Technology has been advancing. I knew that, you knew that, we all knew that. And with this advancement, so has one’s ability to work from home become increasingly accessible for employees across a variety of industries as everything slowly moves online and more collaboration tools are introduced. However, despite all this, employees still continued their daily journey of commuting to their physical office, while squeezing like sardines in trains or buses. We had all the right tools in place, but we never got the opportunity to test them out just yet. Until now.
The coronavirus pandemic has therefore tested this ability by causing all but essential businesses to close their physical offices and rely on remote workers to continue productivity. I mean, it was just yesteryear when employees were still taking the 1/2/3+ hour journey to the office. But now? Employees have gained an additional 1/2/3+ hour of sleep! How great is that!
But like many things in life, all good things come with its negatives. Though work life balance might have increased, employees now have to juggle work with taking care of their children/elderly parents, homeschooling, cooking meals, household chores, etc. Their 9am-6pm work hours might have instead become a 9am-12 midnight day, with longer extended hours and an increasing blurred line between work and family time.
So how can one ensure that their employees are working from home efficiently and productively?
Encourage Dedicated Work Space
Many regular office workers have never needed a dedicated workspace in their homes before, but if they are now regularly working from home, managers and supervisors should encourage the creation of home offices that are separate from communal spaces.
Dedicated workspaces can help free employees from the normal distractions from home life. With many parents needing to be at home with their children due to school closures or only having school on alternate days now, an office away from family can allow employees to maintain focus and stay on task.
Even if this office is a temporary makeshift space — such as a guest room, basement, or attic — this can help employees mentally separate work from home, resulting in better employee productivity.
Equipping your team with Tech and Productivity Tools
Another important way to help teams succeed while working remotely is to provide the necessary tools employees need to stay connected and work efficiently.
Equipping teams with these technology and productivity tools thus allows managers and employees to all stay on the same page while working remotely.
- Having collaboration platforms such as having Enterprise File Synchronisation and Sharing solutions, and chat/messaging/video conferencing apps such as Microsoft Teams
- Ensuring that all of the office laptops and monitors are working in top condition when employees plan on bringing them home.
- Keeping all software updated and making sure no equipment will crash unexpectedly.
- Ensuring that all the employees have a good speed internet connection at home
Establish Working Hours, Give Flexibility and Understand Employees’ Situation
This is an important one. As mentioned earlier, it is very easy for employees to work longer hours late into the night and even on weekends, which thus blurs the lines between work and family. Therefore, if your employees normal working hours are from 9 am to 6 pm, ask your employees if they’d like to follow this schedule, or if they would prefer a more flexible arrangement.
It is also important to reach out to your team to understand their home situation and background a bit better. This is because, some employees might have to home-school their children or take care of elderly parents during the day. For instance, if she is a working single mother, try to adjust schedules as per her children’s priority hours and give her flexibility to work in her chosen hours.
And on a completely different reason, some of your team members might just thrive better and work more productively late at night or very early in the morning, when they are in the correct headspace to do so!
So giving employees the flexibility is thus important in ensuring employee productivity.
In addition, this also tells them that you trust them with completing their targets on time in their desired work hours outside of standard 9-6 office routine.
Trust your Employees
Trusting your team while they are working under your nose is an easy thing to do. But trusting your team while they are working remotely is definitely a harder pill to swallow, but an even more necessary one to take.
Trust is built by one’s behavior, one’s communication skills and one’s management skills. It does not mean calling your team incessantly throughout the day to check in on them or constantly messaging them to check their progress. It should not feel like you are breathing down their necks or watching them like a hawk!
So like mentioned earlier, understand your employees’ home situation and background, and give them the flexibility as long as they are able to finish what they are tasked to do! Your leadership skills and humane side must therefore come out equally to ensure trust between managers/supervisors and the team.
And when we start trusting our team, our productivity concerns at the workplace automatically fades away.
Establish Daily Check-Ins
With managers no longer getting daily face time with employees and employees not being able to chat around their cubicles or in the pantry, creating a daily check-in routine is an important way to set priorities and foster connections.
A morning check-in via video chat, phone call or instant message, using collaboration tools such as Microsoft Teams, can create a sense of belonging and normalcy. These check-ins can be one-on-one or held among small groups.
This is also a great way to stay productive and can assist with:
- An overview of what was achieved the day before, and what they want to achieve for the day ahead
- The alignment of goals and tasks as a team
- Any issues or concerns by the team
- Improved communication across teams
- Accountability and overall productivity
But remember, keep the check-in short and sweet! And try not to keep your employees in meetings the whole day, as long meeting hours can make employees unproductive because they can never get to their actual tasks!
Maintain Regular Contact
Communication. Communication. Communication. That is the most important thing in any company, and for any company to be successful in the long run.
And what’s more is that the main thing employees like to feedback on is about communication, or rather, the lack of communication!
And of course, with most employees still working remotely now, it is a thousand percent more necessary for regular communication to minimize any misunderstandings, confusion or uncertainty amongst employees.
However, there are also many forms of communication.
Within the team, it is important for colleagues to regular communicate and update one another either by quick daily stand-ups with the team, or short weekly team catchups. This is especially crucial if multiple members in the team are working on the same project or shared tasks, to ensure that everyone is on the same page and to complete these tasks efficiently.
From a supervisor or team head level, it is important to establish clear expectations and goals of what you expect of your team. Also, it is important to make it a rule in the team that if anything urgent is sent via email, that the person should also sent a chat message to the receiver to alert them of that email. Because let’s face it, employees have countless of emails spamming their inboxes every day, so that important email might just get lost somewhere in the dust! And one more thing, the very best leaders in the world don’t just care about having their teams deliver great work and results, but they also care that their team members are happy and healthy.
From a managerial or top-down point of view, having a transparent and open communication with the employees is the most important thing to build trust and to make employees feel assured. So don’t be afraid of regularly sharing the company’s business performance or new projects, or having weekly or monthly updates from the senior management or even the CEO. Because, just remember, over-communicating is way better than under-communicating anything!
It is also especially important during this coronavirus pandemic to provide regular updates to employees such as whether employees will continue to work from home after the ease of restrictions, when they will have to return to the office, what the new normal work process will look like for the company, what crisis management response plan is currently in place, what changes will be made to their office workspace to prioritize employees’ health and hygiene when returning to work, etc. This list is of course not exhaustive.
Encouraging your team to take Regular Lunch and Coffee Breaks
In the office, once the clock hits 12pm or 1pm, productivity suddenly drops to zero and employees’ brains are suddenly wired to have only one thing in mind – “LUNCH”! And so it begins, the flurry of questions going around the office of “want to go for lunch now?” But of course, when working remotely, and especially if you are living alone, there is no one around you to ask (or remind) you to take your lunch or coffee breaks. It sounds basic, but we all know how easy it can be to be too caught up with work and meetings that one either forgets about their rumbling tummy or simply do not have the time to sit down and have a proper meal!
Therefore, as much as possible, managers and supervisors should encourage their team to take their dedicated one-hour of lunch break to rest and rejuvenate their minds, with a ‘no eating lunch at your desk’ rule!
And if you want to make sure your team is actively taking their breaks and not replying work emails, why not send them calendar invites so their time is officially blocked off?
This is also an opportunity for employees to get up, stretch and refocus, which will do your team a world of good.
By taking regular breaks, your team will:
- Be more focused and productive
- Have improved mental health
- Be more creative in their thinking and work
Remind your Team of the Importance of their Physical and Mental Health
In the office, once the clock hits 6pm or 7pm, you visibly start to see your colleagues slowly shutting down their computers, packing up and getting ready to head back home for the day. However, when working at home, time becomes fluid, and working time and relaxing/ family time slowly becomes a blur and blends into one. Managers and supervisors should thus try to ensure their employees “clock out” at their usual time.
They should also stress the importance of taking care of one’s physical and mental health to their employees. I mean, let’s face it, when working from home, it can be so easy to neglect one’s physical health. But here’s the thing, one’s physical health has never been more important to focus on than now! For starters, by keeping healthy, employees will be less prone to getting the virus. Next, it can get your endorphins flowing and improve one’s overall mental health during an unsettling time. And, with the restriction of measures, some employees probably have not left their house in a few months! So while previously, they could “exercise” by walking to the train or bus station, going out of their house, etc., employees now probably barely take a hundred steps a day! And that is only moving around their own home!
This can be done so by using the time one takes to usually commute to and from work to do some physical exercises, work outs, or yoga, going on runs or simply just taking a walk. Even 30 minutes will do one good!
John Fitch & Max Frenzel, co-authors of Time Off Book (out in May) also suggest that we calculate the amount of time we normally have to commute and translate that time to our “rest” allowance. This is time for us to detach from our work. So instead of starting our day off by stressing out about getting somewhere on time, invest that time into either a relaxing ritual that gets you to a calm and clear state of mind or invest it into winding down your day so that you don’t form a habit of working into the night.
Moreover, while working from home, managers and supervisors should also encourage their employees to eat healthily. I mean, if you have this opportunity to finally not eat hawker food everyday, why not make good use of it!
In fact, a WHO reports that “adequate nutrition can raise your productivity levels by 20 percent on average.”
You’ll be better able to focus and accomplish tasks when you’ve eaten properly.
Provide Emotional and Steady Support
Working from home for an extended period of time, especially if one is living alone, can contribute to loneliness and negative emotions. Hence, managers and supervisors should do what they can to provide emotional support to employees.
This can be done by being more available and present on instant messaging apps, such as Microsoft Teams, than usual for check-ins and other questions that may come up given the unfamiliar circumstances, and also being more understanding and showing concern and care for employees’ situations. They should also be forthcoming and open so employees will feel more comfortable in confiding their difficulties in getting tasks done with their managers or supervisors.
Self-care should also be encouraged among employees, who mentally are trying to adapt to remote work, the stress of new environments and the stress of daily updates around COVID-19. Managers should advocate for Remote employees to exercise, get quality sleep, take showers, and continue on with lives as normally as they can.
Set intentional after-hours “coffee chats”
There is a built-in social environment in an office. People grab lunch, have coffee together, chit-chat while waiting for meetings to start and more. However, much of this is removed in a remote environment if you are not intentional about it.
Again, the key here is to be intentional. So set up a repeated calendar invite outside of working hours to catch up with colleagues and the team, to discuss any non-work related matters! It can range from talk about employees’ new hobbies and interests, or even to family or political issues. An example is a biweekly virtual happy hour call (no drinking necessary) or even a virtual team-building exercise to build/maintain relationships between colleagues.
This will help to build a great feeling of camaraderie and help employees relieve stress as well, resulting in enhanced productivity.
Because, remember, never underestimate the power of a good laugh and good conversation between your employees.
These are just a few recommendations that may help managers and supervisors ensure their employees are working from home more efficiently and productively. And who knows, your employees might even become more productive at home than in the office!
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