Working remotely in the time of plague.
Regardless of where you are from, the recent coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic has certainly already impacted you in some way. Many countries are under lockdown with schools and universities closed and employees being immediately sent to work from home - and some are trying to avoid measures that are too radical (or, if we're talking about the UK, any measures at all. At least for now, when I am writing this article).
One of the most visible effects of those new circumstances is the sudden need to implement remote work in many companies all around the world - in order to save lives and maintain productivity at the same time, many companies are rapidly switching to remote work. While the effort itself is commendable, the quicker we try to implement the remote work, the more likely are the various mistakes in the process. A full and transparent remote work policy cannot happen overnight. Many companies keep rushing into various tools with the belief that remote work can be easy by just starting video conferencing for everyone. Well, this is a pipe dream.
In each article about the implementation of remote work, one statement was repeated - if such implementation is carried out too quickly and without proper care, it can result in the company suffering losses. Unprepared managers and employees without necessary tools are a sure recipe for trouble. Therefore, I always recommend, if possible, a thorough audit of the company as well as a reasonable, patient approach to changes within the organisation.
Unfortunately, currently we do not have such a possibility – in present conditions, a long and complex audit of the company together with a necessary training of all the employees is impossible. If the Coronavirus forces us to rapidly switch to remote work, it should be done as quickly and efficiently as possible. During this emergency transition from stationary to remote working, it is important to remember about a few basic things that may prove crucial in the coming weeks.
For the employer:
Ensure that your employees are properly trained - of course there is no time for thorough training - it is possible that remote working in your company will have to be implemented overnight, and then it will be best to take some time to prepare a sort of short list of rules and procedures that will contain all the key information - the rules of remote working, the hours when the employees should be available, the rules of logging into company servers and securing their devices, etc. Some of these things may seem trivial, but it is better to repeat the obvious information 3 times than to risk someone not knowing how to send the results of their work to the manager. It may also be wise to implement on-call duties in the HR department in order to give your employees someone they can call for guidance and help at any time - after all, even the best instructions may be lacking some little detail and the situation is simply tough for everyone.
Keep in touch with them - "radio silence" is very demotivating in remote work, when no one communicates with anyone in the team. This can be particularly painful for employees who have been somewhat forced to work remotely by circumstances - the lack of colleagues can be depressing. Not only should you try to contact your employees and check on their progress, but you can also arrange video conferences - if necessary, they can be arranged at regular intervals, so that employees can organise their day around the planned conversation, and you will not only know everything about the progress of the team, but you will also ensure that employees do not lose contact with each other and with the company. Make sure that managers are following this rule and that they are not only receiving, but also giving updates and feedback to the employees - maintain connection on all levels! You can also organise virtual coffee or lunch breaks so that your team keeps in touch.
Monitor progress - there are a multitude of appropriate tools on the market that allow you to monitor, compare and control the progress of your project - you can read more about them in my previous article. Anyway, as the situation now is rather unexpected and sudden – do not rush into downloading all these tools! As much as I strongly recommend Zoom, Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams or Webex for communication and Monday, Trello or Asana for project management – try to use what you already have and add only what is absolutely necessary. If it’s easier for you to receive updates from your employees at the end of the day per e-mail, then do so! Buying different project management platforms and trying to implement them within 24 hours will just create more chaos.
For the employee:
Separate work from the rest - this is the key challenge - many people stress that it is much harder to separate yourself from work in your free time when you're working remotely - after all, in both cases you spend time at home, how do you divide it? Either we can't concentrate while working and we find a multitude of other things to do all the time, or on the contrary - during a well-deserved rest, we can't forget the enormity of the duties ahead of us. That's why it's worth setting up a daily schedule of work - it can be a standard 8-hour workday or anything else, depending on your profession and preferences. Moreover, it is worth to separate, if possible, one room into a kind of "office" for the time of remote work - thanks to this we will have a clear division between the place where we work and the rest of the house.
Keep in touch with your colleagues - for a person who starts every working day with coffee and friends at work, switching to a lonely espresso at home can be quite depressing. That's why it's important to keep in touch with our team members - and not just in professional matters! Such communication will not only make the work coordinated and much more efficient but will also allow us to maintain our friendships and combat the feeling of loneliness that can be painful after such a sudden implementation of remote working. Also, make sure to communicate with your manager so that everyone is on track.
Exercise and keep a healthy mind – today, we are forced to stay at home as much as possible. In some countries, it is possible to go on walks if there are no people around. Use this situation as much as you can – walk or run outside if only it’s possible. You can also exercise at home, play games, enjoy spending time with your family. And if you miss your friends then a virtual party is also a great idea in the meantime!
Last but not least
If you've already implemented all the guidelines listed above and you are somehow coping with the new conditions - why should you stop after the pandemic's gone? Remote work is the future, and although the Coronavirus epidemic forces us to implement it faster, we shouldn't look at it as something bad - its coming was obvious. Since circumstances have already forced us to do so, perhaps it is worth gaining advantage over our competitors and preparing for changes on the labor market? Remember - it would have become necessary either way, so there's no point in going back!
Are you interested in remote work? Make sure to subscribe to my YouTube channel where I am regularly publishing videos on this topic.