Shutdowns, layoffs, and remote-only workplaces have swept the nation in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The instant effects of working from home are easy to pinpoint: it's harder to schedule meetings, some people won't have access to the tech and tools that are too big to remove from the office, quick in-person conversations have to migrate to chat, etc. However, secondary effects can also drastically change a person's workday.
While transitioning to a remote-only workforce, leadership should consider some of the side effects of these changes. Compassion, understanding, leniency, and communication can make or break a working relationship. Understanding what employees are experiencing is the first step in creating a remote workforce that works.
It's All in the Family
It isn't just workplaces that are shutting down—it's schools and daycare centers, too. Suddenly, you've gone from working alongside team members to trying to focus on the task at hand while your spouse and children are adjusting to their new normals. Who knows, maybe the dog is constantly begging to go out or your cat's taking over the keyboard all at the same time.
For employers, this is a time when compassionate leadership can make a sour situation a success. Be patient with employees whose familial responsibilities suddenly fall during the workday. Understand that part of their normal working hours might involve tending to the household, and allow for a bit of breadth with start and stop times. A productive workday is all about results, not mindless hours clocked in and paying little attention.
As for employees, thoughtfulness and attentiveness is the answer to juggling the sudden intersection of work and home. Just as you'd schedule your workday, schedule your kids' playtime, learning, and meals alongside your meetings and the times you need to focus. Seek activities that can inspire your child's development into an independent and curious person. If possible, consider reaching out to healthy family members who may be fully laid-off, retired, or otherwise homebound to let your kids see other familiar faces while giving yourself a few moments to breathe.
Make Time for Mental Health
Whether it's anxiety about the global situation or sadness brought on by isolation, it's just as important to look out for your mental well-being as your physical health. While some people thrive in isolation and stillness, not everybody handles a quarantine in the same way. You can do a few simple pick-me-up activities during a brief break from work, at the start of your day, or after wrapping up in the evening.
Take a walk. While many public places, restaurants, and leisurely stores are shut down, there's still a great big world to explore. Even if it's just a stroll around the block, getting out of the house is more important than ever.
Exercise. Fire up your Chromecast and stream a few YouTube videos while the gym is closed. Look for yoga, weight, cardio, dance, or meditation series that resonate with you and keep up your exercise momentum.
Make a few calls. You're not the only person with a little free time, so try to connect with people you'd normally see in person. No matter how short, a quick phone call can brighten everyone’s day.
Ask for help. If you're struggling, there are resources for you. Your HR department will have information on any Employee Assistance Programs or even over-the-phone counseling. Always remember that mental healthcare is just as important as any other healthcare.
Keep Up the Good Work
Productivity shouldn't take a nosedive when you switch from deskbound to homebound, but what changes do you need to make to your workflow and workday? Maintaining a high output requires careful consideration of what matters, how you do it, and how you can make it work within your circumstances.
Identify what you need to succeed in the office and bring home or recreate those tools in your space. If you don't already have a home office set up, you'll need to adjust your living quarters to make your workflow work. Rearrange a shared space, such as a dining room or living room, to install a compact desk with enough room for a simple yet ergonomically-friendly task chair. Likewise, take advantage of a guest room and let it do double-duty as an out-of-the-way private office suite.
After returning to the workplace, consider how best to maintain and use these new spaces and tools. Will this freshly renovated space serve as a temporary office for future work-from-home days, or could the space be best used in another way? Having gone through the work to set it up, try to repurpose the area for arts and crafts, personal development, or a hobby requiring concentration and the same sense of focus you need at work.
Stay in Touch
Instant messaging, collaboration suites, and teleconferencing have reached a new level recently. These tools are invaluable for keeping on track in the office, and they've made it possible for so many companies to pivot quickly to a fully-remote workforce. By becoming fluent in these tools and technologies, you can share in real time with the people you work with.
But sometimes, it's just not enough. The value of a person-to-person interaction comes from subtle clues that get lost in text. While you're moving meetings online and setting up phone calls, see if you can make individual conversations or small conferences into video chats. While it's not perfect, facial expressions and body language can humanize interaction in a way teleconferencing and chatting cannot.
If you're in a management or leadership position, your guidance is more important than ever. Checking in on isolated employees can be a massive help. Set up a one-on-one video chat or phone call to review projects and accomplishments and touch base on employee wellness. There's a bigger picture to employee success that can't be measured by workplace achievements alone, and maintaining a sense of comfort and normalcy will aid in the transition back to in-office operations.