Nine months in – and we still need better ways to work from home.
Most companies and HR leaders thought working from home would be temporary – a few weeks, a month or two. Now we’re closing in on a year and many people accept that work from home (WFH) as the new normal. Leaders are even adapting HR plans and policies to make it happen.
“It’s definitely a learning culture,” says Sameer Chowdhri, Global Head, Workplace for HR at Facebook. “You have to find out what’s working and what’s not.”
From the C-Suite to the front-line, employees have had some struggles. So now’s the time for HR to help them find better ways to work from home.
Here’s what needs to improve – and six ways to help.
1. Crank up communication
Nearly a third of employee say they communicate less with their managers since moving to remote work. And 20% say the relationship with their manager has worsened, according to a Paychex survey. But managers sense things are worse: 55% say their personal relationships with employees have suffered since the lockdown.
Fix: Very few people want more Zoom meetings. But employees and bosses need to connect. Encourage front-line managers to set aside time every week to call employees and talk about projects, triumphs, struggles and personal interests – like they would around the old water cooler.
2. Check the tech and comfort
Technology and comfort are still a struggle for many employees working from home. Some haven’t found the right space or proper ergonomics. Others work with compromised technology every day.
Consider this: Almost a third of Gen Z and 20% of Millennials work form their beds because they don’t have a separate space or even a desk, a Vyond survey found.
In many instances, employees share Internet capacity with other family members who work from home and children schooling from home. Others still might not have the tech capabilities they had onsite. That hampers productivity and increases frustration, which leads to lower morale.
Fix: Try a survey to gauge employees tech capabilities and their workspace comfort. If remote work continues, you’ll want to invest in equipping employees like they’re on-site.
“Something simple, like shipping a monitor and keyboard to their home or hosting an optional training with an interior design expert on how to make your space work as a temporary home office, can make all the difference,” says Jeniffer Strub, Senior Manager of Human Resources for Vyond.
3. Tidy up
Clutter causes unnecessary pain points – frustration over not finding something quickly, physical pain from reaching over or under stuff, or stress because you can’t think straight.
Sure, no one wants to be told to “clean up your room!” But a clutter-free, tidy workspace – no matter where it is in your home – will make work better, says Brie Reynolds, career development manager and coach at FlexJobs. And it’s not just the work necessities: Life’s clutter – such as laundry, magazine and bill piles, kids’ toys, etc. – can cause mental clutter.
Fix: Set aside time every few days to tidy your space. The priority: Clear up the things that physically get in your way and mentally stall you (don’t just move them to another space).
4. Understand, manage expectations
One thing that’s difficult for employees working remotely is understanding, managing and executing expectations. Part of the problem is managers and employees meet 40% less now than they did when on-site, the Paychex study found.
It needs to be a two-sided solution because goals, priorities and expectations change so often these days. Employees and their bosses need to regularly clarify goals, priorities and expectations.
Fix: Employees want to ask about and set short- and long-term goals with their managers at least every two weeks. Then managers can lay out their expectations for deadlines, quality of work and level of communication. As the work progresses, both sides can be candid about needs – perhaps a speed-up or delay on delivery, blocks of uninterrupted work time or flexibility for family care.
5. Be socially proactive
Whether they work from a crowded, busy home or a quiet apartment, many employees still miss the office.
“Remote work is incredibly lonely and isolating by nature. We miss the small moments that make up an office’s culture like walks to the coffee machine with a colleague, stopping by your boss’ desk for a quick chat, as well as the energy created by in person collaboration,” says Strub. “We found 40% of remote workers feel frustrated by feeling disconnected from colleagues, with Boomers struggling with this more than their counterparts.”
Fix: Encourage front-line managers to reach out individually to their employees to find out if they feel isolated. Then create opportunities for them to get involved in organizing social activities which might include socially distanced, masked meet-ups or one-on-one video coffee chats. The key is to help employees find something social that works best for them.
6. Practice self-care
No one needs to win the “most tireless remote employee award.” With so little separation between work and life, the better way to work from home is to purposely step away from work.
Front-line managers and HR leaders can set the self-care example for employees when they all work from home.
“I urge leaders to put yourself and your mental health first. And when you think about your coping strategy, consider how you could bring it to employees as well,” suggests Strub. “It’s important that we take care of ourselves and each other during this time.”
Fix: Here are few strategies to try and pass along:
- Create boundaries. Make sure you “leave the office.” Use as many visual and physical boundaries between your work space and personal life – even if it’s just folding your laptop and putting it on a shelf for the night. You want a signal that it’s time to switch from work to life and vice versa.
- Turn off email and other work notifications. You might respond to them because it’s too easy to jump back into work – when you should be relaxing and enjoying personal interests – when work is in the home.
- Get involved in more personal activities. Make a point to get outdoors more – or to any activities or places where you feel comfortable during the pandemic.
- Focus deliberately on work during work hours. Try not to get distracted by personal issues when you work. That way, you can focus more on your personal life when you’re living it.