Making Remote Work a Success in the times of COVID-19
COVID-19 is top of the headlines, and many companies have implemented remote work, which will require diligent efforts at both ends if this work model is to succeed.
The news these days is overwhelmingly loaded with something or the other about COVID-19 or the coronavirus. Aside from the continual updates on the spread of the disease and the mortalities, there is news about cities being shut down, panic buying of essentials and not-so-essentials, and overloaded treatment and quarantine centers, among others. Employers are preparing themselves for possible disruptions – such as labor shortages, transportation issues, reduced working hours and low consumer traffic – that could have long-term effects on business.
A spinoff that has not got much attention is one particular and an increasingly common coping mechanism by companies in the COVID-19 era: work from home, or remote work. This is one of the precautions taken by companies to reduce exposure and transmission among their employees, along with work travel bans and no in-person meetings.
Does work-from-home really work?
Opinions may be up in the air on this one, but it is the new reality for companies across the world. Not just the tech biggies – Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Twitter – but others too have closed their doors to slow down the spread of the infection, in the UK, the US, Japan, South Korea, and elsewhere. This for sure is the new normal, and will be for a while too!
For many, this is a first-time experience. After all, the office was always where work was done! The new reality has compelled a change in traditional ways, and both employers and employees are doing their best to make this work within an environment (of the home) that was always lauded more for its comfort than its productivity.
Following the rise in work from home has been the high sales of technologies, products, and services that facilitate remote work. Examples include:
- Laptop and tablet sales
- DingTalk, a collaboration app from Alibaba
- Zoom, a videoconferencing app
- Slack, a chat app
- RingCentral, internet-based meeting solutions
All is not hunky-dory though. There are a number of challenges to working from home. Creative work can suffer when the sparks that fly from actual people interactions, do not fly anymore. Employees feel engaged and lively in the presence of team members, and often, lonely when they are by themselves. It is also true that online communication is prone to misunderstanding – in-person sarcasm could be taken as humor, while when conveyed online, it might be considered as effrontery. And of course, there are slackers at every workplace, the kinds who do not put in their best unless the whip is cracked – and cracking a remote whip is hard!
There are ways to manage this shift to a new way of work. To prepare your teams, you should:
- Be an inclusive manager. Track the needs of all your staff, ensuring they have the tools they need to do their jobs well. Schedule regular interactions to maintain the connection, and encourage collaborations for better team performance.
- Set and monitor specific goals rather than relying on the proxy of office attendance. You need to do what it takes to better judge productivity!
- Normalize more video conferencing interactions and updates, as the craving for face-to-face interaction, will not go away anytime soon, if at all.
Remember that work from home does not mean work 24x7. Employees need to have their time off from work, and you must respect that.
Everything does not fall on the employer, though! There is a lot that an employee can – and should – do, in order to make remote work a success. Treat it like a real job… because it is! Get up on time, log in and start work on time, dress up suitably if that is what it takes. Ensure you have an ad hoc, bespoke space exclusively for work, with your computer, work tools, necessary papers, and the like all in one place.
Time management is key, so conscientiously divide your day into deep work, office communications, personal time, and family life, allocating suitable time to each. Communicate clearly with your boss on a day-to-day basis, keeping expectations clear at both ends. Do not lose out on the connection with your team, with calls rather than sending emails, and keeping in contact through videoconferencing. Remember to get some exercise and fresh air – a daily office commute means some walking, cycling, or other physical exertion, so do not lose the benefits of that when the office commute has stopped. And, be honest with your employer if you are diagnosed with symptoms of COVID-19, given that it could have been passed on to your team if you did have to step out.
COVID-19 is not going away anytime soon, with there being a near-universal agreement that the virus and its spread must be managed, given there is no cure (yet!). Work-from-home is an important tool to achieve that goal, and it is upon the employer and the employee to make it work!