One of the silver linings to the Coronavirus crisis is that it has opened the doors for remote working for many businesses across the globe. Employees have been forced to work from home in the interest of their safety, and for many, this has had little implications on the business. As many offices are returning to work, some are still considering making working from home a permanent aspect of their Employee Value Proposition.
Previously many expected working from home to be full of distractions, but a recent survey found that employees were actually 13% more productive at home which is the same as adding an extra working day per week. We forget that the office can be a hugely distracting environment, and aspects like commuting or travelling to meetings take time out of the day. Experts are now saying that a significant shift to working from home could be as influential to our future as driverless cars.
But before we all rush into making our temporary work from home strategy a long-term reality, here are some questions that all employers should be asking.
How do we create a community-based company culture?
For many, one of the main issues with working from home as a long-term solution means they will face loneliness and feel isolated. Getting out of the house every day to be in an office with colleagues has many social benefits, from watercooler chats to sharing lunch breaks. It’s reported that 20% of remote workers felt lonely in February 2020, before the lockdown made working from home more commonplace. The same survey revealed 20% of remote workers struggled with collaboration and communication.
Employers must make an extra effort to create a community amongst remote workers and encourage collaborations between individuals and departments as well as provide a space for office chat to continue. Platforms like Microsoft Teams and Slack allow for group messages and instant chats, to recreate the office chitchat virtually. Some businesses take the time out to engage employees in team learning, quizzes or wellness activities to give a break from work. Whichever strategies you put in place, remember that for some employees working from home means they can go for days without seeing another person and their mental health should be a priority going forward.
How can we prevent people from working longer hours and encourage work-life balance?
Remote work means employees are saving a lot of time on a commute. Researchers have discovered working from home saves workers 23.5 days every year that would be spent commuting. It also means that employees are inclined to take shorter breaks, as their breakout space is the same as their office space and will be less likely to take sick days if they can work from home. All these factors show why 40% of employees working from home are working longer hours than they would in a standard working day and show why work from home burnout is a real concern.
Employers must make it their responsibility to check on how many hours their employers are working. Shift focus to productivity rather than the exact number of hours worked, celebrate the work being completed to a high-quality, not the amount of time spent on it. Simple catch-ups to check-in and reviewing workloads often will help. Managers can also play a role in encouraging more of a work-life balance by leading by example, encourage them to openly talk about breaks and discuss popular TV shows, hobbies or activities with their teams.
Are video conferences always necessary?
Zoom saw an average of 200 million daily meeting participants at the beginning of 2020, compared to 10 million in December 2019, and 75% of CEOs predict that video conferencing will replace regular conference calls. Of course, it’s lovely to see the faces of co-workers and video conferences create the illusion that you’re together, even if just for a short time. But since the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve realised that video meetings are incredibly tiring and Zoom fatigue is real.
Amongst other reasons, when in the middle of a video conference we’re anxious about the technology failing, we’re always analysing our own face and expressions, as well as wondering whether our remote workspace and uncontrollable events that might make us look bad to our colleagues. Therefore, it’s no surprise that a video call burns more energy than a traditional face to face meeting when you were in a controlled environment and would have moments out of the spotlight. Plus, before regular meetings, we may go and make a coffee or take five minutes to prepare. When working from home, we might be just working on a task and then we get on to Zoom, often without taking breaks.
Employers need to consider these factors. Maybe they can consider a simple phone call from time to time to take the pressures off or provide team meetups in person once restrictions are eased. Just because video technology is available to us, it doesn’t mean it’s always the best way to communicate.
Will all employees be able to adapt to remote working?
Adjusting to a remote workforce means that corporations must also take precautions to avoid leaving people behind. While millennials and younger employees have grown up with tech, some existing employees may need to be trained to be more digitally savvy. If you wish to create a seamless working from home environment as well as maintain a multi-generational workforce, upskilling or reskilling employees may become essential. Leveraging the unique strengths of each generation creates a more collaborative, engaging environment where employees have more opportunities to learn at work; creating a happier workforce.
Therefore, it’s vital when thinking about remote working as a long-term solution after COVID-19, you ensure your entire workforce has a level playing field when it comes to digital knowledge. Otherwise, you risk losing employees to environments where they feel more comfortable. Don’t assume that just because they’ve been working from home for a while, your employees are all confident in their abilities to continue seamlessly.
Do all employees have the equipment and capabilities to work from home?
To ensure equal opportunities for all, you must also provide the necessary equipment as well as consider access to co-working spaces or an office for when it’s needed. There are concerns that working from home can cause greater inequalities at work as candidates will be expected to have smartphones, laptops and other equipment as well as a designated office space to work from home successfully – which many lower-paid or entry-level employees are unlikely to have. While employers may be able to save money on rent or running costs of an office by offering their employees remote working, they must be prepared to purchase the necessary equipment to make it possible for all.
For some employees, working from home full time causes problems. Maybe they don’t have a designated space where they can work without interruptions, their internet connection isn’t always strong enough, or they need to separate work and home for their mental wellbeing. Providing access to space means that these people are not at a disadvantage when working at home, and they can still perform to the best of their ability.
Can employers build a culture of trust?
The truth is, many office workers could have been working from home for a long time now. Access to technologies like video conferencing, instant messaging and even an internet connection are not a new discovery for the COVID-19 era. However, employers have always held a certain attitude towards work, which lies in tradition. We’re conditioned to leave our homes and go to a place of work; a business environment. It’s what’s always been done and what most businesses accept as the norm. We’ve never had a reason to stray from this normality on a mass scale and if somethings not broken, why fix it right?
This attitude was amplified by attitudes that suggest working from home means slacking off. Employers can’t keep an eye on their team, so how are they to know if they’re sat watching TV with access to their emails or are taking too many breaks. However, the pandemic has proven that employees in many sectors can not only work from home well but that businesses often aren’t impacted, and some workers are actually more productive. In many cases, they enjoy working from home and wish to work harder so they can continue to have the privilege.
Therefore, if leaders wish to offer the option to work from home to all employees going forward, they must show that there is a level of trust. Implementing strategies for communication is a great idea, but a remote workforce must be built mostly on trust, or it doesn’t work.