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Harry Richardson | 26 March 2020

Bettering working from home.

As companies around the world ramp up their working from home policies, it’s likely the home office will soon become a reality for many of us in the UK, if it hasn’t already.

“Everyone who can work from home should work from home” said Harvard epidemiologist, William Hanage last week. Big tech companies like Facebook. Google, Twitter and Amazon have been quick to act, rolling out remote working arrangements for many of their employees around the world as the benefits for doing so become more apparent. UK companies have also followed suit, temporarily closing offices. 

There are many catalysts for mandatory working-from-home policies like public transport failures to an office-wide power outage. And even without a crisis, the general trend towards remote and flexible working arrangements means getting it right is becoming more important. 

So what are a few ways companies can make working from home more productive and ensure employees don’t go stir crazy when working beyond the four walls of the office? 

Prioritize virtual communication 
Working from home, particularly for those employees that may not be accustomed to it, can feel unstructured. In a physical office, most people work closely or sit next to their manager, making day-to-day communication easy. But in a remote setting, the absence of face-to-face contact can throw a spanner in the works. Fortunately, the right tech stack can help you avoid communication breakdowns and stay in constant contact with remote team members. Online meeting tools such as Google Hangouts Meet and Zoom help teams stay in regular communication and replicate formal meetings in the office.

While platforms such as Slack and Microsoft Teams offer instant communication more suited to informal chats and status updates. Cloud-based tools such as Asana or Trello enable teams to collaborate on projects and keep track of deadlines anytime, anywhere. By setting expectations at the start of each day and regularly checking in with virtual tools, managers can balance the freedom of remote work with team structure and safeguard employees’ sense of unity.

Keep the vibes positive 
While virtual communication platforms can be a great way to keep remote employees informed, research suggests that online meetings don’t deliver the same feelings of connection and empathy, compared to face-to-face meetings. Any necessary extended working from home policy can be stressful. Unknown circumstances, a barrage of negative news and restricted human contact can be unnerving. Particularly for those that are not accustomed to working remotely or that live alone, working at home for lengthy periods can feel isolating.

Managers have a key role to play in keeping spirits high, team morale alive and ensuring remote employees feel connected. Professor Nicolas Bloom who’s given TED Talks about remote work recommends managers acknowledge there is stress and difficulty, and take on the role of cheerleader for the team. He also suggests making an extra effort to keep in regular communication with employees who live alone and setting up regular meetings, even if there is no agenda. 

Encourage routines and set boundaries 
While as tempting as it is to stay in your PJs until midday and work from bed, this is unlikely to be the best habit-forming routine in an extended working from home stint. Everyone will have different things that will work for them but establishing a regular work schedule, dressing comfortably and taking regular breaks, are a few ways employees can keep a sense of routine and work mindset at home.

By encouraging employees to set up work comfortable, safe work stations (ideally in a dedicated space), take lunch breaks and finish work at the same time each day, teams can stay in sync when not in the office. Routine also extends to putting boundaries in place so that employees are able to ‘switch off’ from work and prevent it from bleeding into home life.

Right now, companies around the world are putting working from home arrangements to the ultimate test. But it’s also a time where they can get ahead of the curve.

With the right approach, technology and culture, companies can make their work-from-home setups a long term success, no matter what the conditions are outside.