Necessity is indeed the mother of invention. With the coronavirus pandemic affecting every human being and business on the planet, we’re seeing changes to how we work that will surely outlast this health crisis.
For example, these days, instead of new hires being walked over to their desks, many are being handed laptops and instructions for accessing VPN and videoconferencing systems from home. In some cases, the new employees get the laptops and instructions sent to them via the mail, FedEx or Amazon. Even more interestingly, they may not know when, or if, they’ll ever sit in the same room or have lunch with their co-workers.
No one could argue against this strategy. Coronavirus cases are increasing and companies now have official social-distancing policies. Where as work-from-home (WFH) used to be a privilege for only a small amount of employees, companies are now encouraging – even mandating – that all workers don’t get anywhere near the office for the sake of everyone’s health and safety. That’s why WFH is becoming the new normal way to work for everyone, and it will never go back to the way it used to be.
Of course, those employed by big tech companies like Microsoft, Google, Apple, and Facebook (and most start ups) have been working at home for years, a result of progressive, forward-thinking policies. Accordingly, with the current health crisis, these employees have easily adapted to the technical and cultural differences of working at home versus working at the office. But for those who work in more traditional industries, and for more traditional companies, WFH might be a lot more complicated. They’re simply not used to staring at screens during meetings instead of talking to co-workers across a conference room table. There are psychological and emotional issues to consider. And the reality is that many organizations don’t have the budget, resources, or expertise to connect everyone together in a virtual office.
To get people more comfortable with remote work, companies are sharing best practices by posting articles and videos on an intranet. These tools help employees remain productive, and give supervisors practical tips for managing remote teams.
But leaders recognize that WFH tools and tips can only do so much. It can’t be a “business as usual” mindset. People are scared, unsure. So to reduce feelings of isolation and anxeity, companies are encouraging employees to share pictures of themselves working at home in funny poses, and to have “lunch” with each other via Zoom video chats. The goal is to bring a sense of humanity and connection to the WFH environment.
Other strategies we’ve heard that can help employees to adjust to, and thrive within, a WFH environment include:
– Appoint a single point of contact for all WFH-related issues. Ideally this individual can speak about practical matters regarding technology and logistics, but can also ease fears for employees anxious about job security.
– As mentioned earlier, businesses can’t take a business-as-usual approach, especially regarding productivity. Employees will be hard-pressed to be as efficient as they were before this crisis. Healthy and safety must be priority #1. Managers have to show more patience with deadlines.
– If you don’t have the perfect technical infrastructure, don’t scramble to build it tomorrow. By trying to roll out new technology and get employees up to speed on new processes, you can do more damage than good. Make the best of your current technology, and suggest ways how employees can adjust: Share articles for how to write more effective email, how to have efficient video calls, and how to manage time while working among family members.
– Security is the one technical aspect you can update without having to make substantial changes to the overall infrastructure. And with the majority – or all – of your staff working at home, it’s critical to install the latest virus protection. Create an internal web page, or send an email to all employees, that details best security practices for remote work. Just as important, make sure employees can easily contact IT personnel to resolve urgent technical issues.
It’s essential for companies to adapt to the coronavirus pandemic, and not just for short-term employee safety. While protecting the health of employees should always be the primary concern for all leaders, these WFH strategies and tactics will help organizations far into the future. Because among the many aspects of life that will be forever changed due to this health crisis, you can be sure that WFH will be more of the fabric of the workplace. WFH will be the new normal.