Even prior to the pandemic, working from home was more popular than ever. 43% of Americans reported that they work from home from time to time. The benefits are fairly obvious. Employees get to avoid time-consuming morning and afternoon commutes. They get more time to spend with their families. Some employees also value the more flexible working arrangement provided by a home office. It can also help companies save on overhead costs associated with office space. 2020 has seen a massive shift toward companies not only enabling remote work, but encouraging it due to public safety concerns. The future of work is here.
But as there are benefits, there are also drawbacks as well. Remote work certainly isn’t going anywhere, but as it becomes more commonplace employees and employers both must adapt. What is accepted when it comes to telecommuting must evolve as more companies integrate the practice into their working environment.
While many companies are shifting to a work from home culture, that doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges. Rather than shy away from the practice, the best companies meet them head-on. Because remote work is here to stay, it’s important to consider the obstacles associated with it and how to navigate them.
Visibility & Communication
Working from home can grant serenity and the ability to work in peace and quiet. It also takes one out of the team’s physical location. This means people won’t get a chance to see remote workers sitting near them at a desk or an office. It also means the remote workers won’t be able to see them. Having this lack of visibility into the day-to-day operations may act as a roadblock to being more effective in their roles. It also means employees’ soft skills will be more important than ever.
That’s why establishing consistent lines of communication is critical for any company with a remote work policy. Companies are using video-conferencing, cloud software, virtual events, and instant messaging to keep in touch. These can be used to encourage employees to “check-in” with team members on a regular basis. This is especially important if they’re working on a time-sensitive project. It’s important to strike the balance between responsiveness and being overbearing. Your team should feel as if they’re trusted to do their jobs, but also able to be available for discussion.
Employee responsiveness to calls and emails should be consistently fast. Stress this as being an important part of your team culture. They shouldn’t allow too much time to lapse without responding to a text, call, or email. By setting a standard for contact, your team shows that when you’re in “the office,” they’re in. You’re not handling household chores or driving kids to school. Work time is work time, even when working from home.
Companies will also need to review their attendance policies, as the idea of what constitutes “attendance” has radically shifted. Allowing team members to work from home can create the perception that they may not always be working, even during working hours. Set clear standards of when your colleagues can expect responsiveness from teleworkers. Failure to do this may result in them expecting those working remotely to work all the time simply because they work from home. Establish core hours, when they take their lunch break, and clearly communicate the times they’re out of office. Set up a calendar visible to your entire team if necessary with everyone’s schedule. Google Calendar is a great tool for this.
If a remote employee is sick, encourage them to take sick leave instead of working through it. They should send an email informing the team that they’re out. If someone has the flu, you wouldn’t expect them to come into the office. Just because an employee works from home doesn’t mean they won’t need time to recover.
Encouraging employees to set well-defined schedules – helps set an expectation for team leadership: working from home does not equate 24/7 availability, no matter the circumstances. Having two-way transparency when it comes to attendance makes sure the employer doesn’t overburden the employee and also that the employee is in when needed.
Employees will also need to become well-versed in handling home office distractions as well. When working from home, it’s easy to face distractions from family or other household duties. That’s why the same expectations for scheduling employees apply to their supervisors should apply to their friends and family. In your telework agreement, make it clear that employees working from home are expected to have some sort of child supervision or daycare for children at home.
Lack of Face-to-Face Interaction
Sometimes, issues arise in the office that require in-person communication. This is where telework can be difficult, as it may seem harder to get ahold of those working from home. The lack of face-to-face interaction makes it difficult when it comes time for performance reviews or other routine office meetings.
To counteract this, emphasize alternative meeting formats. Video teleconferencing is a great way to connect multiple people in various locations. It’s also relatively simple — all you have to do is provide everyone a link or telephone line and they’re dialed in within seconds. This is the best of both worlds. Everyone can have the ability to meet face-to-face while still working from their desired location.
Important meetings can also be scheduled when a large number of your telecommuting staff is in the office. This can include performance reviews, team-wide retreats, and other large-scale events.
Perceptions of Accountability & Performance
While working from home is becoming the norm in most work environments, there are still some workplaces that don’t accept it as readily. Some managers will assume that it’s harder to be a top performer if you’re not physically located in an office. Of course, this isn’t true – there’s data that shows telecommuters actually perform better than those working in a traditional office. But nevertheless, the stigma can remain for some.
That’s why employees should work with supervisors or managers to define clear goals for themselves. They can do this on an annual, quarterly, or monthly basis. But goals should include deliverables and due-dates. That way leaders can identify how much progress is being made no matter where the employee is working.
Working from home can definitely have its challenges, but there’s no reason your team can’t work around them. Create a results-based culture of accountability and professional respect, and it won’t matter where anyone works. By applying some of the strategies mentioned above, you can put your team in a position to work from home and not only survive, but thrive.
Interested in hearing more how you and your company can grow in this new remote environment? Contact Ascent today!