Working from home: The new normal
In the recent past, lockdown in many countries due to Covid-19 has forced organisations to allow their employees to work from home (WFH). There is also a greater realisation that WFHs might become a normal practice for many jobs that can leverage communication and digital tools. A strategic view of addressing WFH can be seen as answers to three key questions:
1. What should the organisations be focused on enabling for their employees who work from home?
2. What are the things that managers and leaders need to keep in mind to facilitate such that their employees are productive?
3. What are the key things that one should consider and manage as they work from home?
What should the organisations be focused on enabling for their employees who work from home?
Computer - Provide the employee with the right computer (configurations, processing power, disk space, etc). Take care to provide with your employee with collaboration tools which facilitate in them conducting day to day activities where video meetings, audio calls, group chats and chats become enablers. Organisations may choose to procure, install and reach this to their employee or they could have pre-set arrangements from their vendor who allows some kind of interface that allows for an employee to replace or be given a new laptop (in cases of new employees). Organisations can set their own processes that allow for a multilevel approval process which in turn triggers this buy and reaches the computer to their employee.
Headphones and cameras - Although laptops come with microphones it is advisable to recommend and potentially provide the employee with noise cancellation headphones with microphones. Ensure that the cameras are enabled.
UPS - There is a need for the employees to provide with some type of a power backup device that ensures that the employee can fulfill their duties. There needs to be associated ethics trainings that ensure that the devices are used only for official purposes.
WIFI - Although many may have broadband setups, the organization may want to provide to reimburse the employee for this cost incurred.
WIFI (Mobile device) - For those who may need to travel or in cases where critical work is performed the organization may choose to provide an additional device to their employee.
Furniture allowance - The organisation needs to mandate the type of seating that the employee will utilize when they work from home, this is key because the damages that can be caused to ones body when the right seating arrangement is not made while working longer hours is high and in future this could become a huge law suite cause for employers.
Software that facilitates meetings - The organisation has a choice to procure dedicated or open tools that the employees can utilise for their meetings.
Shared calendars - There needs to be right type of policies that allows creation of right groups, and access to employees calendars.
Common repository - There needs to be common repositories that all the employees / groups / teams can utilize such that information can be shared between them without creating data load or multiple versions of the same output. The individuals and teams will need space to store their meeting discussion recordings and should be able to access them when needed, this also needs the right archival, backup and other related policies to be setup.
Standard operating procedures for requests which include procurement, reimbursements etc need to be set-up with clear processes (Example: escalation paths).
Monitoring is not mandatory but based on organizations need and their performance depending on the time and effort put in by their resources, there is a potential for some metering solution to be put in place that tracks active hours on work, to address employees using their own devices for work some mandatory software implementation can be enforced.
Onboarding and exit processes need to be setup keeping WFH in mind.
Depending on the industry/client /function that the employee works, there may be varied levels of security levels for which different solutions may need to be installed and managed for their employees.
Ensure that there is clear articulation and policy about what can be shared or not in social media about work.
What are the things that managers and leaders need to keep in mind to facilitate such that their employees are productive?
Message the employees at a decent frequency with clear and concise communications. Most of the employees like to know where the organisation is heading and it is important that they hear from their leaders with key messages and initiatives from time to time. Show that you care, there may be a need to sponsor digital health programs in addition to existing organisational trainings and this can do good for the employees. Utilise new avenues like podcasts, mandatory podcasts can also be tracked to ensure that the employee has gone through it from beginning to end, utilise videos and other new mediums to reach employees.
Create avenues where mandated hours are assigned for employees to up skill and train themselves.
Ensure that the next level employees are clear of the organisations expectations and KPI’s where relevant. Keep a watch on how these KPI’s are passed downstream such that right reports can be created to manage performance of teams/functions.
Understand each of your resource that report in to you. Have clear performance objectives and result areas. Find avenues to empower resources that will avoid micro management. Utilise the shared calendar to ensure that for any official work a meeting is setup and the resource reached for they could be working on some job when you attempt calling which will in long term hinder productivity as some need longer times to get back in to their zones.
Building a culture of listening, ensure that everyone is heard, encourage non active participants, encourage video calls such that the team can see each other, allow for them to interact using chat tools, this will allow them to stay connected.
Celebrate every small win.
Ensure that when you are providing bad feedback to an employee it is done in a call where the are alone and where relevant have your HR partner engaged in this conversation.
Facilitate that the infrastructure, allowances and other queries that arise from your team are closed. Help them break barriers where needed. Encourage new ways of working and thinking when time permits.
When there are issues and they are discussed keep the forum limited to “Need to know” basis. Create examples based on these experiences which will feed policies and employee trainings about best practices.
Hold your team responsible for their promises made in quality and timelines of your deliverables to your organisations and clients.
Identify interest areas of employees and create avenues for learnings for them.
During conflict resolution between parties, minimise participants to only who are needed. Allow for each party to present their view and solution, choose the right solution.
When accessing performance and sharing feedback do better than “good job” take your time to explain what went well, and what did not, narrate instances where the team member(S) went above and beyond. Share these experiences as learnings and wins. This will ensure that there are minimal issues when yearly increments/incentives are dolled out.
Get in to the habit of documenting every critical job and contributions of team members. When there are jobs that are repetitive in nature identify ways in which better performers can be identified by creating the right set of KPI’s that is aligned to your organisation/clients organization.
Have weekly standup, ensure that the team is following best practices like task lists, meeting minutes and other practices that you mandate to your team.
Have one on one conversations with team members that report in to you at a set frequency, allow them to reach out to you in case they need to speak with you. Encourage the same to your downward reports such that all of them feel like there is an avenue where their voice is heard.
When an issue is seen and improvement eras are identified, make decisions where these team members are provided with the feedback and action plan such that there is clarity of your expectations and allows for ongoing improvement of team members.
What are the key things that one should consider and manage as they work from home?
Many of the points that are stated here will also apply to Managers and Leaders.
Ensure that you setup a standard routine clock when you start and close work. For jobs where this is not possible manage the right number of hours. It is your responsibility to keep a track of the hours that you put in to your job. When the number of hours exceed your organisations weekly set hours for over a month and you force the load continuing in he oncoming months/year, ensure that this is highlighted to your manager such that it enables them to decide whether they need to add another resource.
Do not encourage random calls from employees with reference to work, ensure that you stick to the process of them requesting for time through the organisational calendar. There are exceptions and ensure that you have a list handy from your organisation’s leadership or manager.
Take right amount of breaks, hydrate and eat on your set schedules.
Utilise ergonomic seating when your job is to sit for hours at the same spot.
Ensure that you have a designated area and let your family members know that you are not to be disturbed when you are at your designated area of work between the times set.
Utilise video capability for the meetings such that you can view each others expressions.
Utilise chat features to get quick responses (imagine this to be a scenario where you walk over to a desk for some immediate answer to some query)
Work on listening skills, wait your turn to highlight the points.
Ensure that when a meeting is initiated there is a designated notes taker (this probably will become call recordings, so this nominated personnel has to store the recording in the right area and pass on the links).
After the end of every meeting it is a good practice to have action points where the action, assigned owner and expected outcome date is added and circulated to all the participants such that there is no doubt in who is working on any area of work.
Proactive communication is key and doing this will typically avoid being micromanaged. Enable your immediate boss with information that is needed before he has to ask for it.
Highlight issues proactively and in advance such that your boss is not surprised at any point of time.
Utilise time present for trainings, avail cross training avenues. Volunteer for projects/initiatives that will better your skills, ensure that you do not overcommit leading to expected deliverables being affected.
Ensure that there is an ecosystem that is created that helps your mental health. Manage food habits, work life balance, hobbies (old/new), exercises and speaking to the ones you trust.
(The writer, Allwin Pio, is a CRM professional and consultant, and an amateur rock climber who dabbles in digital sketching as well. The views expressed here are personal.)