The Q & A Guide to Working From Home: 7 Critical Questions Answered with Practical Tips & Tricks
The terms work from home, telecommuting and remote work have been part of corporate parlance for decades. However, these terms – and the actions, processes and policies that undergird them – have usually constituted a ‘Plan B’ for most firms. Only in very rare cases – cash-strapped startups or solo entrepreneurs for example – has work from home been the accepted, normal way of working. But the COVID-19 crisis has put paid to all previous thoughts about what constitutes a normal versus backup way of working. National lockdowns and the need for social distancing have now created a new normal – a situation where working from home is no longer an exception, but almost a rule.
If you too are working from home (or managing a team that is working from home), you may have a lot of questions but don’t know whom to ask. Then this Q&A guide is for you!
Here we answer 7 common questions about working remotely with the hope that they will provide clarity about critical issues that a crisis can raise, such as work continuity, productivity, mental health, virtual meetings and more.
1.Can working from home affect psychological health?
Unfortunately yes, it can. In a physical workplace, simply being around other people can have a profoundly positive effect on performance and productivity. Working from home eliminates such person-to-person contact, which can cause a sense of isolation and loneliness, which can then lead to psychological ill-health.
What is the best way to prevent these problems?
Stay in touch with people!
Talk on the phone to your colleagues and have video conferences with your manager. Even a quick few words exchanged through chat tools like WhatsApp or Wechat for just a few minutes a day can go a long way towards helping you maintain your social connectedness and mental equilibrium.
2.How can I prepare for remote work mentally and psychologically?
For those who call themselves ‘knowledge workers’, working from home requires a mental/psychological shift and not just a physical one. To make the adjustment to this new routine, here are some more ideas that are proven to work:
- Define a start and end time for your work day and make sure you stick to it
- Get dressed instead of lounging in your pyjamas all day
- Take regular breaks
- Eliminate (or at least minimise) distractions
- Eat a healthy diet instead of munching on unhealthy sugary or fried snacks
- Stay hydrated
- Exercise daily
- Stay in touch with your team mates
- 3.How can managers prepare their teams for remote work?
First, managers and leaders must ensure that their people are psychologically ready for the change. Be honest and open with your people. Encourage them to air their doubts and concerns.
Second, get the infrastructure ready. Do your people have the necessary tools to be able to work from home? Laptops? Internet access? Collaboration software? Security keys? Make sure your people have access to the resources they need to do work without interruptions, downtime or productivity loss.
Finally, check in on your team regularly so no one feels left behind or worse, forgotten. Ask questions like, “Is this transition working for you? How can I help make it better so you can continue to do your work?” If they give suggestions, make sure you act on them (or provide a valid reason for why you can’t).
4.How should managers stay in touch with their teams?
It’s up to the manager to decide if they should ‘meet’ with their teams as a group or individually. A mix of both is best – time permitting of course.
Identify a time, set a schedule (how many times a week) and agenda (what needs to be discussed), and make sure everyone who needs to be there is there. Find the best software tool or app that everyone is comfortable using or has easy access to. They shouldn’t have to spend money out of their own pockets to access a new tool.
And remember – virtual meetings don’t have to be serious all the time. They can also be fun! Play housie, have a musical jam session or simply have coffee together. The point is to help maintain the connections you and your team had at the office, and ensure that they remain as strong and meaningful as ever now that you are all working from home.
5.Can working from home affect productivity?
It can, but it doesn’t have to. In fact, a lot of people find that they are more productive when they work from home because they no longer have to face a long commute or office-only distractions such as noisy co-workers or in-person meetings.
If you are a remote worker, these tips will be useful for you:
- Work as per a set schedule. Don’t start late or end late just because you can. Routine is an important element of productivity
- During work hours, don’t do other tasks. You wouldn’t do them when you are in the office so why should you do them now?
- Eliminate distractions. Turn off social media, close Outlook and deactivate the doorbell
- Divide your day into chunks. For example: work time/meeting time/paperwork time/break time, etc
If you are a manager, go back to Q&A 3 & 4.
6.What are some good practices for virtual meetings?
Since the start of the crisis, virtual meetings have become an inseparable part of the work day for workers all over the world. But like in-person meetings, virtual meetings too can morph into massive time-wasters that do little or no good to anyone.
Here are some ideas to make the most of your virtual meetings:
- Opt for video conferencing instead of audio-only meetings: When people can see each other, it makes meetings more personal and therefore more effective
- Test the infrastructure before you start. Everyone should log in a few minutes early, and test their microphone and camera to ensure that everything works the way it’s supposed to
- Spend a few minutes at the start of the meeting asking attendees how they’re doing. Even small talk helps!
- Then introduce the agenda and set ground rules: no interruptions, mobile phones on silent mode, multi-tasking prohibited, no one should speak out of turn, etc
- Involve everyone in the meeting so no one feels left out
- Give everyone a chance to speak
Always follow up a virtual meeting with the minutes or even a quick email thanking everyone for their time and participation. You should also track all action items to ensure that deadlines are met.
7.How do you deal with an employee who is struggling despite your best efforts?
This can happen. The important thing to realise is that this is not an insurmountable problem. Everyone reacts to crises differently, and as a manager or leader, it is your job to ensure that your team members are able to effectively deal with the problems a crisis like this can raise.
First, if you see any signs that an employee is struggling or not completely invested in the team’s work from home efforts, talk to them one-on-one. Be open and honest without being condescending, judgemental or critical. Ask them how you can help. If your organisation provides employee assistance services, connect the employee with the right person in that department. Most importantly, let them know that they are not alone. If you calm people down, and give them confidence and hope, they will be more effective as remote workers. They will also complain less – a great reward in and of itself!
The COVID-19 crisis has changed the way the world operates and it will continue to do so in future as well. More individuals, teams and organisations will make remote work a regular part of their business operations’ repertoire. Today’s experiences will expand everyone’s capacity, bring them closer as human beings and encourage them to learn new skills.
COVID-19 will go away (hopefully soon!) but remote work is definitely here to stay.
The question is – how can you make it work for you?
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-Lion Amir Virani