New solutions needed for remote workers to overcome the challenges of working from home
No more commute, no more annoying co-workers, no more supermarket sandwiches for lunch… Employees get more done more quickly. Employers save money on expensive real estate. Swapping the office for home working is a true win-win. Or is it?
While there is evidence that employees are more productive when they work remotely, they’re also more likely to overdo it, sacrifice their home life and even suffer from stress. Let’s look at how you and your employees can enjoy the benefits of remote working while minimising the risks.
So how can we overcome the challenges of working from home?
Beware of distractions
Some people end up finding a convenient coworking space or coffee shop, but the reality is that most remote working is actually home working. And we all know that when you’re working from home, you can get sidetracked. Faced with a daunting project or boring admin, it can be tempting to reorganise the kitchen cupboards again or finally get around to that postponed DIY job. Not to mention the distractions of smartphones, tablets and games consoles.
There are a couple of clear ways to help employees resist the temptation. First help them keep work and home separate, by encouraging them to have a designated work area. Ideally this should be a separate ‘garden office’ or spare room, but of course not everyone has the luxury of space. However, it should at least be a dedicated desk in a quiet part of the house. Many people find it helps to incorporate objects from their ‘real’ office to set the tone. And you should discourage them from using this space for non-work activity.
It’s worth doing an audit to find out if there’s anything missing from their new working environment, particularly suitable home office equipment. This might include a chair that’s fit for an eight-hour working day, an ergonomic mouse pad or a large, separate monitor.
Managing computer use is another smart idea. Train employees on how to maintain a clean desktop and efficient browsing habits. Show them how to keep work and personal internet use clearly demarcated. Ideally on a different device, but in any case using different browser windows.
Working from home makes it much harder to draw a line under the day – and some employees find it hard to switch off. It’s up to you to be proactive and help them.
First, keep a close eye on holiday entitlement and insist they take their full allowance. They need to realise that the organisation can function without them. Then, make sure they enter their working hours in your corporate online calendars and don’t work outside these. Check they’ve set up reminders to take regular breaks. And make sure department heads organise non-optional online get-togethers – maybe over coffee or lunch – that can give employees a break and a jolt of motivation.
Having uninterrupted time and space to focus is one thing; isolation is another. It’s an all-too-common experience that can lead to mental health problems for the employee and broader issues for the organisation, as people become disengaged and dissatisfied. Encourage staff to socialise, in person and via online tools, so they can share experiences, talk about non-work stuff and remember what it’s like to be part of a tribe.
It’s also important that employees get involved in professional forums, networking platforms, education and training. Communicating with other people in a similar situation makes them feel more connected and lets them share tips and techniques.
Collaborate and communicate
Most dispersed workforces depend on collaboration tools that aim to replicate – or even outperform – the traditional office processes of meetings and reports. Many platforms enable people to work together on documents or share files. Messaging software allows them to talk about ideas and challenges in real time. Email provides a more formal record and video calls can work well for brainstorms or longer, multi-person conversations. Experiment until you’ve found the right blend for your organisation.
Working from home, often alone in the house, can lead to employees losing track of time. Poor time management quickly becomes a problem for both the employee and the employer. This is where online calendars come in, enabling people to block off set hours for projects and meetings. And the old favourite – a weekly to-do list – is surprisingly galvanising and motivating.
When things go badly wrong
Like it or not, you’ve got to plan for the worst. One far-reaching impact of the pandemic is that organisations are reviewing their approach to disaster recovery. How do you protect your data and IT infrastructure in a distributed workforce?
First, review your risks and revisit your strategy. If you’re now effectively working on consumer-grade broadband with consumer-grade security, you’ve almost certainly got a problem. You are more vulnerable to cybercrime, including ransomware, phishing, denial-of-service attacks and more. Many organisations have responded to the pandemic by opening up remote access or moving services to the cloud, but both bring their own risks.
You also have to decide out how your disaster recovery plan will work in practice, including communications among the response team and with staff in general. It’s also important to allow for potential lockdown conditions, which might limit people’s ability to travel and meet.
And you need new training plans that address the real issues. Preventing phishing and other attacks is harder when staff are beyond the protective umbrella of a central system. It’s amazing how much of our security awareness comes from face-to-face contact with IT experts in the office. This is really tricky to achieve remotely.
Addressing these threats demands new thinking and processes that may be hard for the everyone. But ignoring them is not an option. The world has changed and it’s time to adapt.