If Working From Home Becomes a Necessity, What's the Reality?
Here, we offer some touchy-feely human stuff to keep your home workers happy and engaged.
In Coronavirus: Your Five-Point Battle Plan for Home Working, we listed the main technical elements for enabling your people to work from home. But remote working poses more than IT challenges. We’re social animals and - contrary to the green-eyed belief of office-bound peeps, working from home is not all cosy pyjamas and keeping on top of the laundry.
Of course, there are benefits - I spend a lot of time researching and appreciate a quiet space to focus. And zero commuting is better for the environment. However, in my experience, loneliness soon replaces the novelty. Missing the simple joys of human interaction, I occasionally strike up a conversation with Alexa (FYI, Amazon, thanks, but you have a way to go yet).
Here are five simple ways to keep your remote people content:
Take Time to Talk About Stuff Other Than Work
In all the crazy busy, it’s easy to forget that when you’re on a call with someone at home, you might be the only person they talk to in hours or even that day. Unless they’re a drone, they’d probably appreciate a bit more than a quick howareyoubutIdontreallymeanit.
Don’t obsess over ‘what next’ and get caught up in a relentless cycle of task management. Take time to comment on a job well done. A few positive words or sincere thanks cost nothing and go a long way. Microsoft Yammer's Praise feature and Kudos, LinkedIn's virtual high-five, are popular at IT Lab.
Trust Your People, and Respect the Boundaries
Unless they give you cause not to, trust your team is devoting the hours necessary to do their best job.
Switching off after clocking off can be tricky when working from home. The punctuation marks of the day, like saying goodnight and unwinding to music in the car, aren’t there.
As a manager, see that your team has healthy boundaries. Of course, there will be times when you need to speak with them out of hours, but an 'always on' culture leads to burnout. And do you need to send that !!! loaded email at 10 pm, or can it wait until morning?
In the workplace, you’re always - consciously or unconsciously, taking the temperature of your organisation. You’re aware when something major is happening or when colleagues are under pressure. Your home-based folks don’t get these cues. If that stressed colleague ignores their emails or sends a snippy message, they have no context for it.
And your remote peeps also miss out on those bonding chats over a boiling kettle. These conversations – and the ones overheard – often surface useful information or news.
Keeping your remote team in the loop doesn’t have to be hard. A weekly catch up or quick updates on the likes of Yammer or Microsoft Teams are probably enough. But if it’s something vital, then make sure they’re not the last to know or worse, find out for themselves.
I only learned that a previous employer was embarking on a significant restructure when I spotted their job ads on LinkedIn. Of course, they didn’t set out to make me feel second-class (although I confess, I took a spin on my broomstick before appreciating this). They were so caught up in getting things done they didn’t think.
You might find the resources in this blog useful: A Guide to Getting the Most from Microsoft 365: Part Two where we point to some great collaboration tools like Microsoft Teams, Yammer and Stream.
Don’t forget to flick your transmit switch to receive too. In a pacey online meeting, be mindful and inclusive. Pause to invite questions and encourage those who’ve been quiet to voice their thoughts. And foster a safe space for this. Don’t interrupt or be too quick to dismiss their views before an audience.
One way of building trust is to show your own vulnerability; if you’re finding things tough going – say so. Your team won’t think you’re weak (believe me), they’ll respect you all the more for your honesty.
And my last tip for good comms: consider staff surveys. IT Lab does this exceptionally well. There are regular questionnaires on a variety of topics, and our people can raise anything that might be on their minds. Often, directors and senior managers reply directly. And following up is essential; if you don't react to feedback or communicate improvements, then your employees may stop engaging.
Inject Some Fun
I miss laughing with colleagues, and sorry again, Alexa, you’re just not funny. Explore creative ways to spark fun - I had a video chat with a colleague who asked his adorable little boy to say hello. Another gave me a virtual tour of her new house. Let’s not be afraid to drop our corporate personas and enjoy getting to know each other better.
You could have tea and cake ‘together’ during your weekly video team meeting or a competition for the most impressive pet/cactus /home office. At Christmas time, IT Lab runs an advent quiz, with the chance to win a small prize every day. I felt more connected to the business and looked forward to it, even though I never won a thing!
Image: my home office, and yes, the cactus was staged for the photo.
If you’re not reading this in the comfort of your home, the reality is that you may be joining the UK’s (and the globe’s) growing remote workforce soon. We hope you and yours stay well. For our next blog, we’re thinking of sharing things you can do to help yourself. How to stay productive without going stir crazy, that sort of thing. Hey, Alexa, what do you think?