We’re all going through a lot right now, especially with many companies going fully remote–you can check out Hurricane Labs' remote story in Part 1–to avoid the spread of COVID-19. Regardless of whether you’ve worked from home before the Coronavirus (COVID-19) or not, I want to say: it’s going to be okay!
There’s a solution to every problem, as long as you can remain calm and work through it. By taking this as an opportunity to improve the accessibility, safety, and continuity of your work environment, it can be a truly valuable learning experience.
A quick bit about me
I’ve been working at home for a few years now, due to my disabilities. Long story short, during the latter part of 2017, I became mostly housebound and–although doing better–still spend a lot of time in my house. From my personal journey, I’d like to share some strategies I’ve discovered that I hope will help get you, your employees, and coworkers through this new working lifestyle.
We will go more into detail on business continuity in the final post of the series, but right now let’s walk through several ways your workplace can improve.
1.) Prioritize your wellness and safety programs
Making health and wellness a priority–during business as usual or times of uncertainty–is crucial to effectively functioning employees. There are four subtopics I’m going to include here, which include mental health, emotional well-being, stress management, and safety.
Mental Health & Emotional Well-being
Mental health has long been stigmatized and is rarely talked about, which is why I’m emphasizing it quite a bit here.
To put it simply, good employee mental health is good for business. When your employees feel they are taken care of, chances are they will be more inclined to care for customers in kind.
There are a variety of actions you can take that go a long way in wellness programs. You can start by having empathy and being available to lend an ear during non-judgemental meetings about mental health issues.
During these one-on-one meetings, instead of asking your employees or coworkers “what can I do to help?”–which often gets the response of “nothing”–you can offer up some options to choose from: “Here’s what I can do to help: I can check-in with you daily. I can remind you to take breaks/lunch so you don’t overwork yourself. I can pick up [task] for you. Or, if there’s something else, let me know and I’ll see what I can do.”
Take care of your employees and coworkers, and there’s a good chance they’ll take even better care of you!
Another strategy for emotional wellness at work is simply being able to provide people with helpful resources– if your company has the ability to assist with these financially, by all means do this.
Stress management is a big one that also falls into this overarching category. There are a wide variety of online courses available to help your employees learn how to manage stress, such as this meditation course on Udemy. (Don’t be discouraged if you can’t meditate. It takes a lot of practice! Try breathing exercises instead.)
Because Hurricane Labs is set up for remote work at the drop of a hat–our mandatory “Work At Home When Sick” policy helps with that–our workplace is safer for employees, anyone that pays us a visit, and our community. Staying home when sick, or during an epidemic, is just the right thing to do when you’re trying to prevent immunocompromised, elderly folks, and others from getting sick.
2.) Talk to your coworkers
You might need to share your toilet paper stockpile with some of your coworkers and you won’t know until you ask...
Set up a channel on the chat application your organization uses to socialize. You can set up several: a place to share memes, a place to talk about COVID-19 anxieties, a work from home channel (share with each other what you’re going through and what helps you cope.) As discussed in Part 1, create a “virtual watercooler.” Check on each other.
3.) Set an agenda for designated team check-ins
Have your managers set aside time–weekly or every other week–to check on the needs of your employees. They may have new or different problems that you can easily solve, but they haven’t had a chance to bring up with you yet.
You also want to make sure they know they have one on one time with managers to voice their concerns or to ask career related questions. It’s the job of your managers to make sure your employees have what they need to do their jobs and to improve their skills. Don’t let the office be the only place this happens.
4.) Create an accessible and inclusive environment
You want to have a diverse environment so you can have diverse perspectives, making your products, services, and the way you relate to customers and others much better.
If you succeed at this, you’ll have the ability to hire disabled workers that must work at home (people like me!). This definitely widens your pool of talented people to choose from. It also allows people with unique situations, such as single parents or people who need to take care of other family members, to work for you.
5.) Set up a good work environment for yourself
Remove any distractions. Turn off the TV, put away that phone or tablet, go to a different room–anything you might find yourself paying attention to instead of work.
Having a separate place for work is often crucial: somewhere different than where you would be for leisure. For me, having an L shaped desk, where I turn my chair to switch from work to personal, is good enough; I also keep my personal computer off most of the day. For others, this may mean having a separate room just for work, or putting your work computer and personal computer on two separate sides of the room.
If there are other people at home, remind them of your work hours and tell them to only interrupt you if you are not working. This can be a challenge if you have kids. Obviously, do still take care of your kids–but if you have older kids, you may be able to get away with closing your door and telling them to only knock if it’s important. You will need to define what “important” is.
For me, what I do while school is out (such as now or during the summer) is work on things that don’t require a lot of collaboration at night after my kids are in bed.
6.) Set boundaries and keep a schedule
Now that everyone is staying home, your entire household needs to run on a schedule. If it’s just you, this is pretty easy. Wake up at the same time, and go to bed at the same time. Take a shower, make breakfast, have your coffee.
If you have kids and school is cancelled, get them on a schedule just as if they were in school. Have them go to bed at the same time, wake up at the same time, have 3 meals a day and a bedtime routine.
When your whole household is on a schedule, it’s easier to predict what your workday will be like and when you can get the most work done.
7.) Focus on requirements and results
Requirements should be worked out between employees and management. By outlining goals and setting clear expectations, this will put less emphasis on the time concern and more focus on the completion of outcomes.
During a time of uncertainty–when there are many worries and concerns–it’s important that at work there is no question what is expected. However, you do need to make sure that your expectations are reasonable and attainable. Your employees should feel comfortable letting you know if there are any unreasonable expectations, so let them know that you are open to discussion or to let you know if anything changes. Be a little flexible if they need it.
At Hurricane Labs, we’re less about measuring productivity and more about solid collaboration–working closely with each other–and performing with passion so we can do the best job possible for our customers. What works for your company may be similar or different than ours, but being on the same page is what is going to help everyone be successful.
8.) Practice deep work
Deep work–the concept of ignoring all notifications for exactly 30 minutes and getting as much accomplished as you can–has made working at home so much easier for me!
One of the many reasons I prefer working at home–aside from the requirement due to disability–is because office life involved so many disruptions to my concentration. Coworkers would stop by to chat, a new shift would come in and make the whole office noisey, and so on.
While working at home, you’ll find it’s pretty easy to do deep work and accomplish a lot in a fairly short amount of time.
Try these tips:
- Put away your phone
- Close all your browser tabs
- Change your status message on your chat app (of course, you may need to answer a work-related message, but try to keep it to a minimum)
The notifications will be there when you are done. If you do this a few times a day, you’ll get an entire day of work at an office done while at home, in a fraction of the time.
9.) Reduce stress and provide additional perks
There’s a major adjustment period if you’re going from full-time office work to fully remote. Life is going to be a bit more hectic and distracting for a while, with kids and family members being around and even potentially getting sick.
If you are able to make decisions for your company, now would be a great time to allow some leeway. Take away some of the stress on your employees for a period of time by removing higher pressure tasks–postpone or cancel performance goals, or allow employees to use sick days or PTO for family care without taking out of their bank of PTO.
People are also going to be affected financially by the Coronavirus. If you have a way, add in bonuses or ways to earn extra money. You can also set up a fund to help employees with additional expenses that are a result of COVID-19 or other financial issues that may arise during these times.
Take it one step at a time. You got this!
Whether you started today or you started years ago, this is still a different type of situation that’s going to take some time to work through. Make a plan for moving forward, follow through, and learn from the many mistakes that will be made. Listen to your employees and coworkers, and take note both of the struggles and of the good things. Use this as an opportunity to make your workplace better for everyone.
In the next and final part of this series, we’ll talk about what you can do as a business to prepare for the future.