There is a significant chance that more employers, schools, and government organizations will shift to remote work operations to stem the spread of Covid-19. Remote work is not a new phenomenon but can be a shock to both employee and employer, especially if done on an ad-hoc basis – which is becoming more likely as things unfold.
Some jobs cannot be done virtually – manufacturing, logistics, healthcare, emergency services, and other organizations that operate in the physical world will have a significant challenge to make sure the show goes on with enough essential personnel. I’m not remotely qualified to talk about how to keep that kind of environment safe (and productive) in the event of a pandemic. Here is some more expert guidance for your business as a whole:
From Ready.gov on being prepared for disaster: Business Continuity Planning
Many jobs can get done as long as employees have a laptop and an internet connection. We’re going to speak to that in the rest of this post.
In normal circumstances, employers should have policies in place giving employees the ability to work remotely as necessary. In addition to maintaining productivity in the event of inclement weather or the staying home with a sick child, it can be a strong recruiting tool for your company. The flexibility to work from home when necessary is ranked as important or very important to top performers. With two-career households common today, a sick child or snow day means someone must take one for the team and stay home. Employees do not want to have to take PTO if they don’t have to – especially if they end up working from home anyway. Managers need to adapt by communicating expectations and trusting employees will do their jobs even if they are not physically in the office (if you are hiring the right employees, this should not be an issue). Company leadership and HR should work to build a culture where sick employees are encouraged to stay home and focus on getting better….not “gutting it out” at the office or attempting to work while sick. Employees are a company’s most valuable asset – and managers need to protect them as they would a star athlete with an injury.
With the corona virus situation, we are sailing into the part of the chart that has dragons on it. Employees might be working remotely for weeks at a time – potentially with their kids at home if school systems close as well. If companies are not working to put a plan in place now – a haphazard approach later could drive demolish any semblance of productivity and put the company in financial extremis.
For employees and managers with a remote workforce, working from home presents a new set of challenges. This is not a new thing, however, and there are several best practices we wanted to share to make sure things are getting done no matter where they are getting done:
1. Treat it like any other workday. Do your normal morning routine as you would if going to the office. If wearing office attire gets your head in the game, get dressed as if you were going into the office. Especially if you will be using video-teleconference tools. Try to adhere to normal working hours both internally and externally.
2. Have the right hardware and systems in place to maintain your productivity. If you usually use a docking station and a second or third monitor at your desk at work, have duplicates at home so you don’t have to go to the office and get them. It should be an easy ask of your employer to buy them for you but if it is not in the budget, buy them yourself. Do you have a work space you can dedicate for work? The kitchen table might have too much traffic around it – especially if the kids and spouse are home with you. Tools like Slack, Google Hangouts, Facetime, Skype, or Zoom can be very inexpensive or even free for you and your team to stay connected and on top of things. Forward your desk phone to your mobile. Likewise, if you need to upgrade your mobile plan to make international calls, have that conversation ahead of time. Consider your internet plan at home. Most office applications don’t pull a lot of bandwidth, but consider a scenario where each child & adult is watching a livestream of school or work at the same time – can your internet handle that load? Your job and sanity my be at stake.
3. Get your IT department onboard ASAP. Your IT department needs to partner with leadership to make sure that employees have access to work documents & systems while working remotely. Information security must be considered as well – which apps & systems can be downloaded and used. Setting up VPN’s or cloud-based storage of critical documents – the time to figure all that out is now. Not the day when everyone is at home trying to log in.
4. You cannot over-communicate. It's nerve-wracking to lead in a vacuum of information. Managers worry that when their employees are working remotely is that “out of sight = off the clock.” Employees can mitigate that fear by communicating to their manager what they are working on, what their goals for the day are, and if/when they will be away for a few minutes. It’s OK to step away from your desk for a few minutes or let a call got to voicemail - but responding in a timely manner will help. You can customize out-of-office email responses if you are head-down in a project or let people know you are in a temporary work environment.
5. Schedule regular check-in times. A once-a-day conference call or Zoom meeting with your team – either at the beginning or end of the day, can communicate priorities, and keep everyone on the same page. Keep it as short as possible. Managers can schedule one-on-one calls with individuals as necessary. Don’t go overboard. Don’t expect them to live stream their entire workday.
6. Work for outcomes, not hours. If you communicate with your boss or with your team your realistic daily work goals, get agreement that is what you will get done. If the kids are marooned at home with you and you need to take time to make lunch and put on Frozen for the hundredth time, it’s OK as long as you are getting your work done. Working a “split shift” (catching up after the kids are asleep) or taking turns with your partner will be less stressful than trying to care for your kids and work at the same time. If you are a leader, and have hired the right people, you should not care how many hours they are putting in or when – as long as the work is getting done. Set the expectations and the example.
7. Consider temporary child-care options. If the schools or day-care centers close, consider hiring a neighborhood teen to watch your kids while you try to get work done. Employers should consider reimbursing these expenses as long as the situation persists. The gain in productivity will offset the expense. If your employer won’t pay for it, it might be worth it anyway to keep sane.
8. Don’t ruin it for everyone. If a precautionary quarantine is your company’s first foray into remote working, it will be a learning curve for everyone. The ideal situation is that productivity goes up – as there are less distractions and pointless meetings - fostering the opportunity for more remote-work during non-crisis situations. The worst-case is that one or more individuals takes advantage of the situation by not doing their job – killing any opportunity to work remotely down the road.
9. Have a sense of humor. Seriously – a company quarantine is an abnormal situation – and stuff will go wrong. Dogs will inevitably bark in the background of conference calls. Toddlers might wander in during a video chat. Sanity will be tested. A great leadership team will rise to the occasion – and come out the back end with a stronger team. Just do your best.
10. Pitch in wherever is necessary. There might be aspects of your job that you simply cannot do from home. There might be other work that needs to get done that you will have bandwidth to do that is not normally under your job description. Reaching out to customers or suppliers, for example. If working from home leaves you under-tasked, let your manager know and even provide ideas on where you can help – your career could benefit in the long run by giving you the opportunity for new experience or getting the reputation as a team player. Your company could depend on having all-hands-on deck. Wherever they may be.
The next few weeks and months will take creativity, talent, and hard work. We wish you and your employees good health and future success. If you liked this post, please consider kindly sharing with your networks.
The Rivet Group is an executive search and consulting firm working with exceptional talent in the marketplace. If you are ready for your next job opportunity, looking to hire for your team or have something else in mind, we'd like to hear from you.