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New normal: everything you need to know about working from home

From shorter video meetings to encouraging self-care, WORKTECH Academy has rounded up key information and tips to help company leaders and employees to adjust more efficiently to working from home

The world of work is in flux. Amid global challenge and crisis over the Covid-19 pandemic, there is an opportunity to completely rethink the future of work. We are currently witnessing a gigantic, involuntary, global work-from-home experiment – no change management, no prior planning, just stay indoors and see what happens. For some, this is business as normal but for over half of the global population this new working regime is completely alien.

WORKTECH Academy has gathered information from around its network to help synthesise some of the knowledge and best practice in working from home for both leaders and their employees.

What can home workers do?

Relish the company

Some people have the luxury of a home office or studio to separate work from home life, however many people don’t have the space to commit to a permanent workplace set up. The silver lining is that, according to Gensler’s 2020 US Workplace Survey, people actually perform better in open environments, so long as there is access to some private space. So, settling down to work on the living room table in full sight of flatmates or family may be more productive than you think.

Set boundaries

If you are coworking with other members of your household, it is important to set boundaries. While social interaction is important for productivity and engagement, it can also be a significant distraction. Define boundaries with the people around you in the home; this could mean setting times with your partner to look after the children or communicating the hours in which you do not want to be disturbed so you can get your head down for focus work.

It is also important to set boundaries with yourself; keeping a structure and routine is important to stay productive. This routine may look slightly different to a typical ‘day in the office’, but instead of lying in bed for an extra 40 minutes instead of commuting, why not get up at the same time and spend those ‘commuting minutes’ exercising or practicing mindfulness before the day ahead.

Take breaks

Alongside setting a routine, don’t forget to implement breaks. Without the social cues in the office to get up for a coffee break or take lunch, it can be easy to spend the entire day glued to a screen. This has negative repercussions on our physical and mental health. It’s important that you consciously make time for tech-free breaks throughout the day. This could be done by going on your ‘one allocated walk or exercise’ per day, or by sitting in the sun away from your laptop, or by simply changing up the location of where you are working.

Create variety

Just as most companies have introduced agile work settings into the workplace to create a choice of space for employees, use this complete autonomy over your workspace to work dynamically. Take calls on the balcony, answer emails on the kitchen counter and spend time doing focused work in a quiet area of the home. By keeping active in a variety of settings throughout the day it will improve overall engagement with the work you are doing. If your apartment is really tiny, the agility might have to be psychological.

Stay connected, then disconnect

There is a fine line when working from home between hyper-connectivity and complete isolation. On the one hand, there are no people walking past your desk stopping for a quick chat and on the other hand, the need for social connection can lead to a series of relentless video chats that supersede working hours and keep you online into late at night. While it is imperative that you stay connected throughout the working day with colleagues, remember your boundaries and disconnect at the end of the day.

What can leaders do?

Experiment

If your team is new to working at home, this is the perfect time to experiment with new collaborative tools – after all, this could be a more permanent fixture in your organisation in the future. While everyone is learning and adjusting to new virtual ways of working, why not play around with different tools and make the learning experience a collaborative one. Try out digital collaboration tools and explore different ways of virtually presenting – this can be an engaging way for everyone to learn how to use the tools as a team and potentially help the less tech-savvy people in your team to keep up.

Manage expectations

When in the office, everyone is present and in the same environment. Working from home is completely different, especially during this time. Some employees will be looking after children, battling with their cohabiters for space and generally be trying to function in very varied situations. As a leader it is your job to manage expectations for everyone and treat each person as an individual case. This period calls for a new type of fluid leadership which can be adaptable to the changing situation as employees may fall ill or have other life distractions to deal with during working hours.

Trust

This new leadership requires a degree of mutual trust between leader and employee. Allowing employees to have complete autonomy over where and how they work feels like relinquishing a huge amount of control as a leader. This is not an easy step, but if there is an underlying respect and trust built over time, that will blossom during this emergency. Have regular virtual ‘huddles’ and team meetings to check in and make sure everyone is supporting each other, but trust that your employees are doing what they are paid to do in the meantime.

Encourage self-care

It’s easy to get lost in global news at the moment, much of which isn’t positive. It can become overwhelming, especially without the physical support of your team around you. As a leader it is important to encourage self-care among your employees the best you can. Be empathetic to tough situations and create a psychologically safe environment where your employees feel like they can express their concerns and thoughts with you and their team.

While mental health is the most obvious threat to employee wellbeing at this time, it is also important to prompt employees to take care of their physical and digital wellbeing. Explicitly tell employees to step away from technology, encourage your team to use monitors at eye level where they can – in the absence of a computer monitor, can they use their TV screen for more ergonomic comfort?

Invest in good technology

In the absence of physical office equipment, it is important your organisation invests in good-quality technology to ensure the productivity and wellbeing of your employees. Making sure employees have access to high speed wi-fi and collaborative tools is imperative. Additional tools such as noise cancelling headphones, ergonomic keyboards and desktops, where appropriate, can improve employee performance and make them feel valued. It is also important to have a good video conference system in place to have regular team meetings and updates.

Setting a new meeting etiquette

Set an agenda

Meetings are often placed in the diary for a minimum 30-45 minutes at a time – this is usually because a room needs to be booked and people want to allow for enough time to pour coffee, exchange niceties and so on. This dynamic changes in virtual meetings, the need to block out one-hour time slots is not always necessary. If a clear agenda is set out before the meeting and sent to everyone, it can help the meeting stay on track and more focused. Everyone in the meeting knows what to expect, and from who, so a meeting which would take 45 minutes in person only needs to take 15 minutes online.

Turn on camera

One of the significant benefits of face-to-face meetings in the non-verbal cues present in communicating. This is lost in solely audio conversations. Therefore, in order to get the most from the conversation, everyone should have their cameras turned on if possible. There is an awkward stigma about camera presence on video conferences, but as this practice becomes more normal, turning the camera on will too.

Dress to impress

If camera presence becomes part of the daily routine, so should dressing for work. It may take the form of more casual wear when working from home, but getting dressed out and not sitting around in pyjamas mentally prepares your brain for the day ahead. It also shows to the people you communicate with throughout the day that you are serious and productive.

Keep it simple

While it is not also possible to find an ideal backdrop of bookshelves full of academic literature for your conference call, it is important to find a space that has minimal visual and audio distractions. This space should be well-lit so your face is clear, this can be done by facing a window or switching on the lights. If there is unavoidable noise pollution, use a headset to reduce background noise.

Back-up and buddy up

Technology isn’t always reliable and there is nothing worse than sitting on a conference call with 20 expectant participants while the ‘present now’ button fails you. To avoid this, use the buddy system and email a copy of your presentation to an administrator or member of your team who is also on the call. This way, if worst comes to worst, they can control the visual slides while you present.

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