Social distancing measures are being taken by many companies in light of the COVID-19 outbreak, in a bid to ‘flatten the curve’. Google, Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft are among those who have closed their doors.
So - your company has followed suit, introducing such measures to keep your people - and those around them - safe. But working from home may be an entirely novel concept to you and your workforce. What now?
Working from home shouldn’t be feared - it should be embraced. Not least of all because...
People are already remote
Prior to COVID-19, there were already 2.7 billion deskless workers worldwide, working successfully.
The advancement of technology
Mobile is the fastest growing technology in human history. There are 4 billion smartphone users worldwide.
To say we are attached is to put it mildly - the average adult checks theirs every 12 minutes of the day. Whether that’s for a quick google for knowledge we need in the moment, or for firing off a message to a relative living elsewhere in the world.
More and more we favour mobile, on-the-go formats - computers are 2.5 times outnumbered by smartphones.
The workforce is becoming more millennial
So much so that 75% of the workforce will be made up of them by 2025.
Millennials were weaned on technology. As a result they have different expectations from learning, their employers and what a job should look like.
The combination of this generational shift and the advent of the smartphone has led to a boom in people pursuing non-traditional forms of work.
Making the transition smooth
Working remotely has been shown to empower employees in several ways. Gallup’s State of the American Workplace found that “the optimal engagement boost occurs when employees spend three to four days working off-site”.
And a two year study carried out by Stanford University professor Nicholas Bloom found that telecommuters “took shorter breaks, had fewer sick days, and took less time off” - working from home enabled them to work “a true full-shift versus being late to the office or leaving early multiple times a week”.
So it’s less a question of if working from home works, but of how you can make it work for you.
If this is the first time your workforce are all working remotely, and for an indefinite period of time, you probably have concerns around productivity, loneliness and lost creativity.
Here are some things you can do to maintain productivity, combat loneliness and maintain that creative spark, as an individual, manager or employer.
1. Be wary of distraction
When work is happening in your home environment, which you mentally associate with leisure, the boundaries between work and life can blur. You may find it difficult to detach work tasks from chores or leisure time.
This is heightened by the fact you are out of sight. The temptation to turn the television on, “quickly” do your laundry, or try out a new recipe can be strong.
Try to dissect your day and dedicate certain hours to working, interspersed with regular breaks - just as you would to make a coffee, or chat to a colleague at the office. Some people find the Pomodoro Technique helpful. It suggests you create a checklist, work solidly for 25 minutes to tick a goal off, then to take a short break before resetting the timer and doing it again.
Interruptions consume 28% of an employee’s average day. Minimise interruptions to your flow of work, like opening a tab to do an online food shop during hours you’ve allocated to work. There are several apps, paid and free (Cold Turkey, Freedom, RescueTime) that allow you to block websites, nudge you away from time-wasting sites or to only view one window at a time, all with the aim to boost productivity by minimising distraction.
The other extreme would be to glue yourself to your screen, during regular hours and beyond. This will lead to burnout on account of the disintegration of your work-life boundary. Burnout impacts productivity - feelings of depression and anxiety lead to $1 trillion in lost productivity per year, globally.
So don’t let the pendulum swing too far in either direction!
2. Establish routine
When you are tied to one location week on week, it’s important to implement structure and routine into your days.
If you are waking up at 9 o’clock sharp, cracking the laptop open in bed and beginning to work, you’ll find productivity will quickly plummet.
Working from home shouldn't be synonymous with making less effort just because you are out of sight. Doing so can have repercussions on your levels of motivation. The clothes you may wear to bed carry the connotations of that context i.e. relaxing and switching off, rather than working.
Set an alarm for the same time you would wake up if you were commuting and get ready to ‘go’ to work. This could take the form of exercise, or a short walk. Shower and change into clean clothing.
You should strive to recreate your work set-up as closely as possible. ‘Ergonomics’ - the study of working environment on employee efficiency - finds that your level of physical comfort and surroundings have a huge impact on productivity.
For example, a study from the University of Exeter found productivity rose by 15% when working environments were filled with just a few plants. Work to build an environment that is conducive to physical comfort and mental efficiency.
As a basis, aim to work somewhere bright, airy and with plenty of natural light. Research firm Future Workplace found that the number one work perk as voted by 1,614 North American employees was not onsite cafeterias or fitness centers but “access to natural light and views of the outdoors”.
Those in an environment with plenty of natural light also reported a 51% drop in eyestrain, 53% drop in headaches and a 56% reduction in drowsiness.
If you use a monitor at work and find a split or large screen essential, try to bring your monitor home with you.
Beyond this, a preferred environment will vary. Maybe you find you concentrate better in pindrop silence, or maybe you need the background noise in the form of music or the radio. You may prefer to stand up than sit down, or you may find productivity in change - moving into different rooms across the course of the day.
Find the combination that works best for you, just make sure you don’t capitalise on the absence of colleagues’ judging eyes.
3. Keep active and eat well
Simply walking has been shown to improve creativity by 81%. 80% of adults do not meet the guidelines for both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities as is, so when you bring indefinite WFH policies into the mix, the potential repercussions on physical health are far greater.
Exercising is linked to a number of benefits both physical and mental - from stress relief to bolstering creativity, productivity, creativity, learning, memory and concentration. The exercise-induced release of endorphins boosts your mood and has even been shown to increase the size of the area of your brain involved in memory and learning.
If you find yourself in a location under stricter quarantine, good news - movement is both still possible (and advised)! You can inexpensively order a mat from Amazon and head to YouTube for free fitness tutorials.
Make sure you’re taking regular breaks to cook, eat and snack (healthily). Adding breaks into your day to eat is not just essential for establishing routine, but what and how often you eat directly impacts productivity and engagement levels.
You might be tempted to work through meals entirely, or you might be consuming microwave meal after microwave meal, interspersed with unhealthy snacks like cookies. It’s important to strike a balance between keeping on top of meal breaks and choosing the right things to eat.
We need regular sustenance because our brains require glucose from food to function. But the quality of that sustenance is also important - our brains function suboptimally if the energy we give them is low in nutritional value.
A 13 day study was carried out where participants reported on “their consumption of fruit, vegetables, sweets and chips” and their concurrent “wellbeing, curiosity” and “creativity”. What was found that those with a greater proportion of fruits and vegetables in their diets were more curious, engaged and motivated individuals.
This is unsurprising - fruit and veg is chock full of vitamins and minerals that trigger dopamine production. Dopamine plays a key role in learning, motivation and engagement.
So, try to eat often, but well!
4. Keep communication open and flowing
Just because you aren’t sitting in the same space, communication doesn’t have to suffer. Due to technological advances, communicating remotely is more easy and accessible than ever.
Make use of communication tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams to keep in touch with direct reports or wider teams throughout the day. Slack has an existing free version, as does Microsoft Teams. Set daily expectations and have check-ins at the beginning and end of each day to keep on top of things. Slot in regular all hands meetings via video call to maintain cross-departmental clarity and transparency.
If part of a smaller team, WhatsApp groups may be preferable. With eduMe you can make sure the right message gets to the right people at the right time.
Don’t be afraid to over communicate. Stay vigilant - if you go off the radar for several hours because you forgot to unmute your notifications after lunch, over time communication will break down and distrust may grow.
Teams with good communication, and companies who make use of ‘social technologies’ were found to enjoy 20-25% improved productivity by McKinsey Global Institute.
On a similar note, when using any communications tool, make sure that your in-app status reflects your availability.
If you have gone to walk the dog - you don’t need to individually (or collectively) alert the whole team to make them aware. But do keep colleagues in the loop so they can manage their expectations of how quickly you will be able to respond to them.
5. Use video
In terms of delivering training material, video reigns supreme. We understand visual information in 250 milliseconds and it activates over 50% of our brains. People are also turning to video to learn recreationally - 87% of people head to YouTube to acquire a new skill.
Live meetings can be hosted seamlessly no matter where any participant is, all through use of softwares like Google Hangouts, Zoom or Skype. Google are offering free use of their premium ‘Hangouts Meet’ conferencing feature and Zoom has lifted time limits on free version video calls in certain countries.
Chinese travel agency Ctrip conducted a 9 month work from home experiment, where some of its 16,000 strong workforce were assigned to work at home at random. After 9 months they found telecommuters’ performance increased by 13%, attrition fell and the company saved over $1,000 per employee on office space. Despite these results, after the experiment, 49% did not opt to continue working remotely. Their number one reason cited? Loneliness.
Tools like Hangouts, Zoom and Skype help replicate a human touch and combat feelings of isolation that can creep in during prolonged periods of remote work. 12% of lonely workers believe their work is of lower quality - so don’t let the benefits of remote working be undermined by the onset of loneliness.
6. Go micro
Microlearning is a great learning technique to leverage, both for delivering learning in the first instance, and then for consolidating it in longer-term memory.
Microlearning is delivering training in bite-sized bursts of 3-5 minutes, where and when your people need it. This puts control back into learners’ hands. The training should be highly focused and have specific learning objectives. This can be in photo, text or video format.
Microlearning works so well because it replicates how we have grown accustomed to consuming information - i.e. Googling what we need to know, when we need to know it. So meet them with knowledge when they need it, where they already are (smartphones), with information that is digestible and retainable.
If this is the first time your whole team is going remote, especially at short notice, create a course on your company’s working from home policy using your internal learning app.
Once it's been created, push it out at their point of need so they can quickly engage with the content. Track completions and monitor analytics. Reach out to anyone who’s struggling.
Send out reminders to teams to prompt them and encourage them to recall learnings. Recalling consumed information is an essential step in committing it to memory.
Then open up lines of communication with a follow-up. Ask how effective they found the learning. Remember: your peoples’ feedback is integral to informing any future learning you may want to deliver on the topic of working from home, or any other. eduMe allows you to do all this and more.