Transitioning an entire workforce to working from home quickly can be a truly headache-inducing experience. Even employers who already encouraged some workplace flexibility find this particular transition challenging because of the coronavirus pandemic concerns and the frequently changing guidance from the governments of the world.
One of the best ways to keep your work from home transition smooth, however, is to use your employees as your guides: when they raise concerns about how their work will change, focus on what you can provide them and what can be put on hold until a more permanent fix can be found. Use these six procedures to ensure that your work from home team is as well prepared as possible for their rapid transition to working from home.
Provide Headphones, Computing Power, and Other Needed Equipment
While some employees may have a favored set of computing and remote work equipment that they can use, many employees will need an entire set of gear that they can use at home. Rather than forcing uncomfortable conversations, plan to get needed equipment to every work from home employee, offering them the chance to opt-out rather than forcing those who don't have a work-from-home set-up to "opt in" to receiving loaner computers and other equipment.
If your work really benefits from things like ergonomic office chairs, consider providing these or loaning them to your employees. This is not a place to scrimp, if you can possibly afford to outfit your staff well. Their productivity is only as good as their tools!
Set Some Company-Wide Guidance On Meeting Frequency
Many first-time work-from-home managers err on the side of too many meetings, worrying that some office morale was tied to informal catch-up and connection across cubicles or in break rooms. While this may be true for certain employees, it is very helpful to everyone at the company for the owner to offer some guidance on when mandatory meetings will be held, how many people will be involved in group check-ins, and whether the team prefers phone, instant message, or email correspondence.
It's easy to have one's entire day eaten up in video conference calls, so aim for a happy medium where many issues are resolved quickly via instant messages and email, especially since people may be receiving more of this than usual. Consider offering highly-optional "virtual happy hours" where employees who miss the in-office chitchat can catch up and discuss work informally, but err on the side of fewer meetings, especially since technical difficulties occasionally eat up the time of all the participants.
Make Individualized Plans For Employees With Unavoidable Caregiving Responsibilities
In this particular scenario, many employees have found themselves taking care of parents, relatives, or children due to the closure of adult day centers, schools, and other places where family members may usually spend their time. Try to have your management check in with each team member, especially if you typically keep a strict schedule for times when people in your company are working. This is a great time to consider more workplace flexibility, be it 4-day workweeks so that some caregiving burden can be shared with a partner, or shorter workweeks, or shifted hours that can be accomplished at the time that works best for the employee.
While these may have to be extenuating-circumstances-only changes, don't discount what you learn from offering workplace flexibility. Consider it a natural experiment, where you can learn what kinds of flexibility your teams value and which ones actually help your company's productivity.
Evaluate What Processes Need Modification Or Need to Be Tabled During Work From Home
Every company has different tasks to accomplish, and some of them become nearly impossible with everyone working from home suddenly. Make a point to evaluate the functioning of the company early in your work from home journey. If there are difficult-to-manage elements of your typical process, figure out ways to change them without reducing quality, or ways to push those elements of projects till after work from home ends. Your employees rely on you for clear guidance on these issues, and you can reduce their stress a lot by making these processes clear.
Encourage the Perks, Like Healthy Cooked Lunches and Taking Walks for Breaks
While some companies will need to keep a strict schedule as usual, most can let employees start a little later in the morning, shift their schedule early in the morning, or take their lunch at the time that most suits them, barring important meetings. Giving your employees the chance to cook and eat at a leisurely pace or take a quick walk as a break is not just a perk for them; it's a chance for you to encourage their mental health and morale at a time when they really need it.
Re-Evaluate Using Feedback to Narrow in on Productivity and Employee Satisfaction
You'll learn a lot about how your company works during Work From Home, so make sure that you aren't wasting the feedback that your employees can provide. Every week or two weeks, check in with employees and ask candidly what they need in order to maintain or up their productivity, and what kinds of roadblocks or stressors are making it harder to do their jobs. When it isn't possible to remove a stressor or obstacle, talk through what might make it less intense or what might reassure them.
The feedback has to be requested and received in a way that works for your employee culture if you want to get the real answers you need. If your teams need this to be via an anonymous form, that works, but it also might be easier in one-on-one meetings with a manager or in small co-worker groups, where they submit their collected feedback together. Make sure you do everything you can to eliminate worries of retribution, since this feedback should be focused on the challenges of the circumstances, not on the behaviours of specific coworkers or management.
By following these six ways of helping your employees, you make their transition more smooth and take a lot of the organizational leadership on yourself, making it easier for them to make decisions. Your employees will appreciate clear structure to their new Work From Home experiences.