It’s not a choice or a perk anymore. But working from home, still comes with its share of challenges.
The sign of being a cool company is now the helpless prerogative of every company. Yes, what was reserved for gig-workers, start-up garages, maternity-leave employees, companies with flexi-models and employees with special circumstances is now the fundamental way of working.
A lot of companies, including Google, Twitter, Microsoft, Apple, and Amazon, have already switched to work-from-home models to minimise social contact in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
Availability of new-age collaboration tools and adequate IT infrastructure is helping organizations continue at least some business as usual. Some estimates reckon that as much as half of India’s technology workers, which can be a considerable 3 million, have begun working remotely.
That said, eking out productivity and stability may not be so easy when everyone is away and at their own discretion. A couple of points are essential to change this only-possible alternative into a strong contributor to the health and business continuity of the industry.
- Secure the data: While some verticals can make the switch like the flick of a plug, some verticals cannot do this transition without addressing concerns of data security and client confidentiality. It is important, hence, for the IT team to ensure that data and governance are given due emphasis as employees take so much information to the desks sitting far away from the core office.
- Facilitate infrastructure: IT teams should also make sure that employees do not face bandwidth, infrastructure and connectivity issues as they plug-in from their respective locations. A point that came up in the Buffer Annual report was finding reliable wi-fi (3%) – a factor remote workers struggle with.
- Keep up the positive mindset: Make an extra effort to retain some form of communication and positivity. Depression is bound to be a big fallout challenge of this outbreak. Do not let the blues creep in your team’s mental state. The State of Remote Work, a study that surveyed nearly 2,500 remote workers, indicates some gains of remote-working models. Having a flexible schedule (40%), time with family (14%) came up as benefits of remote working. But at the same time the challenges were notable ones too –like unplugging after work (22%), loneliness (19%) and staying motivated (8%).
- Set time expectations with children: If employees are being sent home, so are their children. It would be naïve to expect an employee to be available physically and mentally all the time when they have their kids to tend to. With schools shut down and with so much idle time and no social play-activity possible, parents are already struggling with the extra burden of keeping kids safe and occupied. Devise work schedules and meetings keeping these points in mind.
- Prioritize for care and health: Balance expectations in the context of the extraordinary circumstances that this lockdown has taken place in. House-help may not be available easily. Elders have to be taken extra care of. So schedule meetings and goals keeping the other goals that employees may also be weighed down with. The Buffer’s annual report observed distractions at home (10%) as a factor that challenged employees.
- Go all out on tech and tools: Use as many tools as possible as per an employee’s comfort and resource-status. There are so many choices today – messaging, email, calendar, videoconferencing, collaboration and project management apps. Pick what works best for you and the employee both.
- Drop stereotypes: Plan your projects and assignments well. Work-around the challenges and clichés of remote work now that you have the luxury and the observation grounds to do so. A research (Remote.co, an industry association) had pointed out that remote companies exhibit a larger percentage of female leaders – with 28% of remote companies having female Founders, Presidents, or CEOs (compared with the 5.2% of S&P 500 organisations with female CEOs). A number of factors came up as reasons here: greater work flexibility, the ability to balance multiple responsibilities, and decreasing bias for a female leader.
- Check what cannot be done: Some work can be shifted to the remote mode but some of it will have to stay in the current mode. Prioritise well.
- Go for the long-term dream projects: This is also a good time to shift extra resources and spare-human-bandwidth to the projects that always got sidelined because of lack of resources. Now is when you can focus on new products and new ideas which can jump in a ready mode once the crisis is over.
- Compartmentalise work hours: Just because everyone is working at home does not mean work should spill over in all the hours they have. Encourage them to make time for personal activities, health, family and downtime.
Technology has made continuity easier. Let’s do our bit in making continuity fun, easy and positive.