Making the decision to move to a remote working environment takes a lot of planning. Having to make this decision quickly or having it thrust upon your company is even harder. Employees are sent home and will do their best to take care of customers and complete work tasks–but there are things you as a leader can do to help guide the transition and create a plan of action.
Here are 6 things my COO and I addressed with our team and feel are most important.
As soon as the decision is made, leadership will need to address the team, even if all of the details are not fleshed out yet. It is imperative to gather everyone and explain to them not only the technical details of the transition but expectations for their efforts.
For our company, we had some discussions of what this would look like. We have the luxury of working in the digital space, so the transition to a remote workforce was relatively easy for us. For many companies there will be more logistical efforts or obstacles. Some may have internal servers which run their computer systems. Some may have client information which cannot be shared. All of these things should be discussed and accounted for as quickly as possible.
The key is for leaders to be in front, communicate expectations and also be honest with the team because things will be fluid and change in the first few weeks of this transition.
Creating a Workspace in Your Home
This, in my opinion, is the most important aspect of working at home. Create a separate location in your home that is for work, and work only. The new location should contain aspects from your office workspace to connect with the feeling of being at their office desk. I recommend a location like an extra bedroom or a room with a door. This can create the feeling of going into an office and closing out distractions. If this is not possible, then use a corner of a room where a table to desk could be placed. Most importantly, just make sure the desk will not be used for anything else.
One of the biggest dangers of working at home can be the ability to work anywhere in the home. Today the dining table, next day the couch, maybe the kitchen counter. Too many options create an inconsistent environment which exposes individuals to many distractions. You may end up seeing some household task which needs to be done and it pulls you away from your work.
Having a set location also allows family members to respect the area and your work schedule. Remember, family members may not be used to you working at home and this may be causing a disruption to their workday as well if you just plop down anywhere and change locations every day.
When you can claim a space and treat this as if you are going to work each day, it will anchor your efforts and allow you to remain productive.
Daily Work Schedule
While location may be the most important, creating a schedule for remote work may be the hardest. Suddenly workers have extra time on their hands since there is no commuting to work. Maybe this means a little extra sleep or easing into the workday. The day may now seem an endless amount of time to accomplish work, yet this same freedom can lessen effectiveness.
In order to maintain output and quality of work, one must create a schedule which mirrors the schedule which was in place when working at the office. Whatever time you got up to prepare for the day, I recommend waking up at the same time. For those who want to use the commuting time for extra sleep, I would still schedule a set time to get up each day.
Get dressed. This may seem small but working in the clothes you slept in will not get you in the right mindset for approaching your work. It doesn’t not mean clothes can’t be comfortable, but the clothes should make you feel like you are working, not lounging.
Schedule work tasks in 30-60 minute chunks. This allows you to have small “wins” throughout the day and break up the projects you are working on. It also allows you to reward yourself with small distractions like getting coffee or stepping outside to clear your head. This replaces the quick run to the breakroom or quick chat with a co-worker.
Make sure to schedule lunch as well. In our office, many of the team members meet at 12:30 to eat. If not, the day can get away from you and you end up not eating or eating very late. The goal here is to mimic the workday you had at the office as much as possible to keep consistency. I recommend maybe Facetiming with co-workers or getting on a group call just to keep the lunch banter up which happens every day as I pass the lunchroom.
Lastly, schedule the end of the workday. Whatever this time would be, end your day as you did in the office. Wrap up any unfinished tasks, schedule tasks for the next day, clean up your workspace and leave till tomorrow. This is important because seeing your work in your home may cause you to never turn work off. There is always something which can be done but it does not mean you now have to work around the clock.
Every business may differ regarding what technology their workers need. In this day, laptops can replace desktop computers, but some companies have internal server-based technology so creating access from outside the office will need to be addressed. Security is important, especially if dealing with client or customer information. Other technology I feel is needed is a project management system (if you currently are not using one) and a private internal chat communication system for workers to connect.
We use Insightly as our project management and CRM tool. We have tried others but feel this one combines both technologies in one system for our needs. As for internal chat we use G-Chat. Many of my fellow business owners use Slack and are very pleased with its results.
Additionally, you will need is an online meeting system. Go To Meeting and Zoom are the tools we use depending on if it is an internal communication meeting or client presentations. The key is to have technology which will mimic the team’s ability to get up, walk over and ask a question. It creates a collaborative environment which mimics getting everyone in a conference room for a creative/strategic work session.
Number five on the list may seem obvious but it can also be the one topic taken for granted. In this transition to a remote environment, we take for granted all of the communication which happens quickly, without words, in the moment or just in passing. I love having the ability to just walk over to one of the team and ask a question. Addressing client issues quickly is easy when we are all able to gather in the same room.
My advice is to over-communicate. We are moving to daily morning calls/meetings so we can all start the day together. It brings everyone to the virtual office so we can address anything we need but also just to say hello and wish each other a great day. This also allows those who don’t like working remotely to hear the voices of their co-workers.
Check in with team members through phone, text or email. Keep the connection going because not everyone has their kids, a spouse, or a pet at home.
Health: Mental and Physical
I saw a funny post the other day where someone said, “I am only an hour into my work at home experiment and I ate all my snacks!” While I laughed at this, being at home is filled with distractions and food can be one of them. I caution anyone who is now working remotely to make sure exercise is part of your daily routine as is focusing on a healthy diet.
In our office, employees had access to a gym, and they used it regularly. Being at home and not having the ability to get to a gym may impact having a solid workout routine. I recommend taking a walk after lunch if it is a nice day or walking at the end of the day. Create time in your daily schedule for some form of exercise especially if you did it previously. Again, consistency is key in making sure your schedule closely mimics your previous work schedule.
We’re all guilty of overindulging in what our pantry has to offer every now and then but having full shelves and unbridled access to it all day isn’t always the best thing. Some folks deal with stress or change differently. Keep an eye on your food intake during this transition and make sure to exercise. If you need an accountability partner, maybe talk about your workout with co-workers.
Mentally this change can be challenging. Keep positive thoughts. Use ways to center yourself be it through religion, meditation or just watching something funny or positive. Be very careful of too much news and social media. Right now the uncertainty of how long this will remain can create anxiety. Make sure to have a support system of friends and family to speak with if you feel a sense of being overwhelmed. I feel creating a strong schedule and system for work can help alleviate some of this anxiety.
Working at home sounds great to some. You control the schedule, you control the output, you can dress more casually. For others who relish having co-workers around, this is uncomfortable. As a leader, you need to help prepare the team for this transition and work hard to be present for them through constant communication, inspection and feedback on work output. We still have a business to run, it just looks a little different today.
If there is anything I can do to help or if you have any questions, please reach out. I am here to lend a hand.