Insights for leaders considering allowing their teams to work-from-home indefinitely
There are days that it feels like we are in information overload with information coming in from all directions – emails, newsletters, news sources, webinars, podcasts, etc. The list is endless. I know I cannot possibly consume all the information I receive. I do spend time scanning the different sources to find key takeaways that can help PlusPoint and our clients navigate.
The one area of discussion I have focused on is the question of returning to the office. My thoughts during this crisis have been that many of the jobs that moved to employee homes won’t come back to the office. The changes needed so we can return to the office, like creating more space around employees, will likely require employers to evaluate what positions can stay home versus a return to the office. Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co.’s decision to transition close to 4,000 employees to permanent work-from-home status, Twitter’s announcement that employees can work from home permanently, and Mark Zuckerberg’s statement that he expects as many as half of Facebook’s employees to work from home in 10 years… all indicate that the future of work is permanently changed.
Leaders who embrace the new normal, adjust plans and envision the future, are now likely to focus on the question of how and where work is done. PlusPoint was founded as a dispersed work team, with team members working primarily from home offices, as does my husband, Rick, who has been working from home since 1999. We have been through our ups and downs with working remotely. Here are some insights for leaders looking for ways to make working-from-home more permanent.
Not Everyone Can Work Effectively From Home
As we grew, we started to see varying degrees of success with our team working from home. We learned quickly that some people could not do it – at least not on a day-in and day-out basis. It was surprising that the employees who struggled the most were often the younger members of our team. I guess I should not have been surprised because, at different stages of our lives and careers, work has a different meaning. When I was younger, and either single or early in my marriage to Rick, work was a big part of my social life. In talking to our team, we learned that even though they liked working from home, they wanted options and the ability to vary where they worked. In response, we decided to open a small office in NW Portland to provide another workspace option and a place where people could collaborate. Giving careful consideration to how you determine who should be working from home, creating strategies that may allow for a mix of working from home and the office, and listening to the needs of your employees are central to creating a successful work from home plan.
Virtual collaboration doesn’t replace being together
It is easy to feel like you are on an island at times working from home, and it is harder to create a real connection with teams. We rely heavily on tools like Slack and video conferencing to connect us in our daily work and still find nothing beats getting together in person. Our team is in the Portland-metro area, which makes getting together manageable. Monthly in-person staff meetings and occasional social hours became a core part of efforts to deepen the connections with our team. We have not done either in what feels like an eternity now. I miss seeing the team and look forward to restarting these rituals when we can. Consider finding ways for your employees to connect in person as part of your company’s work from home plan.
Dedicated Space for Just Work
My partner, Mike Temple, recently wrote a blog highlighting practices and habits he developed to support him working from home successfully. Mike wrote: “I found that it’s difficult to establish a workday cadence if I don’t have a defined space to go to when I start my workday, and to return from when my workday is over.” When my husband learned he would be working from home, we were living in a 1,100 square foot, 2- bedroom condo with a seven and five-year-old. We were fortunate because we changed our living situation to include a dedicated office for him. If we had not been able to make that move, I am not sure how we could have made it work, even short-term, and his company would have likely lost a top-performing employee. While we cannot be responsible for our team members home environments, we can be aware of the need for an environment conducive to getting work done.
Right behind a dedicated space for work is the need for the right furniture and equipment to get the job done. At PlusPoint, we encourage our employees to get desks and chairs that they can work at and in comfortably. For some, this means sit-stand desks and chairs, and for others simple things like a stability ball chair. We also provide current laptops, docking stations, dual monitors, printer/scanners, etc. Ensuring your team has what they need to be effective at their jobs and do it comfortably is, in our opinion, an essential investment for creating a productive work from home habit. Let’s face it; nothing says that we don’t care about you like a boat anchor laptop and refusing to reimburse employees for a decent chair.
Technology, Technology, Technology
Technology can be the most frustrating part of working from home. I cannot count the number of times my Internet has gone down over the last couple of months, or an unreliable connection that has resulted in my screen freezing during a video call. While many of us have Internet in our homes, not everyone does, and many don’t have the business quality, high-speed Internet that working from home may require. Help your employees understand what they might need, and how to go about getting it and setting it up. Understand that being good at using technology is different than knowing how to set up a home network. Also, how and where do they go when they need help? We use an on-call outsourced IT service to support our team. Finally, we reimburse our employees for the cost of the services they are using to work from home. This includes cell phones and the Internet.
I have seen a lot lately on HR policies companies need to consider as they potentially shift to more permanent work-from-home, and I am sure all those things make sense. Making the challenges of working from home in the short-term, during the crisis, is something most of us can manage. Translating that to a long-term work-from-home positions requires leaders to put more thought into making it win for both the company and the employee. Making that happen needs more than HR policies, it needs us to remember to lead with our hearts, be open about the decisions, show consideration and do our best to set our employees up for success.