My office is my home and my home is now my home-office. Hello, my name is James Stewart, and as an independent business continuity & resilience consultant, I would like to share some research analysis findings over the past 5 months on remote working.
Here are five (5) key “how to” elements that one should consider when setting up a working environment within one’s home. However, before I get into this, please allow me to first provide some context to what perhaps is seen by many organisations (big & not so big), as a sort of problem statement!
As we all remember, on the 26th March 2020, South Africa entered alert level 5 lock down as part of Governments Covid-19 Risk-Adjusted Strategy, which in most part was a highly restrictive (but necessary) movement of its citizens, forcing us to stay at home and be safe. This very sudden lock down meant that many organisations and business had to close, and for those that had no proper business continuity arrangements in place, found themselves up the creek without a paddle! Fortunately for those who already had business continuity in place, would most likely have had the remote working capability for all their key / critical staff.
Of course, keeping in mind that remote working AKA working from home is nothing new, however, Covid-19 and subsequent lock down did disrupt what was already considered by many as part of a new way of working model. This disruption has in most cases provided with a mindset change for both employer and employee, along with cost benefits on both sides. Part of this mindset change was for employees now allowing their private home space to be invaded full time by their respective employers, so it is understandable that some resistance would be felt. Fortunately, there are far more positives than negatives.
Therefore, when faced with this Covid-19 pandemic some very fast out of the box and creative thinking was needed, which included analysing employee needs (physical & wellness), concerns, frustrations, fears, and communication / knowledge. So with the insights that I have gained over the past 5 months, along with engaging with several organisations and staff members, I would like to share some of what I believe are an important part of the key findings that need to be considered as part of ones “Home-Office” set up!
- Create a work zone that is both functional and comfortable. Over the year’s office desks and the space we enjoyed have become a lot smaller, and some employers have where needed, allowed for the temporary use of an office desk & chair by their staff at home. Find a spot that serves a purpose for comfortable working, the size of your work zone does not matter, be it the living room or kitchen. There may well be distractions, and these will need to be managed as best as possible.
- Just because you no longer need to leap out of bed at 5 or 6am because of that stressful big city traffic congestion, it is however very important that you still work to a schedule. Therefore, if your business operations start for 8am, then always aim to be on-line by 8am, just as if you were in the office. If the nature of your work entails the need to participate in MS Teams, or Zoom, or Skype for Business meetings, then as part of video calling etiquette, always have the camera facing directly at you. Never angle the camera so low down, especially if it’s on a mobile phone, as the audience does not want to look up your nose, and nor do you want to give the impression that you are looking down on your colleagues!
- Connectivity, as in mobile data internet access or fibre to the home (FTTH), is so key to successful remote working. Many organisations provide staff with a data allowance, although there does seem to be a greater uptake in fibre to the home, especially those that offer a month to month uncapped service. This is proving to be far more cost effective than traditional mobile date. The downside is when load-shedding kicks in and the FTTH goes off. Either way, investigate the best option and service in your area.
- Office hours / productivity / leave (annual & sick). I have already mentioned about sticking to a routine and starting at 8am, however the advantage of remote working is that a standard 8-hour day can in most cases be spread over a 10 to 12-hour day. Please, I am not implying that one must work 10 to 12 hours and still only be paid for 8-hours. The analysis findings have shown that those employees with family / household responsibilities are able to increase their productivity by spreading an 8-hour day in a 10 to 12-hour segment. Of course, productivity now must now be measured on an outcome’s basis. It is also essential that employees must be encouraged to take leave, despite being at home.
- Communication – Town Hall / Fireside / Feeling the pulse meetings / online training. Social distancing also became work distancing, so it is essential that both employer and employee communicate on a regular basis. Senior management have a duty to encourage open dialogue be it on a company-wide engagement or at department level. Staff need to feel wanted and appreciated and by having video call town hall / fireside discussions will fill that distancing gap, more especially where a great working culture has been developed. All employees should also be encouraged to take advantage of as many of the free online training courses offered.
I came across the following diagram on LinkedIn recently, and although it was first published on 2015, I feel it provides good visual information: