof off on Youtube, how to deal with isolation while you miss being around coworkers, etc. All of this is good stuff, but a little baffling to people who have been working from home for years (there are millions of us who do this).
Instead of rehashing how to set up your home office and not goof off, we want to share ideas on what you, as a manager, could do to help your newly-minted remote workers be productive at their home office, and how to best fulfill your role as their manager. If you have ideas we don’t mention, please leave them in the comments.
Communicate Expectations About Working From Home vs. Working at the Office
People need to know what the new policy is and not feel guilty about staying home vs. going into the office. Remember in the P.C. (PreCorona) era, just a few days ago, when people would come to the office sick? They could very well have stayed home and worked from home but we’ve been trained for decades to SHOW UP. I had a colleague who absolutely, definitely should have stayed home one day (for a few days!), but he came to work to show that he was serious about his work. He was promptly sent home by an astute supervisor.
This might sound trivial but you need to assure, and reassure, that it is OKAY for your team to work from home. This is especially important for people who have a hard time adjusting to change. No longer does dressing up for work matter… pajamas is okay. Some people will still get completely dressed up as if they were going into the office.
Facilitate Proper Communication
I mentioned the isolation and loneliness. Some people will LOVE being away from normal office chatter and small talk, and feel like they can get a week’s worth of work done in one day (especially when they don’t have to factor in commute time!). Other people will be in shock because they aren’t quite sure what to do, how to do it, and will miss communicating with their desk mates and friends.
Working at home, by yourself, shouldn’t mean isolation. Make sure you create the right virtual communication environment, which could include Slack, Teams, or other internal chatting software you already use. It could mean chatting or video calls through your Google Suite. It could mean Skype, Zoom, or Gotowebinar. It might mean chatting through Facebook or LinkedIn. Of course, the telephone is tried and tested, and always a good option. Whatever you use, recognize the need to have at least the same level of communication you have had.
I encourage you to use video conferencing, which is very easy to do with some of the technologies I just mentioned. Visual adds a bit of the human element to our virtual communications. I would caution you to NOT comment on how your employees are dressed, unless it will impact how they interact with customers (that is, if customers will see them). This might be considered harassment. Don’t even joke about it. If, however, anyone on their team will be on video calls with customers or others who need to see them presented professionally, it’s okay to counsel them. Refer to your HR department for more guidance on do’s and don’t’s here.
Work With I.T. to Have Proper Security in Place
At Snowfly we have been going through the very thorough SOC auditing process. I’ve also been involved in PCI compliance, and know there are all kind of audits to ensure your company is run well, with proper processes and security. The last thing you want is for one of your employees to work from home, using a compromised computer that is transmitting sensitive data (passwords, customer data, social security numbers, etc.) or an unsecured internet connection.
Your I.T. team should absolutely be involved in creating systems, policies, and tools to ensure your employees are not putting privacy and security in jeopardy. This might mean providing laptops to your remote workers, or ensuring they use a company-managed VPN. Don’t try figure this out by yourself. You need to pull in the experts. Talk to your I.T. team to ensure this is done right. A security breach because you don’t have the right security in place could make this Coronavirus scare a minor issue.
Be Flexible With Time and Timeliness
If I am accustomed to leaving for the office at 7am, I’ve already been up for an hour getting ready. What if someone on your team wants to start working at 6:00 or 6:30? Maybe their most productive time will be from 6:00 to 8:00! Normally at 8:00 they would just be rolling in, checking their email, and getting ready for the day… but working from home during the early hours might be more productive than what they do the rest of the day!
Let your team know they should identify when they are most productive, and let them work when they should. If someone is going to work in the early morning hours, and I am not, I need to consider they are still working, still doing their job, even if they aren’t online when I am online. Of course, this perspective applies to people who are not needed at a certain time, with customers or internal meetings. Programmers, creatives, and others can do their work when they do their work, as long as they are hitting deadlines and communicating progress well.
Also, consider right now as schools are closing, people might have kids at home that are distracting them and needing their attention. This is something they’ll need guidance on, and a leeway to take care of their family needs during work hours. Everyone needs to be flexible. Times are weird right now. Be human, be kind, be flexible. Let them know you are flexible as long as they are getting the job done. They need to know your expectation is that they still do their job, while not requiring them to sacrifice their family’s needs. Please, communicate regularly about this.
Be More Proactive (and Kind) With Outreach
To combat feelings of isolation, and diminish negative affects of rumors, it’s important to increase communication to each member of your team. One thing I’ve seen, as I have worked with remote teams, is sometimes we need to just have time to to chat. I’m talking about “how are you” and “what’s going on in your life” chatting. It might seem trivial but remember they are going from having these random conversations throughout the day to being isolated at home, where there is no one to talk to. Of course, work talk should happen, but some people on your team will have the need to just connect with other humans on a personal level.
As the manager you should initiate and facilitate those conversations. Make sure your team is feeling heard, can express their concerns, and you can have good conversations around their feelings. This really is a big transition. While we don’t need to dwell on change all the time, we should help them understand that things are okay, the company is okay, and their job and income is okay. This might not come out right away, but if you create an environment where they can talk to you on a personal level, you might understand their fears and concerns better.
Be Considerate About Physical Needs, and Lead By Example Here
One of the biggest challenges I had when I started working from home was rolling from my bed to a recliner, and sitting there for over 10 hours straight, every day. Within a couple of months my body was really feeling the effects of mistreating it. Please, please encourage your team to GET UP and MOVE. You need to do this too. Talk about going on a 5 minute walk, or a 30 minute walk, or an hour walk. Tell them about your walk. Talk about doing yoga, or meditating, or getting on a bike, or anything that gets them physically away from their computer and chair.
The repercussions of long term neglect are long-lasting. It took me months, maybe over a year, to recover. All we are talking about is doing a little movement throughout the day. This can even mean hauling laundry baskets around, or just walking around the house for a few minutes, but we need to GET UP. Be the example for this, and regularly encourage it. Our own CTO, Eli, makes sure when he runs to the little boys room he does 10 push-ups. While this might sound funny, imagine how many push-ups you might get in during the day if you do something like this!
Encourage your team to have healthy snacks close by. At home we might have snacking habits that are different than our snacking habits at work. Our organizational wellness goals don’t change because we are working from home. We need to seriously watch what we put in our body and how we treat our body.
Ensure Your Team Has The Right Tools
Don’t expect your team to do your work on their home computer. This would be an unreasonable and irresponsible expectation. I’ve seen the computers people have in their homes… some of them belong in a museums. Others just belong in the garbage. Empower your team with the right computer (usually a laptop), whatever phone system they need, and then compensate them for high speed internet (because they most likely already have high speed they are paying for right now).
Not only are you unsure of the security and setup of their computer, but the software they have not be compliant with software you need them to use. Maybe their systems aren’t beefy enough to load your software, or you don’t have enough licenses. Maybe multiple family members or roommates use their computer. I could go on and on. Any of these are enough of a reason to NOT have your employees use their home computers to do your work.
Might I suggest that if your employee says, or shows, they will use 2 monitors, that you provide those for them? I have found a massive increase in productivity with multiple monitors (I currently use three). Google it… there’s plenty written on this topic.
Help Workers Identify Boundaries
One of the hardest things to establish when transitioning to work from home is setting up boundaries, usually with others who will be home. Really, you are invading their space. But when they come chat to you, as a favor, want help, etc., they are invading your time. It’s just not productive to have family chat for a couple of hours when you could or should be working.
Of course, you aren’t going to tell your workers HOW to deal with family members or roommates, but you could offer suggestions. This will be especially important for workers who are very kind and accommodating. They might find it hard to be assertive and help others know and respect boundaries. Give them language to use to help establish boundaries, and when you meet with them ask them how boundaries are going. If you have team meetings you might ask everyone how they are doing and dealing with boundaries, and what tips they could give to one another. Remember, sometimes a manager’s job isn’t to have all the answers, but it is to get the right answers to the right people. Tap into your other workers to help with that.
But wait! There’s more!
At Snowfly we are all about performance and incentives. Working at home doesn’t mean you have to see decreased performance. You may have already had metrics in place to help you monitor performance and help you track and deliver incentives and rewards. You may be able to use the very same metrics, even though your team is at home. Perhaps you should adjust the metrics a little. Or create all new metrics.
A peer and manager recognition system can really help your employees feel connected. A properly setup incentive system can help your team know what your expectations are, and feel rewarded for meeting your expectations. This is exactly what we specialize in.
Want to learn how Snowfly can help your team successfully transition to working from home?