Many companies are sending employees home to work so they can keep social distance and help slow the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19). Working from home isn’t new, of course. Before the current health emergency, 4.7 million people worked remotely.
But this is different. Many companies have sent their employees home suddenly, without having a planned work-from-home policy. And even for those 4.7 million who have worked at home before, today’s situation isn’t WFH as usual. For one thing, some of those remote workers typically divided their time between home and the office. They may not have experienced a 100% remote scenario long-term, or had to restrict their after-work social activities.
Besides that, when employees worked from home in the past, they may not have also had to manage kids during the school day or share desk space during a conference call with a spouse who was also at home due to the pandemic. For some, WFH may be isolating. For others, it may be crowded or chaotic. And for all of us at this particular moment in history, it’s certainly stressful.
This is new territory we’ll be figuring out over the next several weeks or even months. But even as we cope with the many uncertainties in the news, it’s vital to set up a work-from-home policy that communicates expectations and provides guidance and structure for success.
1. Ensure employees have the right equipment at home
Make sure all employees have the basics: a laptop, WiFi, and a phone line or cell phone. They may need a printer or paper shredder. They should have their passwords so they can log into the company computer systems.
Encourage employees to create a comfortable work area for themselves. Ideally, it's in a separate, quiet room, with an ergonomically appropriate desk and chair. This may not be possible initially, especially if the decision to work at home is sudden, however, for long-term physical health, this set up is essential.
Make sure employees going to work from home have IT backup and know how to reach out for support.
2. Make team communication easy
What communication channels should be used? Some people use Slack. Others use Skype. Some use internal chats. Having a common channel makes it simpler and helps ensure messages don’t get missed.
Make sure employees can communicate freely with each other. They probably have co-workers’ company email addresses, but if you haven’t already, set up additional channels of communication through systems like Slack. Keeping in touch is always important, but especially when employees are isolated from each other during this time of uncertainty and rapid change. And, if you haven’t already used video conferencing, now is the time. Agree if your team will use cameras or not—we encourage the use of cameras because it helps everyone feel connected.
As you find your way through these forms of communication, determine the expectation for timeliness of responses. Some companies expect text/chat responses right away, but email responses by end of the day or within 24 hours. Talk with your team to determine your new norm.
3. Keep the structure as similar as possible
Now that employees are home and prepared for work, how exactly does that work get done? Try to keep your regular business schedule, but, be ready to provide more flexibility, as needed.
If your company has a daily standup at 9 am - keep doing it, via Zoom, Skype or Hangouts. If you don’t have regular check-ins normally, add them to the calendar. They are more important than ever in times like these.
At the same time, establish expectations. Talk with each employee in those first days about making the transition to working from home. Here’s a quick reference checklist:
- Are there any tasks that need to be completed differently?
- Will employees need assistance to get work done—and how will they get that assistance?
- Are they juggling home responsibilities, such as childcare, that may require additional flexibility?
- Do any deadlines need to be adjusted?
- Maintain scheduled check ins. If you don’t usually check in with employees regularly, now is a good time to start. And if you do check in, keep that going. It’s easy to feel “out of sight, out of mind” when working remotely, so weekly check ins are critical.
- Define success and continue to manage performance. The main argument most employers have against remote work is that they worry an employee will slack off (although studies show the opposite occurs). Hold employees accountable for achieving goals, and provide feedback just as you would if they were working in the office.