Certainly, the world has changed since the beginning of the year. Countries have closed, opened, and closed again. The same holds true for cities and states in the U.S. Office buildings are closed, brick and mortar businesses shuttered, and employees’ lives materially changed.
There are enough negative and positive predictions to fill a novel-sized book. Whether the prospect for a somewhat returns to normal is in the near term or further into 2021, many employees who started working remotely during the beginning and height of the pandemic are still working remotely, with many planning to do so in the foreseeable future. Twitter and Facebook stunned the business world when they announced that there would be permanent working from home for large groups of employees. Nationwide Insurance, a 94-year-old company headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, announced closing five regional offices with thousands of stationary employees becoming remote employees. Also adding to the list of companies allowing more employees to work from home permanently include Barclays, Mondelez International (makers of Oreo cookies), Square, and Shopify.
As we talk about the new normal in business, apparently working remotely is part of the new normal. With a new normal comes a new set of business protocols, such as:
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
The old adage of “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” can certainly ring true when employees are working remotely. One of the first thoughts might be, “Is he or she even working?” “Are the other team members being productive?” “Why are my chat messages not being answered?” Thoughts like this can easily produce non-productive employees.
Effective communication among all remote employees is a must that builds trust and efficiency. This can be accomplished by:
- Setting regular times to communicate at the start of each workday and regularly scheduled intervals throughout the day.
- Make good use of video technology.
- Advise employees to notify others when they will be offline.
- Routines work.
Everyone is usually in some type of routine when working at a central location. This, of course, is not always the case with remote employees. Starting times can differ; kids need attention, contractors come by the house, or typical household chores. Rather than “fixing up” to go to work, the day starts with coffee and pajamas. These distractions do not lend themselves well in building peak performance.
Coach remote employees to:
- Start each day as if you were going to what used to be the usual place of employment.
- Leave the pajamas in the bedroom.
- Have a “to-do” list of what needs to be accomplished.
- Use a calendar to avoid scheduling conflicts.
Create a Working Environment
Remote employees all of a sudden find themselves working from their kitchen table, bedroom dresser, or sharing space on their children’s desks. While these might be the only places to work, they are far from an ideal setting. Inefficient work areas create inefficiency. The lucky remote employees have separate offices or separate rooms to set up their new workspace. Without the luxury of separate space, it is impractical for most remote employees to redesign their homes to accommodate this new work method immediately.
Employees can, however:
- Designate an area regardless of the size or location where they will work from each day.
- Set boundaries with other family members for the time designated as “business only.”
- Keep distractions to a minimum.
Have the Right Equipment
A home office or workspace usually won’t have the same equipment that someone had at their usual office or place of employment. Computers and monitors can be brought home, but printers, headphones, webcams, lighting, and supplies might have to be purchased, not to mention desk, chair, file cabinet, etc.
Yes, Working Remotely Might Be the New Normal
Assuming that it is going to be quite some time before most businesses return to their “old normal,” if ever, companies must be ready to adapt to having some or all employees working remotely. Owners, managers, and employees must learn to adjust their daily routines and work environment. Some employees will acclimate better than others; therefore, management must be involved in working with all employees to regain optimal efficiency as quickly as possible.