No Prep? No Panic! What to Keep in Mind When First Introducing a ‘Work From Home’ OptionAUTHOR: Chloe Sesta Jacobs
It’s no secret that the number of people working from home has risen significantly in recent years. But despite this, remote working isn’t quite as common as we’re often led to believe. The latest US Bureau of Labor figures published in 2019 for the 2017-2018 period show that just 24.8% of the US workforce was noted as working from home during this time. This shows that, while there are certainly advantages to introducing remote working policies, many managers still prefer to have their employees work on-site.
Regardless of which side of the work from home debate you fall on, outside forces have made the decision that, for the time being, those that can work from home should work from home. And it was a decision that, for many, was made without giving them much time to prepare. On 15th March, the White House requested ‘maximum telework flexibilities’, and just 24 hours later Americans were asked to stay at home where possible. Businesses not only in the US but in many places across the world have effectively been tasked with implementing remote working at scale… without having a plan in place.
Thrown in the Deep End
Remote working doesn’t work for everyone. Even big-name companies like Yahoo and IBM have, over the past few years, adjusted their work from home policies to bring more people back into the office. The truth is that remote working is most likely to fail when managers have not properly prepared their team for working from home… and that’s exactly the situation that many are finding themselves in right now. Indeed, Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR) senior fellow Nicholas Bloom stated that “this will create a productivity disaster for firms”. Businesses have been thrown in the deep end.
But productivity disaster or not, today’s organizations have no choice. So rather than admitting defeat, it’s time for managers to act… and act swiftly. Even with no time to prepare, it is possible to introduce your business’ first work from home options smoothly, and pave the way for success. Twitter’s Vice President of People, Jennifer Christie, looks at it from this perspective: “ Working from home doesn’t change your day-to-day work, it just means you’ll be doing it from a different environment”.
With that in mind, here are some things to keep in mind when introducing work from home options:
● Tools & Software
According to research by Gartner, more than half of all HR leaders believe that the biggest obstacle standing in the way of remote working success is the poor provision of essential technologies. “The first lesson learned from the coronavirus situation is to accelerate the development of a technology infrastructure that can support alternative types of working,” says Garner Vice President Aaron McEwan.
The good news is that even if you haven’t prepared for this situation, long gone are the days of waiting around for software to be posted through the mailbox on CD. Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) is fuelling the future of home working, enabling even the largest teams to communicate, collaborate, and co-create.
Providing your team with the tools they need to get to work is essential when launching a work from home option for the first time. But it’s not as easy as it sounds. Along with teamwork tools such as communications software and collaboration programs, you’ll also want to consider tools for individuals, such as software that tracks productivity, hours worked, shift organization, and so on. If you have time, creating a best practice and ideal use case document can help to increase the utilization of these vital tools.
● Balancing Flexibility with Expectation
For many, this could be the first time they’ve worked from home. And while some may find their home environment to be motivating, managers must consider the home and personal lives of employees. Some may have children who are unable to go to school as normal, others may need to support family members who are unable to remain independent at this time. It’s known as ‘double burden syndrome’.
As a manager, if you’re keen to see the same (or similar) levels of productivity as in the workplace, it’s vital that some schedule flexibility is offered. You may wish to take a ‘productivity over presence’ approach, which values deadlines met and quality of deliverables over physical bums on chairs.
BUT… it’s important to be clear on expectations. Northeastern University Management Professor Barbara Larson says it’s essential to “have really clear-set expectations for communications day to day” and recommends beginning each workday with a 10-minute call with the team. Thinking about the longer term, think about what key performance indicators (KPIs) could be beneficial here. These can help employees to understand what is expected of them, and helps both you and them to track performance.
● Equipment & Security
Studies have found that the majority of business leaders believe that employees working from home are a bigger security risk than those in the office. And they may be right. While in a perfect world you may have planned to send your employees home with the necessary hardware and equipment they need to do their job, the rapid and unprecedented nature of this event means this may not have been possible.
The report suggested that just under three-quarters of organizations prohibit work-related data on personal devices, but in situations such as these managers have little choice but to let their team use their own computers, laptops, tablets, and smartphones. And this is something you’ll want to think about.
“With more people likely to work from home in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, now is the time for companies to review their security procedures related to remote access in-office systems, to secure all endpoints and ensure that their connection to the corporate network is secure,” says Kaspersky’s Principal Security Researcher David Emm. Even in the early days of working from home, it’s essential to create a policy surrounding the use of personal devices and ensure your team is using best practices.
● Setup Time
Under unprecedented situations like this, a significant part of business continuity is getting your remote team up and running… and fast. But you should weigh up the pros and cons. Even if you haven’t been able to prepare in advance of introducing your first work from home option, that doesn’t mean you can’t prepare now. It’s never too late. It may take longer to get off the ground, but is that really a bad thing?
Ask yourself this: is it better to have your team giving it 100% right away in suboptimal working conditions that don’t facilitate anticipated levels of productivity, or is it perhaps better to enable greater levels of flexibility during those initial days at home in a bid to generate improved long term results?
Office space is a perfect example. Research shows that around half of all workers want to spend the majority of their working day at their own dedicated desk. Comfort and cleanliness are important to 88% of workers; lighting to 86%; noise level and temperature to 85%; a quiet space to focus is vital to 81%. Does your team have that space at home already? Probably not. But they can create it. In times of crisis, speed is of the essence, but be sure not to prioritize speed at the expense of your long term goals.
Act Now for the Future
A big question that’s arising is why it’s so important to implement work from home policies under temporary situations such as COVID-19. And the answer is simple: A need to work from home could potentially drive a want to work from home… from both the side of the employer and the employee.
From the employer side, reports show that almost three-quarters of c-suite executives plan to move 5% or more of their on-site workforce to remote locations after containment of the virus after experiencing the organizational benefits of remote working first hand. And from the employee side, it must be considered that workers may not wish to return to the office. And this leads to the question of whether it is better to re-hire for an in-office team or to make allowances to meet the needs of existing employees.
Having the infrastructure in place gives you options. And while your ad-hoc setup may require some adjustments for long term implementation, you’ve already laid the groundwork and given yourself the flexibility to take the most appropriate next steps for your team, and ultimately for your business.