With lockdowns and social distance measures introduced in many parts of the world to fight the coronavirus, many employees and employers found themselves in unchartered waters in trying to adjust to the new way of business. We had people having to suddenly operate from home in what is referred to as remote working and organisations also adjusting to these forms of operations.
Not many people have experience working remotely and this presented a huge challenge to them. Similarly, many managers have never had to supervise team members working remotely and this combination has caused untold suffering for many people. However, all is not lost in this new approach and the question for us as employees, employers and managers is how to make it bearable for everyone. I am sharing a few general ideas on issues that apply to employers and employees alike, ways to make it out of here with little damage:
The house is not an office
Save for a minority who have worked from home before, most of us had no infrastructure of space to set up a working space at home. This impacted on their settling to the new working style. What we must appreciate is that even for those who had set up home offices, working with the children in there has tremendously impacted on their outputs. Further, there are numerous degrees of frustrations amongst parents who have to be engaged in long online conversations and demand absolute silence from their household members. This frays the family edges and makes children and spouses not like having them working around them.
Considering that employees have to deliver results in more distracted environments that bring with them stresses; managers would do a lot of good by having an adjustment to the realities of shifting timelines.
Female staff with a child or children are facing a lot more pressure from working from home than their male counterparts. We need to cut them some slack on delivery timelines and check with them about the suitability of the online calls. Especially in the early morning or evenings as they have to start their babies off or set the kids to bed and oversee their feeding. Also, kids seem to really distract their mothers more than their fathers. Teams that have mothers need to ask them if they are available for calls and agree on the times that accommodate them. Also, allow them to drop off the calls early should the children make it hard for them to stay engaged. Besides, it is also a good idea to have them be the first contributors in the
As calls are now becoming the norm, most of us are not used to them yet. One critical piece is to always mute your mic when not speaking especially in the home environment. It does a lot of injustice to hear the background noises and conversations that may take place within the home space.
Working from office/ Social support:
Offices are not only working spaces but also social engagements centres that ensure mental wellbeing for many employees. The small talks along the corridors, the chit chats at the cafeteria, the laughers as we walk out to get lunch play a big role in having us connect us humans should. With the closure of offices of orders to work remotely, this has been cut out.
While dealing with our colleagues, we need to take into consideration what the deprivation is doing to the wellbeing of our team members, especially those who live alone and have no one to physically connect with. It would be a good idea for organisations to consider asking those who would rather come to the office to do so. Of course with the right measures in place to ensure no crowding in the spaces, social distances kept in the work stations as well as sanitisation of the areas.
While there could be an urge to be in all sorts of online engagement both in and outside work so as to be feel productive; taking a break is key. There is actually little safety, efficiency and wellbeing in spending very long hours in online meetings, webinars, zoom calls or brown bags. Block breaks on your calendar especially if the calendar is open for meetings to be placed by one’s colleagues or collaborators from different time zones
Open communication lines/have bi weekly meetings:
Nothing brings more calm to employees during this period than regular communication and updates. It is ideal to have heads of organisations and managers to hold calls with their team members. The reasons for the calls need to be twofold: To check the pulse of the employees and to provide them updates. In checking the status of team members, these meetings would need to start with a round the room status check where team members are advised to speak about how they feel and how they are coping with special emphasis on areas where they are straining.
Further, they can share measures that they are taking to make sure they are in good physical and mental state with their colleagues. Teams can be large and such checks not practical in a meeting of a hundred staff for example but they can be broken into units and departments to make it possible. Once the pulse is felt, the update from the top to the staff can follow and not the other way around.
Encourage off days and not treat them as leave days:
While many organisations and managers still want to manage the Covid-19 crisis as they would do their regular staff management; we have to invent new ways of doing business and getting best results from our teams while at it. The stresses during this period are compounded with many factors including seeing our kin and friends losing jobs, losing our friends and family to disease or the fear our own mortality in face of the scourge. It is imperative therefore that managers encourage team members to take days off to reboot and gain back their focus. These days off need not to be treated as leave days and will be embraced by many of the staff members including the managers.
Do not shroud salary cuts in mystery:
This goes down to open communication as well. While many organisation heads are spending sleepless hours to keep their staff and the organizations’ afloat; this is largely not known to their teams. Whereas the team members do not to know every detail, it is good to have candid conversations with staff on when the organisation is going into dire straits. Ask what works:
In making proposals for all alternative ways of doing business. It is a good idea to check with the team members what really works especially in these times.
All said and done; what is very important for us all as team members and managers is to be kind to each other.
The writer is HR professional and a recruiter.