Improving Work From Home During Covid-19
Improving Work From Home During Covid-19
As every major brand and commercial goes on about these uncertain times, one thing we’re all certain of is that Covid-19 is changing a lot about daily life. For most people, social distancing is one of the biggest changes to come from this pandemic.
Unfortunately, restrictions on activities outside of the home mean that many have lost their jobs or face tenuous financial circumstances. For those that are still employed, there’s another new challenge: working from home.
But for the rest of my small Houston office, and for many of my friends and their coworkers, this is the first time they’ll be trying to juggle work and all the comforts or distractions of home. A few weeks ago, we talked about how businesses should prepare for the impact of Covid-19 from a brand and image perspective. Today, we’re going to talk about a few things you can do to significantly improve your interoffice experience when you’re lacking an interoffice.
Separate Work Into Parts
Step one: accept a change in productivity.
Whether it’s an increase or decrease, you’re going to notice a fairly major shift in how you approach your work once you’re working from home. And that’s not only normal, it’s a good way to loosen up how you view working in different environments. We’ll get into that later.
Step two: break up your view of “work”.
The whole idea here is that finding a healthy work-life balance is much harder when you’re working from home. To avoid falling into any of the common work-from-home traps, it helps immensely to separate work into the major components as we usually experience things.
Work essentially has three major parts: business, personal, and social.
Business is basically the actual work you do and how it fits into a team of professionals. Personal is your mindset as you work, which has a lot to do with how you conceptualize and act out your role at work. Finally, social is about your interaction with coworkers and communication in general.
Business is the most practical aspect of figuring out how to improve your work-from-home experience. This will be a major area of concern primarily for business owners and team leaders that have to determine whether or not it’s possible for their work to continue through online or remote means.
Basically, as a digital marketing team, the majority of our company’s work is online. Remote or in-office only really counts for meetings and quicker interoffice communication. For something like a restaurant or a service that relies more on face-to-face interaction, remote work might not be an option.
- Can you work from home?
The first major thing you want to consider is whether or not you can work from home. It’s extremely literal. Does your business have the capacity to temporarily switch to remote work without losing a significant amount of its productivity.
If yes, then you’ll want to start planning that temporary switch if you haven’t already. Organize an official response for the affected employees and lay out a confident, solid outline for how work should be achieved during the work from home period. Include information like changed deadlines, revised timelines, or new mediums of communication.
If no, well, then you’re kind of out of luck. There are some industries adapting and finding creative ways to keep the doors open during the pandemic. For example, much of the restaurant industry is trying to rapidly adapt to a delivery-based service after dining rooms were closed more or less across the country. If you can, continue developing what limited options you do have in the meantime.
- Facilitating remote work.
Once you’ve determined that remote work is possible, set up a clear and understandable framework for your employees, team, or coworkers.
Discuss things that seem like common sense, because it might not be common sense to everyone. This is easily one of the most overlooked aspects of switching from in-office to remote work.
People forget to discuss things like what’s the best way to contact other team members, how do you access relevant software from a home computer, what are the changed expectations for hours worked and so on. If your team needs login information or a set of contacts, make it readily available. Otherwise, you’re risking a significant slowdown in productivity and overall workflow.
- Maintaining a team environment.
This is a big one. Working from home during a quarantine means that a good chunk of people will be isolated. Not only does that impact their personal mindset and performance, it can leak into the team environment as well.
If a good number of your coworkers or employees are working at home, either alone or with the same family members for almost 2-3 months, chances are you’ll lose a lot of the interoffice cohesion that supports teamwork.
To prevent this, be more active in promoting conversation and relevant interaction with team members. Use video conferencing or check in via a work-related group chat. However, avoid over-managing people this way.
Some social interaction related to work can support the team environment, but just like in the office, too many meetings or too much socializing can be an annoying distraction from actually getting work done.
Working from home involves a perspective shift when it comes to how people think about their work day. A professional environment usually comes with a structure, either professional or social, that helps shape an employee’s experience.
While you work from home, a lot of that structure disappears. People might not realize it, but that structure often provides us with a sort of “autopilot” response to work.You show up to work and how you spend those hours is often in line with the preset structure. Come in, check emails or get ready for the day, work, lunch, work, leave for home.
At home, you’re relying on your own capacity for setting that structure and sticking to it. Here are some solid ways to help facilitate a better work from home experience on a personal level.
- Act like you’re in the office.
You’ll see this advice all over the place when it comes to working from home. Usually, it’s solid advice for freelancers and contract workers that do a lot of home office work because it keeps your work life a bit more consistent.
But it’s still a great practice for temporary work-from-home folks as well. The idea is essentially that you want to treat whatever workspace you have at home exactly like the office. The practice is equally mental and physical.
For the physical aspect, set up your space to work, and only for work. Dress like you would for the office, sit down at the same time, everything. Keeping this bodily practice and routine can help you separate spaces in your home as places for “work” and places for home life.
For the mental aspect, you have to force yourself to think of the space as a workspace. Act like you would at work, and limit your non-work interactions as much as possible. Would you be taking tons of personal calls or playing movies on your second monitor in the office? If not, don’t do it at home.
Why separate an office space from your home space?
If you don’t separate work from home, you can easily slip into very stressful and very unproductive routines. While a more lax schedule and a bit more flexibility in how and when your work gets done is great for some people or some jobs, a good chunk of people honestly benefit from the more structured environment.
It’s a lot easier to think “I will sit at this desk and accomplish these tasks between 8 AM and 5 PM” when you imagine an office around you. Coworkers, a boss, your urge to beat traffic — whatever social or professional structure normally helps you focus on work is something you want to recreate at home.
- Take breaks, adjust your schedule.
Another byproduct of losing structure is that a lot of people have trouble thinking about how they work. As you work throughout the day, there are usually a ton of little interruptions. Maybe a meeting, or a client calls, or it’s time for lunch so you decide to start a piece of work later instead of right now.
It’s rare that any job or position is eight hours of straight, monotone, consistent work.
Those fluctuations that might seem like a loss of productive time are really quite useful. In fact, breaking up the day with breaks and small changes of pace is an ideal way to give our brain a bit of a rest. That small rest can be the difference between a good day of work and feeling burnt out before you’re even half way through.
Why do we need breaks?
Breaks are valuable for a lot of reasons. In the articles linked to above, they discuss how the change in focus helps our brain sharpen for repetitive tasks and improves creative thinking.
Stepping back from how it helps our brains, breaks are a great way to pace our day and portion our work. People tend to fall into two categories when they work from home. People that get distracted, and can’t focus on finishing work and then people that hyperfocus on work to the point that they burn out and spin their wheels on assignments.
Honestly, you’ll probably experience both at some point. Whether you’re in the office or at home, these approaches to work are incredibly common. Fortunately, regular breaks can help you break up both. For those that lose focus, it’s a nice way to satisfy the distraction. For those that hyperfocus, stepping away from an assignment and coming back to it later can get you unstuck.
Social and Communication
I’m using social and communication interchangeably here. But it’s basically a look at how we communicate in the workplace, and how that has to change to successfully accommodate a work from home situation.
Communication is an essential aspect for any successful project, and poor communication at any level is going to cause slow work, failed projects, and overall low morale in a team environment. Saying something like communication is key sounds cheesy and stupid, sure, but communication isn’t just about telling your coworkers how it made you feel when they microwaved cheesy fish in the break room.
The idea of communication covers all forms, including interpersonal, professional, and literal. We’ll break these down to highlight some of the specific issues that can come up while working from home and discuss some potential solutions along the way.
Interpersonal communication is often overlooked in an office. While it’s not necessarily required for everyone to be a perfect social match in the office, promoting an environment of comfort that allows people to share their voice and be heard is crucial to supporting a team.
Not taking stock of your team’s thoughts, feelings, and ideas is not only a missed opportunity, it jeopardizes your overall potential. Now that we’re expecting social distancing to last for a number of months it’s more important than ever to keep this kind of communication alive.
You want to remind people that you work for or with that everyone involved in the process is human, experiencing similar difficulties. Checking in and keeping the personal connections alive during a period of separation can improve the overall mood of your team, which translates to higher satisfaction and in turn, more productive team members.
Professional communication has more to do with how you handle official channels of communication during quarantine. This mostly has to do with taking into account all the various connections that you and your team need to maintain in spite of significant changes to availability and company infrastructure.
A good example from our experience at Regex SEO is the initial wave of confusion many clients had as Covid-19 began shutting down businesses. We got a rush of people asking if their marketing services would be interrupted or stopped altogether, and then we had to address how contacts would change with people working from home and all the other little details like that.
Whether you’re making a long term or temporary transition to work from home, don’t neglect either aspect of this professional communication. Your clients need official statements about any changes, your employees need to know which clients and other team members will have changed contact info, and everyone needs to be on the same page about shifts in process or work.
Without this level of open professional communication and social interaction, you’re going to waste way too much time scrambling for answers.
Finally, we have literal communication, which is a fairly short and straightforward point that many people overlook.
Basically, you need to immediately establish some kind of group chat or communication option that allows for fast and responsive interaction between team members. It should provide for people both individually or for larger groups to facilitate ease of use. At Regex, we use Google Hangouts. Something like Discord or MS Teams or anything that offers a reliable chatroom style feature is going to be miles ahead of email and phone.
You shouldn’t abandon phones or email of course, but they’re significantly slower and less reliable than an instant messenger style option. If it has video chat or meeting scheduling options, that’s even better. All the positive strategies and ideas about communication are essentially meaningless if your team doesn’t have the literal means of communication needed to simulate the in-office experience.
Learn From the Experience
Working from home is a significant shift, even for jobs that are largely online or remote-capable to begin with. It’s a change that hits people on a psychological level, while also introducing a number of logistical issues that need to be ironed out before it’s really successful.
Instead of crumpling under the pressure of working in a new way, this quarantine is an excellent time to take stock and observe your team in a new environment. See the shifts in productivity, communication styles, and other areas, and you might just see new opportunities once the quarantine ends.
Right now, the name of the game is flexibility. You want to remember that this situation is not permanent, but it’s also not ending on a set schedule. The longer it goes on, the more people may get used to remote work and the more you might have to improvise.
Build better communication skills, offer team members a more flexible work experience because you’ve seen that it works, and find new opportunities for online business that you might have overlooked before. Try not to see those shifts as a bad thing, and you may be able to take a lot of really valuable experience out of this entire situation.