What has become clear from the forced changes to workforces around the world is that the traditional concept of a workplace no longer applies in the 21st century. The development of technology has allowed us to take our work where ever we are in the world. The freedom to work wherever and whenever has recently only been available to self-employed, to social media influencers who promote brands relevant to their interests and mostly those who have taken on drop-shipping or Amazon businesses. Now many larger companies are realising the opportunities that the idea of a worker free workplace offers. With home-based employees, the need for large office space diminishes, allowing companies the ability to restructure office spaces as collaboration areas. It also reduces unnecessary socialisation within the office, productivity downtime, reduces meeting times, and in turn has created greater productivity.
Just a few short months ago, many of us would have argued against staying at home. The mere thought of not going to the office to work was unthinkable. We have had drummed into us for decades the idea of protecting work, life balance, the separation of our income providing work and our personal life has been important to maintaining a stress-free existence. But has it? Most of us were spending long hours each day on public transport or on the road, to work and home each day and to client meetings. This was wasted time that could have been better spent looking after our physical and mental needs.
One of the most exciting things to come out of the changing workplace and working conditions has been the increased productivity of employees.
For many, the ability to adapt their workday around their personal commitments has created a more relaxed, effective employee. Employees not constrained to normal office hours are realising that they can start work earlier or later and adapt their routine to enhance their personal life, allowing more time for family and friends, exercise, and relaxation. We are able to integrate more of the types of time we need on a daily basis as prescribed by Dr Dan Seigal, a clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA School of Medicine, Author and executive director of the Mindful Institute in his Wheel of Awareness.
But the idea of working from home doesn’t suit everyone. Some employees need the structure a workplace can offer them as it physically and mentally removes them from home life distractions. This is due to the employee’s inability to create firm boundaries with those sharing their home, not having a dedicated space to work in, ineffective time management practices, or a combination of some, or all of these factors. Aside from the dedicated workspace problem, most of these issues will be evident regardless of whether the employee works from home or in the office. Staff members that are easily distracted by unexpected interruptions may not have had sufficient training in creating effective time management skills and these employees will be just as easily distracted at work as they are at home. It has nothing to do with their environment but everything to do with their inability to remain centered or focused on the job at hand.
Now, more than ever before, If managers do decide to allow employees to continue working from home it is vitally important to set key performance goals and create open communication channels between employees and their supervisors and team members. Learning to recognise the signs of a distracted or ineffective employee can help you work with that person to achieve the desired results, but how do you do that if you are working with a remote team?
Holding regular virtual meetings
Technology has allowed us to continue with regular meetings with little to no fuss. If you hold regular meetings for your sales, management, or operations team, it is important to continue with these meetings as if everyone was in the office, but virtually. When employees start working from home, increase the number of meetings, but keep them short. Set your agenda and adhere to it. Over the past few months, we have increasingly found that many of our employees would congregate in the virtual waiting room at least 10 minutes prior to the meeting start to catch up with each other.
It is also important to set virtual meeting etiquette. This means that everyone should have access to video and sound for the meeting and have the video on at the start of each meeting. It is only when the meeting starts that the video is allowed to be turned off. If you are not speaking, your microphone should be muted. If you have something your wish to contribute then use the chat option to let the meeting host know.
Keep your employees engaged
Working from home after working in a large bustling office can sometimes feel like solitary confinement. For others, the escape from the office noise may be just what the doctor ordered. Create inclusive activities, but do not make them compulsory as many may feel pressured to comply and that can create stress for them. Create an online cooking class, set a work challenge (that can’t be solved on the internet), create virtual exercise classes or create an informal collaboration get together, where employees can just get together virtually, take time out, and chat.
Developing written key performance criteria
Each employee needs to have clarity around their position, including the objectives and outcomes for each task. If you document your expectations clearly then there’s no confusion if the employee does not meet them. Each task needs to be achievable and the process on how to achieve this needs also to be documented. If these are not met, then it allows you to establish a pattern of behaviour and subsequently address that and how to overcome the behaviour with the staff member.
Take one on one time with your employees
While group contact is important, it is also important to have one on one conversations on a regular basis with your employees. These informal conversations need to be open and sincere. You need to ask how they are going, what problems they are having, identify any issues and work together to resolve them. Your staff also need to be accountable for their time, so if you are unable to contact them during working hours you need to help them understand that when they are not available to you, or other employees, they are a weak link in the business and you need to assist them to resolve whatever it is that is taking them away from their work.
If, during this one on one contact, you find that your employee is working from their car instead of home or that when you call you realise that the television is on, children running around or even like one situation I encountered, a child banging on a saucepan during a virtual meeting, then you may find that their home life is not conducive to working from home and other arrangements, like coming back into the office may be necessary.
Sharing the tips below with your workforce may help them to become more effective employees.
As an employee working from home is it also important to plan your workday. Here are some tips on how to create that life balance you have always wanted.
Create a dedicated workspace at home
Like open-plan offices, working in a busy area of your home often leads to distraction, particularly when your children or partner is home as well. If you do not have a separate office space to use, create a corner in a bedroom or little-used room that you can dedicate to work. Set the expectation with your family that when you are in that space, you are working and not available. To prevent interruptions, organise your time to allow for catch-ups with family members.
Take regular time out
While time at work is important, so is time out from work. Learn to work in 50 minute blocks and allow yourself 10 minutes at the beginning or end of each hour to stretch your legs, take in some sunshine, practise deep breathing or catch up with the children. This time out is vital to your ability to focus on the job at hand and maintain productivity. This becomes your third space at the end of the day as you transition from work to home life, so allow yourself downtime at the end of your workday. Whether its 10 minutes or an hour, you need that time to yourself before you start your role as a parent or partner.
Plan your day
If you are working from home, then your workday becomes an extension of your personal life. There is no work, life balance to manage, it just becomes life balance. Look at your routine over a week and work out how much time you need to spend on normal household activities and start building a workday plan. This could mean getting out of bed at 6, preparing your child for school and then starting work at 7:30 am instead of the normal 9 am. You have no commuter rush, so that opens up your day for an earlier start, which in turn means finishing up early. Plan regular meetings and other time-dependent work and slot those in too. You may find that you need to take two hours out of your day to pick children up from school, collect essential supplies for dinner, so allow for that as well. Once you have established a routine, let everyone know your availability and always set an autoresponder on your emails for times that you are away from your desk.
Take time out to touch base with your colleagues
Supporting other colleagues that are working from home is essential to teamwork. Taking the time out to call on a colleague that you haven’t had one on one contact with for a while creates a support network that can replace the catch-ups around the water cooler. Regular contact with your team is not just the responsibility of your manager or supervisor, but in a work from home environment, the responsibility of each team member. Often through your own experiences, you are able to offer advice and support to resolve any issues that they are experiencing.
Your happy place is learning to accept that life balance is not only managing your own expectations of what you want your life to be, but managing and meeting the expectations of your family, friends and your employer. If you can do that without the additional stress of going into the office each day, you might come to the realisation that work is no longer a frustration or an essential evil, but a vital part of your life.
Find your passion, make it your career and you will never work a day in your life.
Cheryl Jowitt is the cofounder of Rebel Connect which operates Rebel Digital, a digital marketing business that helps businesses get online and get their website working for them. Cheryl is also Director of the Rebel Radio Network which operates the Rebel FM & The Breeze commercial radio networks in Australia.