As the world adjusts to the ‘new normal’ of working from home, many people have struggled with working remotely. But is the current situation of lockdown remote working the same as working from home outside of a pandemic?
With over a decade of experience working remotely, Damson Cloud is familiar with the merits and drawbacks of working from home. This week Fintan Murphy reflects on the differences and gives some tips for individuals and companies on how we can be more effective while working remotely.
Work From Home: Pre-COVID Versus Now
Many people and companies around the world have had remote working thrust upon them as the pandemic worsened countries moved into various levels of lockdowns. This has put immense pressure on employees, companies, and families. Our window of tolerance is squeezed and our abilities to handle additional stresses is dramatically reduced. We need to be conscious of these demands that we are all facing both in our professional and personal lives.
This week we wanted to look at remote working and how it is different from the current work from home environment that is in place during the pandemic or lockdown. At Damson Cloud we have been working remotely or from home for over 10 years and in that time we have seen many of the benefits and drawbacks of remote working.
One of the first major differences is simply the additional stress of the pandemic itself. Under normal circumstances, we would not be dealing with this additional stress. The second major difference is the lack of time for planning. When the first lockdown happened in many countries people were forced into working from home overnight with little to no time for planning. People had to adjust swiftly to the changes in their workspaces. As a company that specialises in change management, we understand that change can be difficult to become accustomed to. Coupled with immediate pressure to have a functioning work environment at home, this has been difficult for companies and individuals.
Under normal circumstances, work from home is structured and organised in advance. You would have time to look at your home space and the schedule of others in your household to plan remote working days. There would be allocated time to organise your home office environment with your company.
Due to the emergency situation, some individuals had to improvise their setups. Some people have been fortunate to have areas that they could quickly convert into a viable workspace. Others have had to make do with cobbled-together solutions. If you had been planning to work from home, you would have had the time to plan out a workspace and bought (or have your company buy) the relevant equipment that you needed. With more preparation time the transition to working from home would be calmer and less stressful.
The third area is your home life. With lockdown, many schools and workplaces have closed meaning a lot more activity during the day than your house would usually see. People with children are contending with homeschooling as well as working. Loved ones or housemates are also working from home, creating an overlap of people all trying to get their work done in the same place. Between kids, lack of available workspaces and sometimes the broadband going down it is easy to see why many people are feeling the pressure.
It’s important to know that this is most definitely NOT normal. If you had been planning to work remotely pre-pandemic, this could have been done on days with fewer people in the house or when children were at school or with a childminder. You would also plan out your workspace and ensure you had a dedicated area or room to use.
Finally its important to remember that for a lot of companies this has also been a struggle. This has been thrust upon them as well. Naturally, companies may worry about productivity and tracking the work being done. As well as struggling with the technology and infrastructure required to allow remote working. We have heard of many IT teams under pressure to get new cloud based tools up and running for employees or the global shortage of laptops and webcams as companies buy up huge amounts of stock.
As with everything else pre pandemic, businesses would have had time to plan and adjust to a remote working idea. Ensuring there is no negative impact on projects and productivity.
Advice for Individuals Working From Home
Working from home can be daunting but there are plenty of ways to help make it more effective for you and your team. If possible, create a space that is a dedicated work environment. With limited space this may be a challenge but it is possible to be innovative with your setup and think about different ways to accommodate your work from home space.
For example we have seen people use a space for a workout and then take out a fold-up desk to work at for the day. This action of folding out the desk and setting up their area for the day helps as a routine to get them into the right headspace for working. This can be great for small spaces that need to have a dual function. Become creative with your workspace and make it work around you. It is also crucial to communicate with people in your home about your working hours and space and when you may not want to be disturbed.
Exercise and Take Breaks
When working from home, we miss out on our commute. For many of us this is the time we get into the work mode. Often people use it as an opportunity to exercise listen to music or read on the train. Having a walk before work can help you get in the right mindset before sitting down to tackle your to-do list. You should try to factor in some form of exercise to your morning routine even if it’s just a short walk.
Ensure that you commit to taking breaks as well. It is incredibly easy to work through your breaks but it is crucial that you take time to breathe and relax as well. Not being in the office means that we aren’t socializing as much as we usually would. Before the pandemic even while working remotely, we would have gone to lunch with friends or headed into town once in a while. Current situation makes this a lot trickier but ensuring you continue to socialise is important. Try to chat with people in your home on your lunch break or organise a video call lunch with a colleague or friend.
The final one is communication. It is important to communicate effectively with your company about what you are doing and the progress you are making. This can be done through both passive and active communication. By passively and actively engaging with your colleagues and management, you are ensuring a good workflow and it will reduce tension for the organisation and management around productivity and project progress.
Passive communication is where you do things like fill in your calendar, organise your task management or your project management. Calendar planning acts as a great record tool of the tasks you’ve been focusing on. It also works as a wonderful way of passively communicating with your team, having this system allows others to see what you are working on and refrain from interrupting you unnecessarily if you are perhaps trying to meet a deadline. Basically, let systems communicate for you.
Active communication is being present in a meeting, turning your camera on and engaging with your team. This is important for your managers and colleagues. We often hear of people complaining about so so not having their camera on or never coming to the team stand up. You might be working really hard but if you never turn up to meetings or never engage people will make their own assumptions. Think about it in terms of the physical office. If a colleague didn’t come to a meeting or sat there on their phone not engaging you would assume they were not interested or perhaps not working. If for some reason you are unable to attend team meetings let people know. Communication becomes much more important when working remotely because you are missing out on the natural in person interactions and cues that you would normally have day to day.
Advice for Companies Working Remotely
This is an unprecedented time for many businesses but ensuring your employees have the right tools to get their work done means your business can continue to be productive. Equipping them with solutions like Google Workspace for collaboration and video conferencing means they can be as effective as they were in the office. Work to do away with old technology like Microsoft Exchange servers, VPN logins that slow productivity down.
Support your team on a practical level as well with office equipment like desks, chairs, and laptop stands. Helping your employees create a good work environment that promotes motivation and productivity. It’s important to provide these or the finances for it as it is wrong to expect employees to pay out of their own pockets for basic equipment when they are using their home, electricity and broadband to work for you.
Trust your employees. Don’t be a company that promotes big brother style surveillance. Focus less on tracking software and more on task and project management tools that allow everyone to stay on track and show their own productivity to the team and company. Have regular team catch up calls and meetings that keep people engaged. While under certain circumstances, like support tickets, a level of tracking is required, the default should be to not monitor but trust your employees to get the job done. Tracking staff activities is not good for company morale nor motivation. You want to be known as a company that trusts and encourages your team. Most employees are going to be working harder than they ever have before. Don’t make a system based on a few people who may not pull their weight. It will become obvious very quickly who is getting work done and who is slacking off.
Measure Tasks Not Time
While we do not advocate for big brother style tracking the observes everything someone does on their computer. We do believe in tracking tasks and project progress, this is very important in any business. The focus should be on measuring tasks, not time. If they can, companies need to move away from a time-based approach to work and towards a task or project-oriented method. Not all jobs will allow for that but, if possible, it will ensure a higher motivation for your employees and increase productivity if done correctly. Plan your tasks at the start of the week, check in midweek and at the end of the week to see how they are getting on. It will be very obvious if someone is not getting their work done.
Having check-ins is important for your team. They let you monitor staff morale, keep tabs on projects and see areas where people may need more support. If it looks like someone is struggling, engage with them and make sure they have all they need to stay productive. If possible, check-in individually with team members. People are different on a one to one call then they are with a group or team setting. This will allow you to see where an individual might need some additional support.
Advice to Remember
We are living in unprecedented times and, thus, we need to be kind to ourselves. We have all been under a lot more pressure than we normally would and as these are not normal times or circumstances, it is important to acknowledge that for ourselves and others. Try to help people out within your team and community but also remember to take time for yourself as well.
Always be improving. The pandemic has accelerated the digital transformation of many companies by decades and we won’t always get it right the first time. We always say digital transformation is a continuous process. Finding innovative ways to improve the processes, systems, and communication in your company or your own home work setup is a continuous process. Everyone is learning in this environment, even companies like Damson Cloud who have been doing this for years. We use a business coach to ensure we are always improving and building on our experience. Be willing to learn and change.
As a longstanding member of the Google Cloud Partner Program, Damson Cloud specialises in bringing people and ideas together through new ways of working. We champion the very best practices in cloud solutions, remote working and change management, helping companies and their teams collaborate productively from anywhere in the world. To find out more about our services, check out our library of videos or our blog.