With the coronavirus pandemic, many have found themselves at home bunkered up next to a copiously stocked fridge and cupboards of toilet paper rolls.
While increased snacking and supply of toilet paper don’t necessarily make for ideal working conditions, there’s potential for much more serious problems to arise. After all, this is an unprecedented and rapid change for our industry, particularly when it comes to working from the office to working from home.
Research shows that one of the biggest threats to employees working remotely is a feeling of isolation. One study has found that remote workers who felt isolated experienced a sharp decline in performance, felt a decreased sense of “belonging”, and had an increased desire to leave their companies altogether.
Establishing good practices while working from home can help bridge the gap between online work and in-office work. Below are five essential strategies to you transition to working from home effectively.
Meet by video. Meeting by video may prevent miscommunications that are inevitable on the phone because humans are by nature visual learners and communicators. Research has shown that our brains naturally pay more attention to visual cues than auditory ones during conversations. Even our memory sharpens in response to what we see rather than what we hear.
Encourage breaks. When it comes to working from home, the default tends to be distrust. Managers seem to want to know about every minute of everyone’s day to make up for the fact that they can’t monitor butt-in-chair minutes like they could in the office. The default should be trust. Workers need breaks to walk, eat, use the bathroom, and socialise, just like they do in an office. Don’t make them feel guilty for every minute spent standing up from their desks. Instead, monitor aspects of the big picture like the quantity and quality of work completed.
Cut out multi-tasking during meetings. One of the biggest killers of communication and productivity is social loitering during calls. You put ten people on a call, and people inevitably begin to feel like they don’t need to be there. The result is usually muted phones, email checks, and snack breaks. When meetings are your only form of communication, it’s especially important to make them count. Try these four methods to keep online meetings on track and communicative:
Call on people to share opinions. Calling on individuals keeps people mentally present during meetings because people are reassured that their opinions matter.
Assign people tasks or roles. Instead of just letting the meeting play out passively with people contributing as they please, ask people to come in with questions, content, or research on a topic.
Address people individually. Carve out a time during weekly meetings (we like to use the first fifteen minutes) to conduct a round-robin meeting where people open about what they’re doing personally and professionally. If this is new to your team, try having the person leading the meeting share first to help set a comfortable precedent for everyone else.
Meet by video. Video meetings elicit more responsibility and add an authentic personal touch.
Try and have a routine. Whether it is going for coffee mid-morning, or heading outside for lunch, and try to keep to as regular work hours as possible. Ensure you make time to get fresh air and exercise each day – a walk around the block before, after and during your lunch break will give you much needed time away from screens. Keep up your water intake and add in some extra fresh fruit and veg to the diet – try not to miss meals.
You can’t communicate enough. The tricky thing about working from home is trying to understand what the people around you are thinking and where they’re coming from. When communication is minimised or confined to formal meetings, people inevitably miscommunicate and feel a growing sense of distrust and isolation. Nip this problem in the bud by erring on the side of over-communication. There are also some forms of communication more unique to working from home, like updating managers with progress on a project more frequently or taking a few minutes to converse casually the way you might in an office.
If you manage people, set up times of open availability for anyone reporting to you. Try to schedule one-on-ones more often than usual. Also, be sure to communicate encouragement and emotional support, even if it feels unnecessary. Recognition goes a long way in fighting isolation by making people feel valued and connected to the organisation.
The key to working from home is giving those extra nudges of effort to show people where you’re coming from as well as trying to understand where they’re coming from. These strategies focus on using technology to make our interactions more human, not less. Maybe there’s a silver lining to all the chaos and change going on right now: People are learning new ways to communicate and get work done, and this has the potential to make work more flexible moving forward. Finally, make sure to do what you can, with what you’ve got, and reach out to family, friends or colleagues if you need to talk.