Ask the Expert – COVID-19 & Work-from-home

COVID-19 &


by Kim Hunter, People Corporation

COVID-19 has created a new business operating environment.  With little chance to prepare, employees in many sectors are suddenly working remotely to protect themselves and others and ensure compliance with physical distancing requirements. This forced transition to remote work has proven to be a difficult task for employers who do not have established processes. Although not every workplace is perfectly suited to remote work, most industries have roles or tasks that can be effectively completed outside of regular ‘office’ environments. The challenge is to identify these roles, and once identified, provide structure and guidance so those working from home are productive, and not isolated.

Despite the many challenges COVID-19 presents, there are benefits to employees working from home. Employees will feel trusted, valued, cared for, and, most importantly, that their workplace health and safety are your priority. When moving your teams to remote work, consider the following tips:

Be realistic: Not every worker can transition successfully to working remotely. People who are successful working remotely generally are self-motivated and able to hold themselves accountable. If your team-member struggles in these areas while they’re in the office, it’s not likely to get better at home without a lot of support. There must be structured touch-points between leaders and team members to ensure that workers are supported, motivated, and accountable. Many organizations are choosing to use productivity tracking tools to measure the most important deliverables. If you involve them in the process and provide clear direction, many people will surprise you with just how much they can accomplish in a day.

Set clear expectations: If there are particular requirements don’t make people guess – consider developing a policy. Some of the areas in which you may want to set expectations include hours of work, telephone (i.e. do you need people to forward their office phone line), client privacy, network security, and reporting on work completed. Setting expectations is not micro-managing; the rules you set should be those that help you create an environment of trust. An example would be using shared calendars to log remote work time – those working from home should be available to their peers and everyone should know how to contact them as the team disperses.

“Setting expectations is not micro-managing; the rules you set should be those that help you create an environment of trust.”

Adapt leadership styles: Remote working in a pandemic is not something a leadership class can prepare us for. Leaders need to adopt new approaches and be able to solve new challenges for their people. This is a very stressful time for everyone, and leaders need to bring their communication ‘A game’ to reassure and direct. Communication needs to be sensitive, frequent and direct. Not every leader is comfortable asking people if they are struggling, or if they need mental health supports (now is the time for that EAP in your benefits program!). Arm your leaders with tools and information, and be as transparent with your people as you can be. Ensure that you’re scheduling regular touch-base meetings so you know how work is progressing and that they aren’t feeling the ‘silo’ effect from being away from their peers. Poor or irregular communication undermines trust, and without trust, remote work won’t be successful.

Embrace new technology: Skype, What’s App, Slack, Google Hangouts, Dropbox – there are dozens of useful (and often free) ways to support your remote workforce with technology. One of the real benefits to employees of working in an ‘office’ environment is the opportunity to share a moment or information with colleagues. Creating the ‘virtual water cooler’ is a necessity for remote workers to stay meaningfully connected to peers. Luckily, free technology like Slack or What’s App or even Facebook messenger can make the distance disappear. Encourage your teams to standardize how they talk to each other and make sure that the platforms work equally well inside and outside the office walls. Need more team interaction? There are tons of great team project software like ‘Basecamp’.

Location:  There’s a reason you’re getting emails from every furniture store you’ve ever been to about home office equipment. Many people do not have a fully equipped home office space and although for some the couch or kitchen table works, for many it won’t.  It also can cause long-term physical health issues due to poor ergonomics. Encourage dedicated home workspaces where possible and coordinate with your employees to create the best conditions for them. Ensure that the employee has the proper technology and work tools to complete their tasks. Don’t assume that everyone has a computer at home or even high-speed internet. Work with IT to allow people to take home important productivity boosters like monitors.

Trust: Many colleagues have said to me over the years “I could NEVER have an office at home – I’d only be able to think about the laundry/dishes/etc.” We’d never even imagined we’d have to balance work with child and elder care responsibilities as we do now. Our staff WILL have kids that will need to be fed, and dogs that need to be walked. We need to trust that if we’ve told our teams what the expectations are, that they will accomplish them, even if it means working at 10 pm or 6 am. Set expectations, trust people, and follow up to make sure they’re meeting them. If someone is struggling to meet the expectations ask them what needs to be different to meet them and hold them accountable.

Within our organization, we’ve seen extraordinary innovation and leadership over the last few weeks. Challenges can bring out the best in people – you may find your people show you skills you may not even know they have.

You can listen to Kim’s latest discussion on the subject of COVID-19 & work-from-home  by clicking here.

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Our Expert

Kim Hunter
Director, HR
People Corporation