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

COVID-19 &


by Kim Hunter, People First HR Services

An unprecedented environment has record numbers of employees suddenly working remotely to protect themselves and others. This transition has proven to be a difficult task for some employers who do not have established policies. However, those organizations with the ability to deploy their normal in-office employees to work remotely have found it to be easier from a business continuity perspective to support the health and safety of their workforce. The key is to identify employees in roles that can be effectively completed outside of their regular “office” environments while supporting and encouraging those in roles that do not traditionally operate remotely.

Despite the unique challenges COVID-19 presents employers in 2020, organizations must acknowledge and explore the benefits of their employees working from home. People feel trusted, valued, and most importantly, cared for during this time of transition. As a workplace coping with the challenges of the outbreak, consider the following when managing dispersed teams.

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. Therefore, it would be prudent to set-up touch-points between leaders and team members to ensure that workers are supported, motivated, and accountable. In addition, it would be wise to reassess an employee’s workspace consistently. As tasks change of the weeks, the tool requirements might change. Ensure that the employee has the proper technology and work tools to complete their tasks on an ongoing basis.

Communication: Remote work requires constant and consistent communication. 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. By establishing a consistent meeting between leadership and team members, workers will be grounded by routine and feel connected to their coworkers.

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

Set clear expectations: If there are particular requirements don’t make people guess – strongly consider making 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), 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 is disconnected from a central location.

Embrace 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 Skype (there’s a great chat function) 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.

Location: Although working in a coffee shop at 7 pm, or a picnic table in the park might not be your productivity sweet-spot, it might be exactly the right place for your employee. However, the point in working from home through the COVID-19 outbreak is to reduce unnecessary contact. Therefore, it would be prudent to communicate with staff about making arrangements to work in isolated locations, such as the worker’s home. It may be acceptable to reinstate alternative, more public locations when it is safe to do so. Encourage dedicated home workspaces and coordinate with your employees to create the best conditions for them.

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.” Although those concerns may be present in the minds of your employees, it is in the best interest of organizations and their employees to work-from-home through this outbreak. The opportunity is to establish expectations and guidelines to encourage productivity and set a standard for remote work moving forward.

Our Expert

Kim Hunter
Senior Consultant
People First HR Services

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