The COVID19 pandemic forced most enterprises to send their employees to work from home. While they were busy implementing new solutions, procedures, and guidelines, employees working from home faced their own set of challenges they weren’t prepared for.
In one recent research article, over 75% of people said that the COVID-19 outbreak has had a negative impact on their habits and routines. Anyone working from home, which nowadays is pretty much every single one of us, are in an unknown territory, forced to adapt to new lifestyles and new routines with a zero-transition period. In this blog, we will go over some tips for successful and productive work from home strategies.
We’ve organized the tips in 5 major categories for easier navigation. You may be tempted to jump to one of these categories and skip the rest. Try to avoid the temptation. Reading the obvious could be all you need to kick a bad habit out and replace it with a good one. Let’s get started.
Basic work from home tips
This first batch of tips is aimed at equipping us to avoid the pitfalls of slouching on the couch in our PJs for hours just because we’re not commuting to work. These are the most obvious things that so many of us fail to do, and we end up locked in a “Sunday mode.”
- Leave the bed, get off the couch. Find a comfortable and dedicated spot to work. This one spot could earn the “at work” nickname for the time being. Sitting at the desk will mean you’re at work, and when you get up, you’re not at work anymore.
- Get out of your PJs, have an early breakfast, and sit up straight. Maybe it sounds obvious, but it helps your mind to start a logical, productive routine and keep going throughout the day. Establishing routines is essential to stay focused and mentally healthy while working from home.
- Make daily plans and stick to them. Living in isolation from others may throw your mind into a Sunday mode. To avoid this trap that will kill your productivity, set a more detailed plan, and stick to that schedule as much as you can. When you work from home, the daily schedule should be more detailed and structured. Time to work, time for a break, time to play with kids, feed the dog or do some shopping. And don’t forget to schedule some outdoor time. Live organized while you work from home.
- Take advantage of your space and stay active and positive. Get up from the working desk. Leave the computer. Stretch and walk around. These little things may go a long way for your mood. Also, try some cooking. Healthy, regular home-cooked meals will nourish your body and your soul. Use the current situation of working from home for doing everything you couldn’t normally do in the enterprise office. And also, drink water regularly throughout the day.
- If you need any help, ask. Enterprise employees are used to having plenty of colleagues at an arm’s reach away, which meant that help was just a whisper away. Now that we’re all working from our home office, we need to remember that these colleagues, although miles apart, are still just a few mouse-clicks away. Collaboration tools are there for a reason. You’re not alone. When in need of help, reach out to others.
Having the basics covered, let’s now continue to improvement tips.
Tips for the “at work” time while at home
Once you set the basic personal rules of conduct, let’s move on to the tips to help you make the most out of your work hours while working from home.
- Dress up & show up on time. Some may find this overkill but putting on “office attire” changes how we perceive ourselves. Dressing up for the nook you call your “work desk” does help. Being on that desk, on time, every day can have significant productivity and mood benefits. Try it out for some time. Keep track of how far you get, how much you get done and how well you feel at the end of the day.
- Kids rules. With schools in lockdown, chances are the kids are also at home in their Sunday mode. You should have a dedicated room, and a schedule for them too. Help them understand the situation as much as they can, and you may be surprised as to how well they adjust and stick to the new rules. Knowing your kids, you will need to work out the story and the words you use to communicate effectively, so you can all keep your sanity during the lockdown.
- Find a chat buddy. It could be a co-worker or just someone like you, it doesn’t matter. Social interaction can alleviate feelings of loneliness and isolation. “We’re used to social interaction,” says Dr. Thuy-vy Nguyen from Durham University in his study of solitude. “It facilitates cooperation and closeness.” The employee that works from home should fill the socializing gap. It could be the colleague you can hit up when you feel the need to communicate with someone. It could be a friend that works for another organization but is going through the same experience of isolation.
- Whenever possible, do video communication. Doing a phone call is not the same as doing a video call. Seeing other people’s faces changes the way we communicate. It brings us closer. Do whatever you can to simulate in-person communication. “There will be a sense of isolation of course, and it depends on how well your team communicates, or how much they’re willing to amp up communication using other tools besides face-to-face conversations,” says remote worker Matt Haughey, creator of the long-running community weblog MetaFilter and writer for Slack.
- The end of the workday. It is good to send a message to the rest of the team or department near the end of your workday. You can use email or chat, or any other apps you are using as a team. Something simple like “goodnight” or “thank you for a good working day” or last call for questions before you sign-off. It is an alternative to something that we all do in the office – saying goodbye when we leave. This is an excellent way to establish soft boundaries between work and family time, and it helps others to respect your time. This also helps colleagues feel connected and improve the atmosphere in the team.
- Stay available. You are using different kinds of communication platforms. Keep the notifications on. People may work under a different timeline, or they are simply in different time zones. Being available for your remote colleagues can help bridge the geographic and time gap, and help your organization be more agile in addressing issues and solving problems.
Sticking to these simple guidelines may make a tremendous difference in how you feel about working from home. Most of the time, for people who stick to these routines, working from home may even feel liberating and improve personal productivity.
Tips for team leaders
Team leaders will usually have more work in organizing and managing team activities and team performance. This means that the team leaders among us will need to step up and take charge more often, using more technology and hone our soft skills even more. Here are a handful of tips to help you do better management in a work from home setting.
- Communicate with your team members. Work hours, goals, targets, problems… Be clear about what you are expecting from them. Then do what is needed to empower them to do their job on time and to do it well.
- Try to make work from home as fun as possible. Don’t turn all discussions strictly in the work-related direction. Share links or informal information on similar topics like in the physical office. Encourage everyone to take breaks. Lead by example.
- Run well-timed and organized meetings. Teem meetings are just as important when the team is working remotely. The challenge with online meetings is that some of your team may be in a different time zone, or their work from home setting imposes a different daily timeline. Make sure you pick a time that is good for the team.
Physical distance from one another creates a perfect atmosphere for people to drift away while others are talking about something. You will need a well-prepared meeting agenda that everybody knows ahead of time. The common goals will serve as a gathering platform for the team, so the meeting will feel much more focused. It will also allow people to feel some sense of ownership of the meeting as they will usually have at least something to add or discuss one or more points on the agenda.
- Know which tools are working and which aren’t. Ask, observe and test. Be open to changing and improving. Ask management as soon as possible and be a leader in technological improvements.
- Be sure your words are not misread or misinterpreted. Most of the communication we do in face-to-face conversations are communicated or clarified through nonverbal communication. The problem with online meetings is that we don’t have the nonverbal cues at our disposal. It’s much more difficult to capture facial expression nuances, posture changes, tonality variations, etc. This means that our words may convey a different meaning from our original idea. Make sure you give people the room and time to reflect on what they understand from what others are communicating. When doing a non-camera meeting, feel free to use commonly understood emojis like smiley faces. This will help your team conduct better meetings, and you will have fewer misunderstandings.
Things will not get better unless managers don’t get better at managing remote teams. While you already have plenty of transferrable skills, be mindful that physical distance does make communication a bit more challenging. However, remote teams can outperform an in-office setting when things run smoothly and as transparently as possible.
Be aware of the cybersecurity challenges.
When we work in an office building, there is usually a security company providing physical security to the building, and there is probably a team of experts ensuring digital security. In a work from home mode, cybersecurity is a vastly more burning problem that should constantly be top-of-mind for the entire team.
- Update your SOPs with cybersecurity in mind. Now is the moment to read the companies policies and practices and update them with higher cybersecurity requirements. As millions of people are working from home, they unwillingly pose serious cybersecurity challenges. Employees who never gave cybersecurity a second thought are easy targets. They can easily click on a malicious email or install suspicious software, which can serve as a spy app for stealing sensitive information. If your organization relies on people using their own computers at home to do office work, you will need to inform and remind people of the dangers of cybersecurity and the need for diligence.
- Train staff to secure their personal and mobile devices. While employees work from home, they are inevitably using their home internet setup to run business operations. In many cases, companies will rely on people using their personal computers to work from home. Things get even more complicated as employees may put company data on private devices either unintentionally, or out of convenience.
Your SOPs will need a training clause where someone on your team will take charge of keeping cybersecurity best practices as a top priority and regularly bring this up with the team. Having a home firewall, regularly updated antivirus and antimalware apps and not storing office passwords in a notepad document, are all things to help strengthen the security profile of your organization.
- Use secure connections. While working from home, remote workers can use unsecure connections for communication. From the office, it is harder to make that mistake as there is usually a dedicated team on-site handling the intranet communication procedures and what gets out of the building and onto the internet. Security leaders should proactively reach out to individual team members and help them do the necessary setup for encrypted connections like VPNs. As support technicians know, you never assume the other knows what you know. Therefore cybersecurity personnel should prepare guidelines for digital safety and regularly remind people of these best practices. These practices are especially important in organizations that allow remote access to on-site repositories and legacy document management solutions.
- Use strong passwords and authentication. While employees work from home, IT departments and system administrators have additional challenges. In the new situation, it is harder to monitor remote workers and be sure they are using strong passwords and authentication. Biometric security can be more challenging to set up in a work from home environment, and while fingerprint scanners are affordable, adoption of the idea may be a bit harder than in an office setting.
At the same time, it is more complicated to perform password management actions. It’s even more challenging to ensure that every remote computer is running the latest OS patches and security updates. Security professionals understand that the weakest link in the security chain dictates the security of the entire organization. Making sure that every single employee brings their A-game in managing their personal computer security is extremely important for the security of the entire company. Employees should be aware of this responsibility. Only with their diligent password management, the organization can run a secure work from home digital environment.
Cybersecurity is usually tucked away in the IT Department, and the rest of us rarely bother about it in our daily activities. When working from home, the first line of defense is proper SOPs, excellent communication, and regular reminders of the security best practices.
Use technology as a help and as a tool
- Use collaboration tools as much as possible. There are many useful applications you can use while working from home. Zoom, WebEx, Hangouts, Slack, Trello, MS Teams…the list is long. The market was already full of them when the migration of the remote workers begun. Do not hesitate to speak to your IT department for guidelines on which ones to use and how to install them.
- If possible, separate the use of private and enterprise devices. Now, while employees work from home, they combine the private end professional life in one place. Sometimes even at the same time. The one thing they should separate is devices. Enterprise devices have special security software and protocols installed for the security of costumers and enterprise data and documents. Also, they are less vulnerable to phishing and other types of cyberattacks. The discipline of using only private devices for private usage is essential for cybersecurity while working from home.
- Use SaaS solutions as much as possible. As we describe in one of our previous blog posts, secure data access from anywhere for the entire workforce is one of the key reasons why enterprises should consider cloud solutions. Picking the right SaaS solution, coupled with proper training, can lead to productivity growth and employee satisfaction. Keep an open line with your colleagues and ask them to share any information about a potential SaaS solution that can replace an office-bound system you currently use. Being proactive is significant in stressful COVID-19 pandemic times.
- Use music and white noise to improve productivity. When employees work from an office, the sound and visual standards are more robust and stricter. Use the freedom of being at home and use the audio as a productivity booster. Listen to the music that matches the energy of the project. Music has the power to help focus and stimulate intellectual capabilities.
There are studies online that can help your team figure out what kind of music would be most suitable for different people and different departments. At the very least, getting your team to hop over to YouTube for some white-noise playlists could help them put a mental barrier between their workplace and the inevitable noises and distractions in a regular home environment with kids, spouse, pets etc.
- Do not hesitate to use various apps to improve the non-working time. In pandemic time, employees are at home when they are “at work” and when work hours are over. Whether it’s a work activity, watching a movie, exercising or socializing, the home is basecamp for everything. There are workout programs for people who can’t visit the gym. See if your company can dedicate some resources to allow this digital gym membership to your team. There are exercise programs for young people, young moms, middle-aged people and there are workout programs for seniors, too. These online programs aren’t prohibitively expensive, but they can go a long way in building up a positive spirit in your organization.
There are also entertainment options you could extend to your team. Netflix is one. YouTube Premium is another. Audible is also a great option for information hoarders among us. Do what you can to make the work from home experience as effective as possible by helping your team to find leisure activities past work hours.
When we think of technology and work, we regularly think of collaboration tools. However, these two terms intermingle in more complex ways. How we manage our computers and phones in terms of security, how we create a working atmosphere while the entire family is at home, what we do to have fun at home under lockdown and more. All these topics are a part of the technology and work conversation that companies should have in order to guide their workforce during this challenging period.
Let’s wrap up
The COVID pandemic came suddenly and strained the abilities of enterprises and employees alike. We all try to adapt and adopt solutions for emerging problems. Working from home is now our new normal, and many organizations never even considered the option. Now, it’s not just the latest trend. It’s a mode of work that we need to adopt if we want to ensure continuity of service.
To do this, to make sure we have continuity of service, each organization needs to be creative and flexible with the use of technology. In this blog, we shared a set of proactive ways to manage those challenges successfully. From simple daily leisure activities to significant technological improvements.
The silver lining in all this is that we already have tech tools on the market to make the new normal a bit more acceptable and a bit less stressful. We can use technology that enables work from home. There is a thriving market of collaborative tools enabling dispersed teams in different time zones to collaborate effectively and securely on a company-wide scale. There are also products that help people create mental barriers between the inevitable noises that come in a home setting. And, there are entertainment options that enterprises can offer to their employees to make this work from home period productive and fun.
Armedia LLC is a CMMI Level 3 company that provides a niche focus in Enterprise Content Management (ECM) and Case Management (CM) technical and advisory services. For over 18 years, we offer technology solutions to companies and government organizations that are facing document management, case management, and workflow management challenges. In just the past year, Armedia has actively supported over 30 initiatives in the government and commercial market.
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