“In teamwork silence isn’t golden, it’s deadly”
MIKE SANBORNE, AUTHOR
Working remotely (and especially working from home) requires the acquisition of a specific set of skills if it’s going to be a success for the company and the employee. There are many hazards that await those new to home working (some obvious and some hidden) that can lead to people feeling stressed, uncertain about their duties, and lacking motivation.
This article covers the key messages that Line Mangers should review with their staff when they are new to the experience of home working in order to avoid these potential pitfalls. As the title suggests, it covers guidance on the do’s and don’ts of making working from home a positive experience. At its heart is the concept that new Remote Workers should have a Structured Remote Working Induction/Coaching Programme that helps them to thrive when working virtually.
Naturally, any suggestions need to be tailored to the needs of each specific employee and take account of the corporate culture/procedures, but there are a number of ‘standard’ messages that are worth covering.
The eight key elements involved in developing a Structured Remote Working Induction Programme for a new Remote Worker are:
- Making the most of the experience
- Dealing with isolation
- Getting the set up right
- Being red hot on Cyber Security
- Transition Rituals
- Agreeing House Rules
- Time Blocking
- Working from home with young children
Let’s look briefly at each of these factors in turn…
Working from home means that workers have to improvise (depending on what’s going on at home) and juggle their work hours accordingly, which can be tricky. However, it also allows people to flex what they are doing to take the maximum advantage of being in the home environment. So, no reason not to take a few minutes off to play with the kids, or put some laundry in the washing machine, or mow the lawn, or have a coffee with your mum, or schedule home deliveries for during the day etc.
So, good managers should encourage staff to consciously think about how to gain from the flexibility that remote working brings e.g. What to do with time gained from not commuting into work? Take an early morning yoga class? Maybe go for a run at the end of the day?
One potential downside of home working is the loss of social contact it brings. This can lead to feelings of isolation and sometimes anxiety.
To counteract this, managers should schedule at least a weekly catch up call with their remote employees (and for the first couple of weeks of remote working those ‘catch up’ calls should probably be daily).
New Home Workers should also be encouraged to schedule daily catch up/check in calls with colleagues to replicate (albeit imperfectly) corridor conversations/ water cooler chats.
In addition, managers should encourage new Home Workers to:
- Get out of the house at least once a day e.g. walk to the shops, stop and chat to a neighbour.
- Work outside the home for part of the day e.g. spend some time working from a local coffee shop, networking space, or sitting on a park bench.
- Think about attending local networking events as a way of building a support network. Or maybe join a local club or association to boost levels of social contact e.g. a book club, a netball team etc. or take a night school class.
It is easier to work from home if the employee can create a physical space that is conducive to concentration and focus. Managers need to have a conversation with their people about how they are going to handle this aspect of their work.
The ideal thing (obviously) is to have a dedicated ‘office’, a converted spare bedroom or an ‘office shed’ in the garden. People can work on the kitchen table if they have to, but they should be able to put everything away at the end of each working day e.g. have a work cupboard, or a chest/crate that they can put their laptop and papers in. That way staff can make a clear distinction between work time (and work spaces) and home time (and home spaces) as the two things are kept physically separate.
There should also be a discussion about how to follow the appropriate Health and Safety protocols e.g. making sure each staff member has good lighting and a work position that won’t result in RSI or a strained neck etc.
Furthermore, it is also important to make sure that they have the right tools for the job, e.g. an excellent WIFI connection, headset and microphone, an ergonomic chair and (maybe) a separate monitor, plus a table at the right height (and don’t let people work on the sofa or in bed!)
Make a particular point of encouraging each employee to have good posture; it’s very easy to slump or slouch over a laptop or phone, leading to neck, back and shoulder pain. Some managers like to suggest that people go on You Tube and find a set of simple stretches and posture exercises that they can do 3-4 times a day to avoid those physical issues occurring over time.
Cyber Security is of crucial importance at all times and in all contexts. It is of particular concern, however, when working from home for the first time when best practice procedures may not already be in place. Good security is a matter of following all the standard security protocols, namely:
- Make sure each employee has a strong password on their Router and any WIFI connections, ensure anti-virus is in place and fully updated, and encryption tools are installed.
- Check all security software is up to date (privacy tools, add-ons for browsers and other patches need to be checked regularly).
- Discuss the need to have a back-up strategy and make sure that employees remember to do it
A Ritual is a series of actions performed in a set sequence. Rituals can be religious, community, legal or personal in nature.
A Transition Ritual is a highly specific behaviour that is done at the same time every day (or on specific days of the week) in order to psychologically move from one mood, or mode, or type of thinking into another one.
They are particularly important when home working because, surrounded by all the artefacts of a personal life, there is a need to deliberately make the move from ‘home’ mode to ‘work’ mode and back again.
When people don’t use Transition Rituals they often find it hard to get going in the morning and/or let work activities bleed unhelpfully into their personal time in the evening e.g. checking emails over the dinner table. The ‘rituals’ someone chooses (and many people have at least some that they are using already) are a matter of individual preference e.g. some people get dressed in specific ‘work’ clothes, or start the day with a coffee in the garden as a primer for work, or meditate for ten minutes, or pack/ unpack the crate that they keep their laptop and work papers in etc. The main thing is for the manager to explicitly coach employees on developing the ‘Transition Rituals’ that are right for them.
It is worth noting that Rituals can be positive, negative or neutral in their impact. Some ‘negative rituals’ to think about making sure employees avoid when home working include; ‘snacking’, or generally using food-based rewards to punctuate the day; not getting dressed, until late in the day; not going outside for breaks but staying tied to the laptop!
If an employee lives with house mates or a partner and/or has children, it may be worth suggesting to them that they sit down as a group and agree some ‘House Rules’ for how to share the space together.
The idea is to avoid the irritation that comes from things like people playing loud music, or bursting into the room when you are in the middle of a call with the CEO, or arguments about who is supposed to be looking after the kids. So, one House Rule might be to suggest to older children that they won’t shout at the top of their lungs when they want something, but will quietly walk to the work area and see if you are on a call before talking.
Of course, House Rules, are a two-way process and employees should appreciate that flat mates and family may well have their own thoughts about what some of those rules should be e.g. no work calls after hours, giving your partner/family your undivided attention when you’re not working etc. Naturally, they should be coached to accept any reasonable suggestions from the people they are sharing space with.
Having a formal work schedule is a key success factor when home working because there are few naturally occurring events to structure the day e.g. there are no colleagues around or commuting etc. to give shape to the day.
Time Blocking is a time management technique that simply involves listing the tasks someone wants to do and then allocating a specific time to do them. Using this system, every minute of the working day is assigned a task e.g.
|09.00am – 10.00am||Task X|
|10.00am – 10.30am||Task Y|
|10.30am – 10.45am||Coffee Break|
|10.45am – 11.15am||Contingency: deal with unexpected tasks|
|11.15am – 12.00 am||Team Meeting (Zoom conference)|
Of course, the schedule can be modified in the face of ‘events’, and some of the estimates of how long it takes to do a task will be wrong; so there may well be a gap between the plan and the actual work done each day, but that is perfectly fine. The aim isn’t to do everything on the list but to provide a ‘shape’ to the day that will maximise productivity.
Consequently, managers should encourage people new to home working to adopt this process.
Working from home when children are in the house (especially those of pre-school age) can be especially challenging. They will, naturally, demand attention and their needs will have to be attended to. There are, however, some strategies that are commonly used to cope with this situation and the manager should run through these options with employees with young families…
First and foremost (and easily forgotten) is to just enjoy having them around. Take short ‘micro breaks’ from work to play with them and (if they are really young) make the most of any nap times (theirs not yours).
Have a written schedule that balances your family and work commitments (e.g. use the Time Blocking technique).
Agree who will do what and when in terms of child care (i.e. as part of establishing the House Rules).
If you can afford it, hire a babysitter, child minder, or use play groups to let you focus during a set block of time each day e.g. 9am to 1pm. Some lucky people can also get Grandparents involved in the childcare process.
Think about having planned activities to occupy the kids; these will be age dependent of course, but include things like having colouring books, toys, videos and games etc. available for them to play with.
Helping people who are new to Remote Working (and especially home working) is about making sure that the manager goes through a structured induction/coaching process on the do’s and don’ts of home working. The factors to cover include; making the most of the experience, proactively avoiding the feeling of isolation, Transition Rituals and the Time Blocking technique.
Reflect on how you are coaching employees who are new to remote working. Are you doing enough to support them? Have you got a structured induction process in place? What changes might you make?
Read this short article on how to avoid employees feeling isolated when they are working from home
Watch… this 10 minute-long video on Time Blocking
Consider signing managers up to our half-day Managing Remote Teams workshop, run either as a face to face session, or as a Virtual Training Event
Or give us a call on 0844 394 8877 (UK)
or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll be happy to discuss how we can work with you.
And finally, a quote by the Management Consultant and author