When employees moved home to work, everything changed. But now some remote practices belong in the office, too.
Most adjustments to our work habits were necessary. Some were more practical. And others were genius!
While the year of remote work was challenging for many reasons, it gave employees and companies opportunities to evolve.
So we get to look on the bright side of a dark year by highlighting practices that made work better – and the role they’ll serve in our future, post COVID-19 work environment.
Here are six practices we adopted and need to keep – and best practices on how to continue them.
No. 1: Meet virtually
What: Most employees only dabbled in virtual meetings – such as on Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams, Workplace from Facebook, etc. – a year ago at this time. Nine months after the pandemic hit, employees complained of Zoom fatigue. But it turns out virtual meetings have merits we can’t leave behind.
Why: Virtual meetings leveled a playing field many employers didn’t recognize existed. People who worked remotely prior to the pandemic felt marginalized. Some leaders and colleagues didn’t ask for their insight and feedback. Telecommuters often felt professionally and socially isolated, a USC study found. Enter Zoom, and everyone – even those who didn’t have a consistent seat at the table for whatever reason – got a seat and a voice. More people are on equal footing now, another study concluded.
How: Continue to facilitate virtual meetings if just one person can’t make it to the actual meeting spot once employees are on site. One caveat – don’t overdo the meetings just because they’re convenient. Meeting too often leads to fatigue, overworking and disengagement.
No. 2: Learn online
What: Prior to the pandemic, online learning was “a” thing. Now it’s “the” thing. Many companies did some virtual training through their intranets, an online video library or webinars. It’s turned into a remote work practice worth its weight in gold.
Why: When everyone had to work from home – and still needed to sharpen their skills – they relied on more virtual training. That again leveled a playing field between office-working colleagues and their telecommuting colleagues who had historically missed out on learning and collaborating opportunities.
How: Start considering how much training can be transformed into digital experiences. Try to record all upcoming events and add them to a library on your internal communication app. Upload tip sheets, training manuals and any written training collateral. Add virtual ice breakers and teambuilding exercise ideas for managers to use when they come together to train a group that includes one or some remote employees.
No. 3: Balance work and life
What: Many people complained it was impossible to maintain a work-life balance when working from home felt more like sleeping at work early in the pandemic. So HR leaders and front-line managers made it a priority to help employees achieve better balance.
Why: Promoting and helping employees maintain a work-life balance wasn’t as vogue in recent years as it had been at its height of popularity. HR leaders will want to make this remote work practice a priority again as the future means nearly everyone can work from nearly anywhere.
How: Keep it up HR! Continue to educate employees on good wellness practices that include a healthy work-life balance. Encourage them to keep regular schedules – whether they’re in office or home. Remind them how to separate from work when it’s time to live.
No. 4: Take care of yourself
What: Similar to work-life balance, many employees felt it was impossible to focus on self-care when they started working at home. Then, as work hours seemed to get longer (because, hey, what else was there to do?!) and home responsibilities piled on, companies and HR leaders encouraged more self-care. After all, no one wanted employees to burn out.
Why: Remote employees lost some of the mental and physical self-care outlets they had on site. They didn’t have access to the formal amenities such as lunchtime yoga sessions, healthy snack breaks and employee resource groups. Nor did they have the informal outlets such as coffee breaks, post-work happy hours, sports leagues and book clubs. Fortunately, many regained those when their companies offered access to things such as virtual exercise and relaxation classes, virtual group meetings, online happy hours, etc.
How: Double it up! Continue to offer self-care opportunities with in-person and virtual options. Remind employees to take regular breaks throughout the day to mentally and physically walk away from work demands, too.
No 5: Respect boundaries
What: The remote work reality created the physical boundaries like no one had ever imagined. With the physical boundaries – across miles and homes – some managers and employees let other boundaries fade: For instance, they sent messages and expected responses at all hours or they called for virtual meetings all day long.
Why: Boundary-breakers risked hurting morale and burning out an already stressed workforce. Fortunately, most HR leaders and smart managers moved away from the round-the-clock interaction and helped employees create sensible schedules and expectations.
How: For safety’s sake, you’ll want to create and maintain physical boundaries at work within your new, in-office COVID-19 protocol plans. Continue to encourage and enforce schedules and expectations for when employees work and respond to communication.
No. 6: Crank up communication
What: Employers communicated in more and different ways than they ever had in the pandemic. We relied on work and messaging apps, email and video to relay clear, effective messages.
Why: HR leaders and managers didn’t have the luxury of chatting with employees in the hall or calling a quick meeting to relay information. Plus, remote employees weren’t working – and communicating – all together at the same time.
How: Say it early, often and in many channels. HR leaders and front line managers will want to continue to communicate each message across as many tools they have – messaging apps, emails, calls, in-person and virtual meetings, etc.