Working from home – what can businesses expect?
For many people, working from home is a fact of life. For nearly 5million Brits the office is never further away than where they left their laptop or phone. It has (for some years) been proven to reduce stress and anxiety for workers whilst also bringing other benefits to the business as a whole.
In this current climate of potential imposed isolation, is working from home the answer for everybody? The answer: it’s not that straight forward.
1) The first is the reality that some jobs require the individual to be working with others directly or perhaps in a setting that is not suited to being at home. If your staff are working in laboratory all day, a production line or perhaps grooming dogs, you may find their living room isn’t up to the task of housing hounds or equipment. Either compromise on their hours (if you can and have the provision to do so in their employment contract - you should consult with them first) or find other work or duties that can be done.
2) Not everybody has fast broadband or mobile phone reception at home.
It is therefore unreasonable to expect workers to be able to Skype or be in instant contact if they don’t have the ability to be. You can’t start building mobile phone masts or running cable connections to each employee’s house, so find alternative methods of communication or working ‘offline’ if possible.
3) Some people will not have the space or means to work comfortably or safely at home. For those fortunate to have a study or desk, working from home might be a luxury, but if you don’t have a kitchen table or surface to work on, it will be very difficult for some to do a day’s work on their lap or in bed. There will be plenty of people living in studios, renting a room, or who don’t own a suitable table or desk. Perhaps then you could provide some suitable office equipment. There are plenty of office equipment rentals online that can deliver directly to your employee. Most office equipment, bought or rented, is tax deductible.
4) They might not have the equipment. Do you routinely provide laptops, mobile phones or other portable devices for workers to take and use from home? Some might have devices but may not have the right software or programmes installed. You’ll have to consider security or information and data too, so don’t just allow any information to be downloaded or accessed via third party devices. You’ll also have no idea of the safety of their device. Perhaps you’ve got the ability to post and control things via the cloud. If not, you’ll have to think of something that allows effective and efficient remote working. Of course, digital devices are not the only tools we work with so consider what other tools or equipment is needed and how it can be transported to home addresses.
5) It can get lonely. Very lonely. The benefits of working from home are well publicised but for some it is a nightmare. The lack of human interaction, tangible support or guidance, the sense of isolation can be damaging. Sometimes a daily phone call is not enough to provide the right kind of interaction individuals seek and require. You should be mindful of this and whilst you may not be able to see each person every day, there may be other creative ways of getting some meaningful interaction with your people. Skype, webchats, face-time, perhaps even physical visits (where it is practical and permitted to do so) will make a big difference. Don’t forget those on their own or who live a little further away than others.
(This goes for the bosses and leaders too!)
6) It can take time to get into a routine. Having the self-discipline to clock on and off at set times might be difficult at the best of times, not least if you are rolling out of bed and enjoying the first days of working in your PJs. With a million and one distractions at home and nobody to talk to (or indeed, a houseful of others also in isolation) might make getting into a habit a lengthy process. It will take time and does require determination. Don’t expect the individual to be as responsive or efficient as they normally are to begin with. Conversely, it might be the extended length of time away from the office that starts to dismantle the discipline. Be mindful that some people will not be finding it easy and therefore need plenty of support and encouragement.
7) Some people will take advantage of the situation. It’s a reality. Your workplace already has a level of presenteeism and some of this is entirely out of the control of the company or indeed the individual concerned. Slacking off when nobody is looking is an entirely different thing – and it will happen. For some the lack of routine or not having somebody there sitting on their shoulder (not in a literal sense) will allow them to seek the latest releases on Netflix or enable to progress to the next level of Fortnight. You can’t stop everybody from doing this, and in small doses does it really matter? You will have to make allowances and prepare yourself that for some, it will be an opportunity to do whatever they like.
8) You may feel out of control and questioning what people are doing (or not doing). There is not a lot you can do about this. You'll have to trust that people are as committed to working from home as they are in the office. Constantly calling or micromanaging via email is even less productive when you are not around day after day, week after week. You've got to be patient. You can still set targets, do conference calls and video calling with numerous people. Deadlines can still be produced and people can still be expected to make positive contributions. There will be periods where you might start wondering or becoming frustrated that you are not hearing progress or getting feedback.
9) Your business will change. Once this current crisis blows over and things start to return to normal, you may find your business is unrecognisable from how it was before. For many, this is going to be a very tough time indeed. Orders are being cancelled, bills won’t be being paid and you may find cashflow becomes difficult. Credit facilities will be restricted and the invoices you have been sitting on for a couple of weeks will all of sudden become urgent. It might get ugly. Not everybody will be taking drastic measures, but for some this will extremely testing. You’ve got to be prepared to make certain sacrifices, batten down the hatches and cut your unnecessary expenditure. If you are in the majority of businesses that require some regular trade with a volume of different individuals, expect the demand may fall for your product or service until things normalise.
You might be fortunate and producing products that will be in high demand, in which case your key is logistics. If you can’t get your product out there you might struggle - not matter how much you produce. You might be able to get the consumer to come to you but you’ll no doubt need certain safeguards or find certain restrictions if you do so.
Long-term however, you should expect your productivity might fall, no matter what safeguards you have in place. We are only human and with some saying we are facing months of isolation, it is inevitable that we will faulter at some point. But remember this, it’s not your employee or customer’s fault. It’s not your fault either. You’ve got to remain focused on what can be done whilst we are in this mess. Perhaps you will find that remote working has been a positive experience and may wish to adopt it in the future. Now also might be a time engage with your employees about a whole number of different topics and initiatives. Think of the collective brainpower you can call upon when people aren’t distracted on specific tasks day-to-day. What other ‘housekeeping’ have you been putting off that you can get to now?
There is no doubt this is going to be tough, but it can also be an opportunity to try new things, to be creative and to engage with your people in a way you’ve not done before. Prepare now. Make the necessary changes or orders well ahead of time and be prepared to be flexible. We don't know what is going to happen and when but change is coming.
The very best of luck. I hope you weather this storm well and it is a mere blip in the road to success.