Is home-working working for you?

The Coronavirus outbreak has been described as a massive work-from-home experiment with thousands of organisations across the country instigating remote working policies for the first time.

Some people are experienced remote workers, while others will never have worked outside an office. But by setting out clear guidance, and offering some practical tips, people can embrace the numerous benefits of home-working while successfully clearing any hurdles.

Here are our 10 ways to make home-working work for your business:

  1. Manage expectations: If people are fit and well – and working in distraction-free (read –  without small children) home environments – then it’s reasonable to expect them to work at their normal capacity. But with schools and nurseries shut, and childminders confined to their own households, it’s a challenging time for working parents. Likewise, people suffering from mild symptoms of the virus may feel that they want to do some work, whereas those with more serious symptoms won’t be able to. Reassure people in more challenging circumstances that you appreciate that they won’t be working at their full capacity and spread the workload across the rest of the team accordingly. Treat each person in your team individually. The situation will continually change over the next few weeks so be prepared to be fluid.
  1. Over-communicate: There’s no such thing as too much communication when you’re working as a dispersed team. Schedule 1-2-1 check-ins with the team every day at a set time to encourage bonding. And make sure line managers are doing the same with their direct reports to discuss daily tasks and long-term goals. It’s important managers take the time to let their team talk about how they’re feeling during this unusual period. Always be clear and transparent with any communications – ambiguity is the enemy of remote working.
  2. Invest in good technology: A strong WiFi connection is the holy grail of the remote worker, so make sure your team have a good one and support them to negotiate a new contract if they don’t. Also look at the physical technology they’re using ­– while it’s fine to work on a laptop for short periods, people will need a docking station with a screen, keyboard and wireless mouse to work comfortably. Many homeworkers also swear by noise-cancelling headphones, especially if the rest of the household is self-isolating.
  1. Swot up on comms platforms: Collaborative tools like Slack, Basecamp, Microsoft Teams and Google Docs are brilliant ways for people to work together seamlessly when remote working – so now’s the time to master these. Also consider informal communication tools like WhatsApp groups or Messenger which can temporarily replace the chat across the desk and make people feel connected. At the same time, make sure people are using their existing technology properly – such as sharing calendars, so that colleagues know when they’re available for calls and when they’re not.
  2. Turn those cameras on: Seeing people, even on a video camera, helps to reduce a sense of isolation and improves communication, so insist on video calls over audio. It also allows people to receive visual cues during discussions and ensures that nobody drifts off mid-meeting.
  3. Stick to a routine: Anyone who’s ever worked from home understands the power of distraction. Whether it’s laundry, cooking, daytime TV or the latest Coronavirus memes on social media, it’s easy to become side-tracked when remote working. Support your people to remain productive and focused by suggesting they adopt similar routines as they would in the office: an official start and end time to the day avoids work slipping into the evening, while Do Not Disturb functions on many tech tools can be used to give people the time and space to work on a longer project.
  4. Give yourself a break: Instigate a virtual coffee break for your home-working team. By getting everyone together on camera with a cup of coffee at a set time once a day, you break the monotony of the 9-5 and boost morale.
  1. Encourage self-care: Consider producing a self-care guide which can help people maintain good physical and mental health during this strange time. This could include top tips on how to avoid back and eye strain, the importance of taking a proper lunch break and getting fresh air, exercise ideas that people can do at home, advice on good nutrition, and tips for a good night’s sleep.
  1. Celebrate success: It’s easy for great work to go unnoticed when teams are working remotely. By overtly celebrating successes and rewarding people for their performance in a public way, morale is maintained and people feel recognised for the work they’re doing.
  2. Keep people updated: Throughout this whole period, keep people updated. This is a fast-moving situation and Government advice will change. Be open and keep your home-working people informed but acknowledge that you don’t have all the answers – nobody does.

Jo Sutherland is managing director of Magenta Associates, the communications agency for the built environment