We thank the persons who provided feedback on Issue #1 and for providing suggestions for future topics. We will also be carrying features and guest authors in future issues. In this Issue, we address, “Working Effectively Remotely.’
I have worked remotely for years, both at home and other spaces, given my regular travel. I find it most useful to work from home, when I have to meet major deadlines, as there is less distraction. In this COVID era, with schools closed, I had to make some adjustments to ensure that both my ten-year old son and I got our assignments completed. A number of companies in the Caribbean have been reluctant to introduce remote work, as there is a general view that productivity would suffer though the research suggests differently. According to CoSo Cloud, 77% of employees say they are more productive working at home and Gallup (2016) reports that employees who work remotely 60% to 80% have the highest level of engagement at 41%. This compares to 30% for those who work remotely fulltime and those who do not work remotely.
Some employees also do not like remote work. A friend in her feedback to the comment in issue#1 that “while there is a general sense of joy and happiness while working from home…” stated, “I have to tell you that we are not generally happy to be home. I am just making the best of it.” I, on the other hand, love working from home!
The sentiments expressed by my friend speaks to or hints at some of the challenges of working remotely. They include a lack of peaceful space to work, discipline to focus on the deliverables, distractions, inability to secure documents, poor connectivity, absence of key resources including IT support, printers and scanners, to work effectively from home, disconnect from the rest of the team, loneliness, lack of focus, switching off at the end of the day. Other challenges include children at home, dysfunctional family relationships, visits from family and friends, the temptation of doing home chores rather than “work” assignments and/or frequent trips to the refrigerator or pantry.
Gartner (2019) in its “How to Cultivate Effective Remote Work,” by Caroll Rozwell identifies three key challenges:
- Mutual lack of trust undermines remote work good intentions and leads to unrealistic expectations and underperforming programs
- Employees unaccustomed to the demands of remote work lose enthusiasm and suffer from loneliness
- Creating a responsive technology infrastructure to enable effective remote work is complex
COVID-19, however, has made remote work, the new normal, for many companies and employees. I will share with you some of my strategies, as well as strategies from others to make working remotely effective, happy and enjoyable.
- Mindset – I treat working from home as “being at work,” and dress for work, often down to the shoes! I do this for two main reasons: one to put myself in a work mindset and two, to be able to respond promptly, in the event I am needed to get to the office, at short notice
- Structure – I establish a workplan with deliverables and work against a timeline, inclusive of breaks. In this COVID era, I have had to make some changes to be able to assist my son with his school assignments. I do a few hours early in the morning and devote 2 hours mid-morning and an hour in the early evening to go over his work (sometimes teach a new topic) and to ensure he completes his assignments and read. I have to sit next to him to get his work done, otherwise, it would be play, distraction after distraction! I tell him, I have never seen a person distract himself like he does!!
- Dedicated Space – I have a dedicated space to work, equipped with everything I need. Everyone at home knows that this is my workspace and they are not allowed to play there, be there without my permission and to disturb me while there, unless it is a matter of great importance. The main reason for keeping that space private is to protect the confidentiality of the office and clients. Confidentiality and security of documents and intellectual property are very important, and these documents should be secured both when in use and when not in use. Loyalty from clients is strongly linked to their confidence that their information is secure.
- Family Support – Working remotely truly needs a village to make it work well, if you have children. It is sometimes difficult for children, especially young children, to understand that their parents are “at work,” while at home, so other members of the family or good friends, may have to do the babysitting, remind the children that you are at work and keep them occupied.
- Connectivity – Reliable high-speed Internet connectivity is critical to successfully working remotely
- Clear Expectations – The reason for remote work and the deliverables with agreed deadlines, must be known, understood and accepted by both the employer and employee.
- Communication – Communication is the oil that keeps the engine of the organisation working effectively and effective communication is even more important when working remotely. There may be misunderstandings in interpretation and so one must always be prepared to make a telephone or video call to clear up misunderstandings early and quickly.
- Availability – You have to be available to respond to queries, provide support, feedback and reassurance. The need for reassurance of employees and colleagues, especially if you are a manger, cannot be overstated.
- Accountability – There is no performance without accountability and setting and agreeing to SMART goals with evaluation check points are prerequisites for effective remote work.
The Society for Human Resource Managers (SHRM) in its “Coronavirus and Teleworking,” by Kathy Gurchiek, (March 2020) recommends the following:
- Have the infrastructure in place – IT, Internet, security and privacy protocols
- Take an inventory of the types of equipment needed – laptops, printers, scanners, phones, chargers, office supplies
- Digitise relevant physical materials
- Have the right cloud-based tools in place for access to emails, file sharing and unified communications
- Limit security risks
- Establish a Remote Work Policy to include where employees work, use of company and personal devices, format and frequency of meetings and check-ins,
- Be mindful of time zone differences
- Over communicate
- Manage conflict
- Regularly check in with employees
- Be flexible
- Support wellness
Lindsey Pollak and Eileen Coombes (2020) makes some of the same points and emphasises self-care, advocating that employees:
- Cut themselves some slack by acknowledging and accepting their feelings to remote work, whatever it is, including happiness, fear, anxiety and loneliness.
- Take scheduled breaks
- Protect your time – agree on the working time and establish times when you can be reached
- Protect your workspace – talk to your family
- Pay attention to ergonomics
Remote work for many companies is still a work in progress for both employers and employees and like any other work in progress, both parties need a clear vision of what is required, commitment, understanding, patience, love, peace and prayers.
We will explore “Workforce Options in the COVID Era” in Issue # 3. We look forward to hearing from you with comments on this article, suggestions for topics to be covered and sharing of your HR experience, especially during the COVID era.
Until next week, May God continue to Keep us in the Palm of His Hands.
Please send us your questions, comments and share your experience managing in the COVID- era at firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also reach us by telephone; 1 767 275 0566/617 0566.