Homeworking is here to stay –
how to make it work for your business
Homeworking was already a rapidly growing trend before the Covid-19 pandemic reshaped the workplace landscape. With the traditional nine-to-five routine and time-consuming commute becoming incompatible with modern workers busy lives, many of us were seeking flexible alternatives. However, under the confines of lockdown restrictions, homeworking suddenly became a forced necessity for most businesses, rather than a convenient and occasional alternative.
Don’t leave your employees to overcome the challenges their new full-time home working arrangement presents – from setting up a workspace they feel comfortable at to being unable to tap a colleague on the shoulder to ask a question. This out of sight out of mind approach could cause their motivation and productivity to suffer.
So, how can you help them work from home effectively during the Covid-19 crisis and beyond?
Setting up a workspace at home shouldn’t mean sprawling on the sofa or lying in bed. Getting this right won’t just improve productivity; it will impact their health as well.
- Encourage them to create a clear distinction between home and work life by choosing a space in which they can minimise distractions. Preferably a separate room, so they can close the door to keep business in and family out.
- Natural daylight improves our mood and makes us happier, so advise them to choose a room or space with a window – a nice view won’t hurt either and will be a welcome distraction from staring at the screen. If a window isn’t an option, they could buy a lamp that mimics daylight.
- Help employees to avoid getting ‘tech neck’ and other stresses and strains associated with poorly aligned office furniture, by providing virtual desk assessments. Whether they have an ergonomic chair in a home office, or they’re sat at the kitchen table, encourage them to complete and submit a risk assessment (with photographs if required) of their workstation, which can be virtually assessed by the HR team.
- Once they’re ready to work from home in comfort, advise them to avoid awkward, static postures by regularly changing position and to get up and move around/stretch throughout the working day. Also advise them to exercise their eyes at least every 20 minutes, to avoid focusing fatigue. For example, stare at an object that’s around 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. Known as the “20-20-20 rule”, this relaxes the focusing muscle inside the eye to reduce fatigue.
Enforced full-time homeworking suddenly deprived us of the physical interactions we took for granted in our working lives – professionally and socially. Your business must overcome the challenges this presents, both in terms of mental health and productivity, by maintaining effective channels of communication remotely.
- Mental health – remote workers communicate substantially less with colleagues and managers when working from home, often leaving them feeling worried about their work and depriving them of vital social interactions.
- Provide flexible one to one and group professional support sessions/meetings via video conference.
- Facilitate and encourage interaction between employees by phone, instant messenger, email and video conferencing. For example, create a ‘digital water cooler’: a social online interaction point for employees to hang out.
- Be transparent during uncertain times by keeping employees updated about the impact of events on the business and their future.
- Productivity – communication is key to your business’s success at the best of times. From hosting a conference to having a one to one, it’s at the heart of everything you do. With everyone working from home you must keep that professional contact intact.
- At TDM Group we have helped clients to incorporate Microsoft Teams into their daily operation. This chat-based platform enables collaborative remote working and information sharing via a common online space.
- Establish a consistent process for sharing information on digital platforms, so people know what technology to use and how to use it.
- Set up regular interaction sessions to share knowledge, ideas and progress, such as digital morning coffee meetings. HR Manager, Saja Saleh explains how TDM has used this concept to enrich its employee’s homeworking day: “Our weekly coffee/tea meeting on Teams provides a relaxed digital environment in which our people can chew the phat about everything from the government’s Covid-19 response to their current professional project.”
- Celebrate achievements and company news by sharing digital messages with the team. For example, all TDM Group clients are provided with a free intranet service with base functionality via SharePoint – with the option to purchase additional features.
When home becomes a workplace, the lines between the two are easily blurred, leading to unwelcome distractions and unnecessary stress. According to a recent study, around 44% of employees forced to work from home by the lockdown restrictions are working longer hours than usual – 21% of which say they cannot switch off from work.
Everyone’s definition of work-life balance differs depending on their circumstances, but there are a few common rules that can keep it at a healthy level.
- If you don’t have a separate room to work in away from their living space, clear everything up at the end of the day to help the transition from work mode into home mode. Mentally clocking out replicates leaving the office, minus the dreaded commute.
- Despite the commute now taking seconds rather than hours, resist using this extra time to lie-in or watch TV on the sofa. Get ready for the working day the same way you normally would.
- Maintain a regular pattern by setting work hours and sticking to them – 9 to 5 has never seemed so appealing. This will help them to wake up and go to bed at the same time each day, work manageable hours and plan other activities.
- Take rest breaks (at least 5 minutes every hour) at the same time as you would during a normal working day back in the office.
- Take a lunch break away from the workspace for a set amount of time each day and utilise outside space or go for a walk if the weather permits.
- Managers should be sympathetic towards family dynamics – such as children – that might cause distractions during the working day, and be supportive of each employees’ circumstances.
Most people have a laptop/PC and a fast-broadband connection; but this doesn’t mean they’re ready to work from home effectively. To achieve this, they also need access to the right tools. TDM Group recommends Microsoft 365 – a suite of intuitive services that will enhance their home working experience – together with the right business-focused technical skillset to unlock its potential.
- Teams – your business can work in global, remote and dispersed teams by taking advantage of convenient features:
- Chat: from group chats to one-on-one discussion, your employees can get their message across quickly and clearly.
- Meetings: forget congested meeting room schedules. Arranging a formal get together is simple thanks to Teams intuitive audio, video and screen sharing functions.
- Live events: mass gatherings don’t need to be a thing of the past. Teams allows you to broadcast online events to up to 10,000 attendees – publicly and internally – which can be accessed retrospectively using the optional recording function.
- Phone system: place and receive calls using mobile devices, a headset with a PC or one of many IP phones that work with Teams. No matter where you’re calling from around the world, you can obtain direct dial in numbers that circumvent the need to go through a reception.
- Documents: forget searching for a needle (the latest version of an important document) in a haystack (your emails, for example); users can access, share and edit Word, PowerPoint and Excel files in real-time from this central hub that’s delivered by SharePoint.
- One Drive – this cloud-based storage platform allows your employees to store important files securely in one place automatically and access them virtually anywhere from any device.
- Stream – the proliferation of homeworking has seen our screen time accelerate to mind-numbing levels. This symptom of online professional communication has highlighted the need to deliver and access engaging video content. Stream enables employees to securely upload, view and share videos that bring their collaboration to life – from classes and meetings to presentations and training sessions.
- OneNote – forget the good old post-it note; this convenient digital notebook allows your employees to capture pretty much everything in one easy to access place – from notes and audio recordings to sketches.
- SharePoint – this intuitive document management and collaboration tool makes a folder on a server somewhere look a little old-fashioned. SharePoint is used by businesses of all sizes to securely store, organise, share and access information from any device.
- Yammer – this enterprise social networking tool is often referred to as the “Facebook of the corporate world”. Yammer enables your business to build an online community, share and leverage knowledge and engage decision-makers and employees.
- Delve – this comprehensive data visualisation and discovery tool combines elements of social networking and machine learning with the search capability of the Microsoft 365 suite. The result is a cloud-based services that allows users to discover relevant information across integrated products by mining content from Microsoft Exchange, OneDrive for Business, SharePoint and Yammer.
Don’t compromise your business’s data and integrity by leaving your employees and their homeworking practices exposed to cybercriminals. These unscrupulous members of society won’t hesitate to exploit the unfamiliar ways of working and heightened stress levels that this enforced working arrangement presents. Take proactive steps to support and empower your employees in the fight against cybercrime.
- Enable them to identify potential cybersecurity issues by delivering relevant online training.
- Promote a regular cybersecurity routine to protect personal PCs by providing a checklist of key consideration – from running anti-virus scans to covering webcams.
- Ensure your IT support team manage all devices used for remote working, including monitor patching and anti-virus software when accessing business systems.
- Ensure all personal devices connected to the home network have the required security updates.
- Provide multi-factor authentication to access your business’s VPN and cloud services.
- Heighten your employee’s awareness of malicious phishing emails by sending simulations impersonating real attackers.
For many of your employees, homeworking will be a step into the unknown. Deprived of everything they take for granted during the normal working day – from physical interaction with their colleagues to a structured routine – they’re still expected to deliver the same quantity and quality of work as usual.
By adopting a holistic approach to supporting them, they will be equipped with the tools, techniques and motivation they need to be productive and happy working at home: a workspace they feel comfortable at, effective channels of communication, a healthy work-life balance, intuitive technology setup correctly and proactively managed, and the ability to stay secure online.