Working from home is no longer something we once lusted after for a while at the office, but a harsh reality for many individuals amid the spread of COVID-19. With the government cracking down more and more with social distancing, working from home will become many people's new normal. This new norm offers greater freedom and opportunity and is considered a temporary situation for most companies. However, the restricted one-to-one interaction and lack of guidelines for all to observe, may see your team become disconnected, demotivated and dysfunctional - meaning some balls may be dropped during this period. But don’t worry – we’ll get through this together!
With the following guidelines at hand, you’ll be one step closer to figuring out how to stay motivated, productive and on task in an environment that may not be quite accustomed to your “proper” workplace behaviour.
Crank Up the Communication
The coronavirus outbreak has triggered an anxious trial run for working from home. Even before the pandemic struck, the number of people working from home was increasing quickly, technology being a key driver in the shift.
In the 2016 paper “Does Working From Home Work?” a team of economists looked at Trip.Com, a 16,000-employee Chinese travel agency that had randomly assigned a small group of its call-centre staff to work from home. While the results showed that both employees and employers appreciated this change, there was one major complaint; Loneliness.
Generally, a lack of companionship and communication will impact both the psychological safety of employees and the miscommunication of expectations within your team. Prolonged isolation will also impact on morale and productivity. That’s why we recommend you sustain a semblance of normalcy and camaraderie in unconventional ways, like virtual pizza parties (how fun!) or remote happy hours where people dial in and share a cocktail on Slack or Skype.
Moreover, an alternative substitute to the lack of social interactions, may involve utilising your break to get out of the house for a while, walk, maybe a lunchtime fitness session, a snack or mind break at a nearby café. Moreover, communicate with your friends and family to replace the lack in companionship you’re currently feeling.
Most people spend their days in close proximity to their boss, meaning communication is easy and effortless. But that’s no longer the case with remote work, and communication breakdown is even more likely if your workplace isn’t used to remote working. Your team might not be used to managing people virtually, for example, or your company might not have a ready-to-go suite of tools for remote workers, like the chat app Slack or video conferencing app Zoom.
Out of sight, out of mind can be a real problem for remote workers
– Sara Sutton (CEO and founder of FlexJobs)
So, it's important to have really clear-set expectations for communications for each day, especially in collaborative supported teams. This also means telling your team when you plan to step away from your work station whether for lunch or an important phone call. You can do this by changing your "Status" in Slack.
Make sure your company’s telecommuting devices and application such as Zoom and Google Hangouts, as well as any necessary access codes, to ensure you’re hooked up so you can stay connected with managers and fellow team members.
Right State of Mind
Dress the Part
While you are working within your own four walls, there’s really no need to stay in your pyjamas while video chatting to your boss. Working in pyjamas may sound cool, but it will likely make you feel too relaxed and a bit lazy. Get dressed, wash your face, get your self physically ready so your mind can do the same.
Clear Your Space
If you don’t have a home office, create a substitute space vacant of any potential distractions. Carve out a dedicated work area to ensure you’ve created a separate workspace while also trying to keep a constant work routine which aligns to that you’d have at the office and which differs from your typical routine at home. Sitting at the kitchen table having breakfast or lunch, or on the couch watching trashy reality telly while you put the finishing touches on your presentation or check emails/voicemails, is a gate way to getting hopelessly side-tracked.
Similarly, if you need a certain piece of material from the office, don't be afraid to ask whether you can take it home with you. Whether it be a notepad or a second monitor, your company and team will understand that your request comes from you wanting to complete your work obligations.
By the Clock
You must also set working hours for yourself and abide by them like you would in the office. Whether per hour or down to the second, doing this will make you more productive while you're working, as the time you're given to complete each task is monitored. Though your schedule doesn't need to be as calculated as ‘office hours’, starting your day off with a load of washing, napping or grocery run (if, of course, there are any to be found at Woolies ...) isn't going to lead to the most productive day.
Essentially, working from home requires discipline as there are always distractions at the ready - be it visiting the fridge, flicking on the TV or doing some washing. So, the best advice for staying in the right mindset while working from home is to pretend you’re not at home at all!
Time To Get Busy
No longer will you be able to stroll up to your co-workers desk to ask their opinion on your work, so it's critical you conduct meetings and conversations more frequently and increase the number of status updates, discussions and project health updates you can provide and discuss more effectively. Being more assertive in your communication will only improve your client's and team's confidence in your ability to deliver. It is imperative that team members continue to communicate to make sure that day-to-day activities continue without interruption. During this period, all tasks relating to both team and client projects should commence with zero disruptions to efficiency, accountability, or client satisfaction. To do this, your best call is to make use of Project Management Software (if you're not already) - we at Neighbourhood recommend Clickup!
During your time working from home, all recurring and "one-off" client-facing meetings should continue without interruption. You will need to vocalise your transition from your already planned "in-person" meetings to be done on virtual video chatting platforms such as Zoom or Skype, or be scheduled for a later date. It's so important to continue business as usual in every aspect of your business as reassurance for clients and customers comes in the form of normalcy. Regardless of the obligation, it's common sense that you be well presented (clean and neat) during these chats. No one wants to hold a video chat with food hanging from your beard...
So to help you out, here's a cheeky little checklist that we've been using ourselves, to get you started:
Remote Working To-Do Checklist
- Review your to-do list for the next couple of weeks and organise your priorities. Take home any notes you need and lists you may have around the desk.
- Take home any equipment, supplies, and materials (a pro tip from experience - don't forget your computer charger!).
- Review your calendar and update any in-person meetings to video conference invites.
- Access your video conference account before you leave and set a test meeting if you're not familiar with the program you're using.
- Stock up on coffee and any other supplies you may need (though please avoid overbuying - it's not the end of the world, despite what the media would have you believe).
Many see the transition to working from home a step into the future. However, the process resembles one from the past. Marten Mickos – writer for The Fast Company, compared virtual companies to ancient fishing villages stating, “In the evenings, the fishermen get together to be social and have fun. But every morning before dawn, they each head out to sea alone in their individual small fishing boats. They can stay in radio contact with each other, but each fisherman is on his own. There is little direct help they can offer each other. There is no coming back until enough fish have been caught. But once they get back, they are together having fun again.”
Just like the fishermen in the village, each employee is alone in their boat, working independently until their responsibility of the team is complete. And just like the fishermen, the company brings everyone together to one place and then is time to be social. While these trying times have left us with no other alternative than to work from home, we must embrace it, rather than let is worry us. If you'd like more tips on what you should be doing as a marketer during this time, check out our blog post on The Coronavirus Effect: How Digital Marketers Must Respond. With that being said, here at Neighbourhood we want to wish everyone all the best - stay home, stay productive and wash your hands friends!