As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to develop, there is a growing feeling that we are moving into unchartered waters.
We are all learning new vocabulary to describe the processes relating to the virus and how we as a population deal with it: ‘social distancing’, ‘delay phase’, ‘self-isolation’.
As part of the measures to help delay the spread of the virus, many companies will be looking at the potential for employees to work from home (WFH). One of the advantages of the 21st century is the fact that our modern interconnected digital communications allow greater mobility in the workforce. For many, many office workers it is reasonably easy for them to connect to company servers and WFH.
Companies who are looking at the potential of asking employees to WFH will have set their IT specialists the task of looking at what hardware and software may be needed to ensure secure connections. They will also be ensuring that data security and virus (digital type!) protection is in place. Obviously, all these matters are important, but what about the workers?
For those not used to WFH, the prospect may be novel at first, but if COVID-19 means that people may need to WFH for weeks or possibly months they may find their wellbeing under significant strain. Below we have provided some suggestions that may help to ensure that employees (as well as IT!) are in a position to cope.
Staff WFH for the odd day or two and probably have enough work on their plates to self-manage their time. If employees are going to WFH for lengthy periods of time, then there needs to be structure in place to ensure:
a) The work required gets done
b) The employee’s wellbeing is looked after
To help achieve both these objectives managers/supervisors should:
- Arrange regular 1-2-1 telephone catch-ups. These might be daily, every other day or weekly. The idea is that the manager can continually assess workflows, set new tasks and check on the employee’s wellbeing. WFH might be causing unforeseen issues for the employee, so it’s important to get feedback.
- Encourage inter-team communications. This can be simple 1-2-1 calls or team conference call meetings. In the office environment, people will be regularly talking to each other in order to achieve their tasks and engage in general social interaction. Keeping communication flowing will help with social isolation and naturally employees will discuss their WFH situation, sharing issues and solutions with teammates. Bear in mind, for some employees, their office might be their main source of social interaction. WFH might mean that they become lonely and withdrawn.
- Promote a healthy work-life balance. While some employees may take WFH as an opportunity to slacken off, many will feel pressure to work harder/longer in order to prove that they aren’t. Employers need to ensure that both types of employee are dealt with appropriately and fairly. Employers should encourage staff to work their contracted hours and don’t stretch their working day into home life just because they WFH.
- Set parameters at home for yourself and those you live with. You should try to work to your normal hours if possible. Let the people you live with know, ‘I’m at work now’ so they have a delineation and will leave you to engage with your tasks. Equally, let managers and colleagues know when you are working and available to them to discuss work matters.
- You may not have a specific ‘office’ at home, but where possible try to allocate a ‘workplace’ at home that is different and separate from where you would normally relax. This will help you focus on the tasks at hand, provide a signal to people you live with that you are working and help with your mental wellbeing, because physically moving from the ‘workplace’ to your relaxation space will help with switching off from your day’s work.
- Dress for work. You might not want to put on your business dress or office uniform but staying in your nightwear all day isn’t a good idea. In a similar fashion to the workplace above, dressing for work (and then changing for ‘home-time’) is a clear sign to you and those you live with that you’re in work or home mode.
- Make sure you keep in touch with colleagues. Build into your day regular calls with workmates. This will not only help with tasks but also your personal wellbeing. Use the technology available: phone, video, conference calls, etc. – try to replicate the buzz of the office remotely.
- Take breaks. WFH it’s easy to lose track of time. Take your normally regular tea/coffee/lunch breaks. You could use these to check in with colleagues or get some fresh air. Taking a break from the laptop is likely to help you maintain focus over the day and may help with problem-solving creativity.
- Look after yourself. COVID-19 might mean that WFH will last a significant length of time. It might also mean that normal social events/entertainment are curtailed. It’s important that you look after your wellbeing in these extraordinary times; try to avoid becoming ‘house-bound’ and get out when possible – take a walk, exercise, talk to your friends and family even if only on the phone. Switch off from work and enjoy some personal time.
- Feedback to your employer. Express your opinion to your manager in relation to how WFH is feeling to you. If they don’t know the strain or pressure you are under, they won’t be able to forward plan for you. The situation with COVID-19 is very fluid. WFH is just one solution that may not work for all employees. Other solutions may become apparent as the situation unfolds, but if management thinks you are happy WFH they won’t be investigating alternatives.