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'Pandemic Response Actions - Implementing an Unplanned Work from Home Environment' with Bart Hall, Chief Assurance Officer at NXTsoft.
Good afternoon. Welcome to the NXTsoft Pausing the Pandemic Panic webinar series. Today, we will talk about implementing an unplanned work-from-home environment. I remember when telecommuting or working from home, working remote, whatever you want to call it, was a controversial topic and many companies debated for months on whether to let employees work from home. Well over the years, technology got better. Companies started to rethink it a little bit and they started to accept the idea of working from home. It became more common, but typically it was just a small part of the workforce that was allowed to work from home at any one time. Well now with the coronavirus outbreak, the new normal will be working remotely from home. As workers practice social distancing, this will be how we manage our businesses. For some companies, it's not just a few employees, but it will be 100% of their workforce. In fact, at NXTsoft, we've gone to 100% remote workforce. We're all working from home. So you look back, not much time to debate the merits of establishing a company-wide work from home program. It's here. We have to do it.
Working remotely is a big change from a stable office environment and won't be easy adjustment for a lot of employees. In fact, many HR professionals say it can take three to six months to get the hang of it. Well, I believe it. I spent about a year in a work from home position and it took me quite a while to get the hang of it. I know. It's a big adjustment. Trouble is, you only have a few days to get this started. Good luck with that. Going from a bustling office to quiet solitude might be great for some, but for others it may be tough. Just as some workers perform well with little or no supervision, others require more oversight and direction.
So how do you go from a structured, supervised environment to a decentralized, unsupervised work-from-home situation overnight? While many remote jobs are different, there are some universal ways to set you and your staff up for success. We've compiled information from several business leaders who've worked remotely for years to learn their best tips on how to thrive while out of the office. We hope that some of these tips will help you be productive and help you maintain a positive work attitude.
For our conversation today, we've gathered insights and information from Business Insider, CBS News, LightHouse research, general news articles, and plain common sense. From Business Insider, they're a leading business news website, we compiled advice from six of their senior staff members who've been working from home or managing teams of people that work from home. Our conversation today also includes input from Ben Eubanks, principal analyst at Lighthouse Research, a firm dedicated to uncovering the trends and technologies that drive HR learning and talent, and we can also attribute some of our information to CBS News contributor Derek Thompson.
Our Business Insider contributors are diverse group that brings many years of work-from-home experience to the table. Of our six business insider contributors, one's based in Colorado and has been working remote for over a decade. One's based in Virginia and has been working remote for several years. One's working remotely from Pennsylvania for over a year. One's based in Texas and has had been managing a team of work-from-home staff for over eight years. One has been working from Canada since 2017, and another one of the contributors oversees a team where 60% of the full-time employees are remote. So as you see, we've got a nice group of contributors that have been doing work from home for quite awhile.
Our other two contributors, CBS News contributor, Derek Thompson, recently authored an article for The Atlantic titled the Coronavirus is Creating a Huge Stressful Experiment in Working From Home, while Ben Eubanks writes a blog for the in-the-trenches HR leaders at upstartHR.com, and his research focuses on human capital innovation, strategy, and technology. So again, we're bringing people here that have insight with what we're going to be dealing with in a work-from-home environment.
In our presentation today, we'll discuss tips from these eight professionals on how to get a handle on this sudden change. Fortunately, we found a common theme. Almost all of our pretests participants listed these 10 topics as keys to successful work-from-home experience for the employee. One, set yourself up for success by using the right tools and creating the right work environment. Two, get dressed. Three, prioritize your tasks i.e. make a to-do list. Four, over-communicate with your colleagues. Five, set routines. Six, take some breaks. Seven, set boundaries. Eight, show compassion and be tolerant of others. Nine, beware of loneliness and isolation. 10, produce results.
During this conversation, we will discuss these 10 topics in detail and in just a second we will get to those topics. These 10 topics aren't in a particular order of importance, so we'll just go down the list.
One, set yourself up for success with the right tech and work environment. That means have a place in your house where you work and another where you relax. Keep it separate. Everyone we talked to recommended working at a desk or a table. Stay away from the couch. Stay away from a recliner, anywhere that might make you feel sleepy or not as productive. Work from a place that boosts your mood and has great natural lighting. Everyone again spoke about sitting someplace with lots of natural light. If you're not in a self-quarantine situation, hopefully pretty soon, or an area that needs to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, work remotely some time from a coffee shop or somewhere where you can interact. But for now it's self-quarantine, and you're going to have to isolate yourself.
Figure out the tools that you need or have access to. Use productivity tools to stay in touch while remote, tools like Zoom, WhatsApp, Slack, any of the instant communication tools that you're familiar with or you have access to. Of course, Gmail, Google calendar, Outlook Calendar for the obvious calendar reasons. We like Microsoft Teams for communicating, but Google Hangout, something like that for your video conferencing with your teams, whether it's around the corner or around the world, these are great tools to stay in touch visually. Some people like to use their TV as a second monitor. Take advantage of what you have at home. Personalize your space. Make the home office of your dreams. You don't have to now be stuck with what your employer gives you, whether it's a cubicle, whether it's a small office. Now you can do what you want to do at home to make it your own.
Add an external microphone that'll help with meetings as you'll be doing a lot more meetings now. Some folks like to add dimmers in their office so they can control the lighting. Again, that'll help with your meetings when you're looking at your PC or video screens. I like to use an iPad during video meetings. I can take notes on it, scribble things on it, and it's all there so I don't have to worry about messing up the PC I'm using for the video presentations. Some folks like to use a standing table or exercise bike, anything like that. It's your home, it's your office. Make it what you want to make it. That's the key.
Second item on our list is get dressed. This sounds simple, but a lot of people think working from home means PJs, sweats, not leaving the bed. Wrong, wrong, wrong. You need to work. Wake up at a regular time. Shower, put on real clothes, make it a job. When you work from home, you still have a job. Remember that so you'll act like it. A morning routine, getting up, showering, dressing, smelling good, all that goes to a better work attitude. If you have some non-work-related tasks you need done, get them done in the morning. Feed the kids, feed the dog, do your exercise and catch up on the news, whatever, but then get up, get dressed, and go to work, even if it's just walking down the hall to another room.
Another item is just plain common sense on our list is make it to-do list. This could be as simple as sending yourself a to-do list through Outlook or Slack or whatever at the end of the night, so in the morning you get in, you know what you want to do. Some of us still use paper checklists. We're old school. Or we make you put it in your Outlook Calendar, your Google Calendar. Just something to keep you stay in touch with what's going on. Stay on track. You need something at home to make it very professional. Outline your plan for the day and include errands in there. If you're going to have some breaks, if you need to go do stuff, put it in your calendar. That'll help you stay on schedule with what you need to do. When you're in an office, you pretty much have a schedule and are set up in a routine. Not so much at home.
One of the biggest challenges for many, even though it technically shouldn't be different than working from an office, is prioritizing what to do. So remember, prioritize, make your to-do list. It'll just help you get through the day a lot better. One thing that we've seen is science tells us that the brain function shows us that we have a limited amount of capacity to focus. Well, focus for an hour, we can all do that. No big deal. But for six hours, it's a difference. So let's think about that and let's talk about it a little more.
For that reason, it's important to approach your to-do list strategically .for those things that you find hardest to do because of their greater demand on mental capacity, whether it's creative or strategy meetings, et cetera, do those earlier in the day when you have uninterrupted time, and that may be a challenge for you with kids that may be having to take care of childcare duties at home during this crisis. But also for things that require less mental energy, responding to emails. Pretty simple. Save those for later in the day when you're naturally a little lower state of focus, you're a little tireder, so whatever. Keep those back more in the afternoon. If you just make these small changes, you'll be surprised to see the difference in what you can get done, how creative you are, and how you feel.
Our fourth item on the list is probably one of the top two most important items that we'll be talking about today, and that's communication or in our case, over-communicate. You need to be very present over teams, Slack, phone, email, text, whatever your company uses to communicate. Respond to questions quickly. Schedule meeting with teammates just like you would in the office, ideally over a video conference such as Zoom or Teams. Over-communicate what you're doing, and if you're a manager, what you expect of your team. Very important. Communicate, set expectations. Have check-ins with each team member of your team at least weekly, by video chat. Also do group meetings in Teams. Don't forget everybody on the team should have their manager and teammates' cell phone numbers as well as their electronic communication addresses.
Managers should send a message to their staff every morning with a game plan for the day. Managers or staff should both give a heads up if they won't be available for a certain period of time like a scheduled doctor's appointment and such. Don't just not show up for work. Don't go dark, don't try to sneak off, even if you're going to the gym, which you may run into your boss there or he may go with you, she may go with you. But remember, trust is important. Just communicate. Make sure both parties, management and staff, know where everyone is at any particular time. Constant communication builds trust between managers and their reports, which is critical, very, very critical for successful work-from-home environment.
Another common theme from our contributors was the value of setting up routines. It's important to set up routines. Think about it. What are you going to accomplish in the morning? How are you going to take breaks? When are you going to stop working? That's a big issue. All of them recommended building some type of physical activity into your day. That can be a routine, whether it's in the morning, getting on a stationary bike, taking a walk or whatever, but set up a routine with some physical activity. Established work start and stop times. That seems very simple, but you'd be surprised at how many people that work from home work through lunch periods or work through the end of the day without realizing when to stop or when to start every day.
They all commented on the value of just taking a a walk during the day, just something to get out for a few minutes. That was a good routine they all said benefited them, just a brief walk. Eat lunch regularly. Here's another one that seems to be a problem from the work-from-home environment. People seem to get busy, forget to eat, work through the day, so they said it's very important just to set a little reminder, whether it's just getting a sandwich or a cup of soup or something, but take a break during the middle of the day. Eat lunch. If you have to, schedule it. But the biggest thing is the routine. Get yourself in some habits and add some physical activity to your day.
Along with routines, one of the things that popped up was the the value of taking breaks. Working remotely definitely can help you focus. There are no chatty coworkers, no alluring kitchens where people congregate or big meetings to distract you. You can make a ton of phone calls without needing to book a conference room or worrying about bothering your coworkers next to you. You get a lot done from home where there are fewer distractions. In fact, you may find you're so productive that it becomes problematic. One of the hardest things about working from home is that it's easy to fall into a routine where you don't take breaks because there are so few distractions compared to an office full of coworkers. In an office, you don't have to think about this as consciously because a quick conversation with a coworker on the way the kitchen can suffice as a mental refresher. Sometimes it's really hard to force yourself to step away when work is crazy, but research shows that even just a five-minute break goes a long way in preventing burnout.
And while we're at it, skip answering emails right before that big meeting, even if it's a virtual meeting. You will use your much-needed focus and acuity on routine messages and fail to have the focus when you need it during the meeting. Trust me on this one. If you do have a big meeting you need to be on for, then take a walk outdoors with your phone, without your phone actually, for five minutes right before, maybe in half an hour before your big meeting. That small break can give you the refreshing re-energize you that you need for your focus.
Next, let's talk about boundaries. This is very important. Create a boundary between work and leisure. Set that in stone. Don't work from your couch. There's been a lot of articles about how the boundary between work and leisure has already become extremely porous. Don't fall into that trap. Once you work from your couch and your couch is where you watched Netflix, where you talk to your manager, where you review reports, that boundary between work and leisure completely falls apart. You have to leave your couch and go to the office in order to work. That sort of division between work, life, and leisure time is difficult to import back to your own living room, your own kitchen counter your own bedroom. It's especially difficult right now during a pandemic when you have schools canceled, kids are at home, restaurants are closed. It's a very different situation right now than you might typically have.
Remember, the benefit of remote work is that you have time to focus on your own. You have time to structure your time as you won't. Do that and remember to separate work from home life. Managers, employees need to work together and create a realistic expectation of availability. Employers shouldn't assume that someone working from home is going to be available all the time. Working remote doesn't mean being on call 24/7 nor does it mean you only work nine to five. There's got to be some flexibility, but that only comes when there's good communication. Find a pattern that works for you and the company. It's very important that the employee and managers in the company understand the dynamics of working from home and that each individual may have a different need and a work pattern that not necessarily fits everybody.
For instance, if you have childcare duties, you may want to work early, take a morning break, spend time with the kids, then get back to work for a few hours. Fix dinner, work for a while that night. Or you may find that regular eight to four works best for you and the company. If you're trying to juggle kids and work at the same time, nobody wins. You've got to find a work-leisure balance that works for you in the company. Flexibility and communication will be key to establishing boundaries that work for all.
Remember, managers should trust their team to get work done without having to worry about monitoring where they are all the time. If someone wants to go to a yoga class or grab coffee with a friend, whenever that's an option again, that should be fine, as long as they get their work done and managers and teammates know where people are and what resources are available in case something happens. Again, it comes back to communication. Stay in touch. There's no reason you got to be tied to your desk. Managers don't make employees a prisoner of their own home, and employees, be responsive and locatable. Very, very important. Communication, communication, communication.
This next item is another one of my top three on this list. Show compassion and be tolerant of others. Simply put, care. Really care about your staff, your employees, your coworkers, your clients. That's it. Just make sure you show concern and care. If nothing else, love your people. We must be people oriented. It is tough time for many right now. People are worried, they're stressed, they're scared. Some may have lost loved ones to the virus, so any conversation about it will be emotional for them.
There are times to look at the data, leverage metrics and analytics for decision making and develop long-term strategies for the business, but right now, everything we do must be done through the lens of caring for and supporting our people. We can and will get through the challenges ahead. We just might keep the human in human resources.
With several states and probably all the rest coming, canceling schools right now amid the virus concerns, many parents will be working with children underfoot, and it's not an easy task. Having children at home full-time creates additional stress for the entire family. Be considerate of that. We have to understand that other people have different issues in the work-from-home environment. In the end, we need to get away from thinking about work as a number of hours in an office and more about the productive work someone is able to accomplish. And that concept may be a silver lining in this entire situation. Think about it. If we can get away from the concept of just having somebody sitting in an office and doing work and get to a point where what becomes productive and how do we succeed as a company, that should help us all in the long run.
Also think about it. IF you're on a conference call with a bunch of folks and all of a sudden somebody's kid runs in or the dog barks while they're on the conference line, have some fun with it. Don't take it too seriously. Things are going to happen. These are very uncommon times, so just be tolerant. I can't stress enough the need to embrace compassion for our people.
Another one of my top three on the list is beware of loneliness and isolation. Each remote worker contributor on our panel today brought up loneliness as an issue. This can't be overstated. Derek Thompson of CBS News reported that he talked to a lot of researchers in the last few weeks about our remote work future with the pandemic, and two words kept coming back to him, information and isolation. Remember, at the office you have a lot of information and you have low isolation. You're surrounded by people. You can see what they're like. When you're at home, however, you have less information about your coworkers and you feel more isolated.
Loneliness is a huge issue that we'll going to be dealing with. That's a word that kept coming back to our contributors as they talked to people. Universally, companies that have done remote work experiments report that the most surprising thing they found was was the loneliness factor. It's the isolation. Of course that's going to be so much worse in a pandemic when you're not allowed to leave your house in many cases. Where it becomes really difficult to do anything outside of your home, you're going to have real isolation, real loneliness problems, and I do think that as long as we're evaluating degree in which remote work works, we need to separate what is specific to the pandemic and what is specific to remote work.
Specific to the pandemic, you're going to have a lot of extreme loneliness, a lot of forced childcare at home. In remote work, generally, schools are going to be open, restaurants will be still serving food, you can go out and work at a cafe. So you want to keep those two issues, pandemic and working remotely separate. Companies can help. Creating a virtual opportunities helps to keep workers engaged in performing at their highest level. For many people, working remotely is a lonely experience, so creating opportunities for social learning or flipped classroom-style learning can meet multiple needs at the same time.
For reference, a flipped classroom is where you do some solo learning on your own and then join a group discussion to talk about what you learned, how you can implement it, and what others think is important. It creates stronger social connections and better retention of the learning concepts, but it also allows time together to be productive learning, not just a one-way lecture where everyone listens to someone speak for an hour. A related idea would be a virtual lunch and learn. Each employee could use an hour during lunch to teach others about something they felt passionate about. It allows each person to show off their expertise, build the knowledge of others, and create stronger relations.
Employees can definitely help themselves. Use teleconferencing instead of email or text. If you want to have a conversation with your boss or coworkers, don't just make it a text or make it a Slack. Maybe actually see their face. You can have more personal one-on-one relationships. True interaction with another human being could go a long way to defeat loneliness. Combat loneliness with background noise. Some of the solutions ranged from creating background noise that requires little to no attention such as a news channel on low volume, Spotify playlist, or even a Twitch stream.
If you'll be remote for a long time, you might want to consider a pet if you have the time and resources for one. A dog is not only a great companion, but also a perpetual walking break reminder. Be aware of isolation. Isolation breeds loneliness and loneliness brings despair and depression. Depression is bad for the employee, reduces productivity for the company. Loneliness is something that we really have to help manage for our employees.
Last item on our list and the best way to prove you're working hard from home, just produce. For whatever reason, there's a weird misconception that working from home is the same as not working. Don't know why that is, but not working means you wouldn't have a job for long. You need to be productive no matter where you work. Get results. Whether you work from home, whether you work from an office, you have to produce, but it's so much more important when you're away and isolated that your results speak for themselves. And that's what you have to do, going to let your work speak for itself. Producing tangible results is the best way to let people know you're actually working while remote.
Managers aren't judging you by the proxy of how often you're sitting in your seats. Rather, when you work from home, you could set explicit goals and they can judge you by what you achieve. Have goals and objectives that are measurable on a weekly or monthly basis so that progress and results can be easily quantified. For tasks and functions that are not measurable, have weekly meetings and discuss what was accomplished. Remember, working from home is not the same as a staycation. Work. Get something done.
Well, as we wrap up, we have a few things just to talk about. One thing is many HR publications report that employees that work from home are some of the most productive employees in an organization. So this may be an opportunity to improve your company rather than be an obstacle to overcome. So let's turn it into something good. Work from home can be a viable solution to our pandemic problem. Social distancing is an effective tool to combat the spread of infectious diseases. But for to work, there has to be great collaboration between the company and its staff. Managers and staff have to communicate. Staying in touch and being available is critical to the success of a work-from-home program. If the company does its job and provides the right tools and direction and the employee does their part by being responsible, responsive, and available, then the work-from-home process should work out just fine.
Remember, employers, employees, coworkers, clients, and friends are all fighting the same battle. Keep your distance physically, but close the gap emotionally. Be tolerant and have compassion for those around you. Breaks, routines, to-do lists, et cetera, are great, but communicating and caring are the items on this list that carry the most weight. Remember, how you treat people during tough times says more about you than how you treat them in good times.
Thank you for listening today, and if you have any questions, please email info@NXTsoft.com and we'll be glad to respond to your questions at that time. Thank you.