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[Podcast] 4 Steps to Managing Work from Home Successfully

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This article is taken from the Build Your Queue podcast below, Season 3 Episode 27 with Chris Wilson, CEO of Smart Furniture.

You want to adapt your business to the major shift toward working from home. But what all goes into that transition, and how can you best manage it to set up your team for long-term success?

You’ll know what needs to be improved for remote workers, both at your own office and in their home work space, when you consider:

  • How has the COVID-19 pandemic permanently changed work environments?
  • Who benefits from an at-home vs. in-office environment?
  • How can you help your employees who transition to remote work?
  • What can you do to improve your culture to support remote workers?

We’ll help you answer these questions so you can walk away knowing what your employees need to get the most out of remote work!

PC: TalentLyft

1. How has the COVID-19 pandemic permanently changed work environments?

43% of workers were already remote at the start of 2020, and since the outbreak of COVID-19 that percentage has jumped to 64%. This number is only predicted to increase, so what changes does your business need to make to best respond to it?

Create an in-office space employees feel safe in.

It’s not just the amount of people working from home—expectations for office layout are also changing for workers who still prefer to work on-site. Most businesses are starting to take an employee-focused approach, where there’s more flex space and less densely populated offices.

A leading commercial real estate company, Cushman & Wakefield, has even created guidelines for what they call the “Six Feet Office.” The idea is to keep employees socially distanced through six key concepts:

1. Stay six feet away from other employees.

2. Allow employees to take a hybrid approach to work (for example, maybe some people work Monday through Tuesday, while others work Wednesday through Friday), and ask them be respectful of other employees’ space when they’re in the office.

3. Use marks on the floor around desks to symbolize six feet bubbles.

4. Encourage employees to walk counterclockwise when they need to move around the office.

5. Enter and leave rooms based on signs or a flow of traffic that will keep employees from bumping into each other.

6. Keep desk areas cleaned and replace disposable items, like workpads, frequently.

Other offices have also begun facing people in different directions, and even creating barriers between desks to stop the spread of germs.

Making similar changes at your own office will help you become workplace where employees feel safe to come to and collaborate in when they want a break from working at home.

Encourage hybrid schedules.

Letting employees take a hybrid approach to work will not only help you keep your in-office less crowded, employees will also be more productive when they can freely switch between working at home and the office.

82% of workers like the idea of being able to choose between both at any time, and they've been found to be more productive when doing so. 

2. Who benefits from an at-home vs. in-office environment?

Productivity will always depend on the value the environment gives the individual, and the COVID-19 pandemic has shined a much harsher light on what is and isn’t working for both remote and in-office employees.

For instance, the people who prefer working in an in-office environment do so because the office provides things they can't get at home, like:

  • Creative space for collaboration
  • Face-to-face communication
  • A work culture that supports socializing

Likewise, employees who prefer working remote do so because their home provides more value than their office:

  • Their supervisor provides plenty of opportunities for questions and feedback
  • They have a proper office setup and tools
  • They still have opportunities to connect with other workers and feel connected to the team
  • Expectations and tasks are clearly laid out

Providing these things in both areas is what will help your employees be at their most productive. There are always hurdles like budget, square footage, buy-in from management, etc, but it’s important to try to provide as much as possible so your employees are enabled to put out the best work.

PC: Gensler

3. How can you help your employees who transition to remote work?

If you provide good seating and lighting for your in-office employees, why wouldn’t you also provide it for your remote workers, too?

Desk and Chair

You can make sure your remote workers are comfortable when you provide them with a proper desk and chair (instead of just assuming they have those things themselves).

You can also provide them resources to ensure that they set up a workspace that is based on ergonomics. Ergonomics is the idea of fitting the tasks to the capabilities of the human performing them so they can be completed in the most effective way possible.

The most basic part of ergonomics that you can easily share with your remote workers is the acronym N-E-W, which stands for:

N — Having a neutral posture while performing tasks. Include sitting with a straight neck, shoulders straight down loosely at the sides, elbows at a right angle, wrists straight, low back supported on the back rest of the chair, 90 degrees at the hips, 90 degrees at the knees, and feet flat on the floor or on a footrest.

E — Keeping eye and elbow height the same by ensuring that the keyboard (ASDF home row) and mouse are positioned at the elbow level. The top of their monitor should be at or slightly below eye height.

W — Maintaining a clean and sectioned work environment with items that are used often in the primary work zone (the area when elbows are at the sides and the hands are moved side to side), and items that are used less often in the secondary zone (area within the outstretched arms).

These guidelines can help a worker who sits for five to six hours a day avoid back pain.

PC: Ergonomic Trends

Lighting

Remote workers will also need proper lighting, meaning there’s no harsh contrast between outdoor light and their computer screen.

Employees can ensure the lightning is most safe for their eyes when you provide them with resources that show them how to:

1. Make sure there’s sufficient mix of direct and indirect lighting

2. Eliminate dark spots and shadows

3. Minimize glares by removing shiny surfaces and objects

4. Ensure there’s a sufficient contrast between foreground and background by removing areas in the room that are brighter than others

5. Calibrate color temperature to warmer hues that are safer for eyes

Having proper lighting is also great for anyone who is frequently on video calls.

PC: LightCorp

4. What can you do to improve your culture to support remote workers?

There’s no need to be resistant from letting people work at home, and most people have experienced an increase in productivity since working from home.

If you’re not comfortable with your employees working from home, you need to turn inward and ask what can be changed about your company culture to make that different:

  • Do you need to work on your management skills? (Setting a clearer picture of your goals and expectations?)
  • Are you not hiring the right people?
  • Do you need to build a culture that emphasizes accountability?
  • Are you not already providing clear and consistent communication?

The key is to be more intentional about communication when people are remote.

Sometimes your workers aren’t used to being accountable for everything they do, so you have to create a check-in schedule that gives them that while still offering flexibility.

To reach that balance, you’ll need to A) make time give concise directions, B) anticipate the things the remote worker may need before they need them, and C) provide feedback on what is and isn't working. 17% of remote workers have problems collaborating and communicating with their team when their managers can't do these basic things.

You’ll also want to move to more open meetings where individual departments can discuss what they’re doing. These meetings need to have more structure as far as how they’ll run and what’s on the agenda, so every department has an equal chance to speak and connect with what’s going on outside of what they’re doing in the business.

And how can you carve out time for dedicated social hours, so you can come together and still give people space and flexibility to get their work done?

The goal is to make your remote workers feel like they’re a part of your team, even when they’re miles away from your main office. Communication platforms, like Slack, can help you create that culture when you share reviews, new business, and feedback on a recent success with your entire company.

Related: [Podcast] 5 Steps to Successfully Managing Remote Employees

PC: CakeHR

Listen to your remote employees, so you can figure the best way to move forward.

It’s in your best interest for your employees to have the option to work from home. Long-term it can be a more affordable option for your company, but you need to invest to make sure that those working from home can do so productively.

Listen to their needs, note what isn’t working, and make adjustments accordingly.

Related: The Ultimate Guide to Remote Working