For many Canadian employees, this might be the first week ever that they have worked from home full time. For many, it’s not just a novelty, it’s a whole new way of working, doing their job away from colleagues and the facilities of an office. As an article at CTV says:

“For those who have never had to work from home before, it may be hard to adjust and stay productive in what is typically a leisure setting.”

So, how can business owners help employees be productive, focussed and engaged in their new situation as a remote worker?

The right tools for the job

As a business owner and employer, you need to ensure each employee has the right tools to do their job from home. So if you’re asking people to work from home (WFM), make sure you can help with providing everything they might need.

This might include:

  • a PC or laptop with the right corporate software or access to it online
  • a printer
  • a phoneline or mobile phone
  • reliable internet access (this is crucial for many jobs)
  • ability to receive and send work emails
  • secure access to intranets and servers
  • ability to co-work with colleagues in a virtual workspace
  • internal communication and project management tools including instant messaging

In addition, do check that your remote worker has a table and chair they can work at, especially if their partner is also now working from home and there is only one small kitchen table and no study!

Remote-work policies

In an ideal world, your business already policies in place for those working from home. It is your job to ensure every manager and every employee working from home knows what that policy is, or where to find it online. If you’ve suddenly had to switch from all office based to remote working, make sure the policy is available to everyone online.

Management of employees

It is a fine line between supporting employees working from home, and over-supervising. Some employees might find the lack of supervision difficult and that managers are too remote to help. Equally, they may find constant checks and “how are you getting on?” emails annoying and intrusive.

Instead, set up points during the working day when workers can talk to their managers one on one, or with their team via conference calls. Video conferencing helps reduce feelings of isolation (see below) and also reduces the number of employees who decide that working in their jammies is a good idea…

Routine and respect

Talking of jammies, a sudden change from formal to bed wear isn’t necessarily the best way for workers to transition from full time office to full time home, as Hilary Carter, managing director of Blockchain Research Institute, told CTV:

“She recommends waking up at the same time you normally would to transit to work, getting dressed as though you’re going to be heading into the office, and finding a dedicated workspace instead of carrying your laptop with you between your bedroom, the kitchen and the living room sofa. Don’t work from bed, replicate your office environment as much as possible while you are in a remote place.”

Lack of access to information

An article in the Harvard Business Review points towards the issue of “mutual knowledge” that normally builds by being in close proximity to colleagues. For example:

“If you know that your officemate is having a rough day, you will view a brusque email from them as a natural product of their stress. However, if you receive this e-mail from a remote coworker, with no understanding of their current circumstances, you are more likely to take offence, or at a minimum to think poorly of your coworker’s professionalism.”

Loneliness

Working from home sounds great until workers realize they are effectively on their own all day every day in many cases. Suddenly all the chatter, friendship and support of an office is gone, and it can seem very quiet indeed. An easy way to solve this is to build in times in the day when they and other workers can hook up. One example is a virtual coffee break, where people are free to chat online or on the phone, knowing they are not disturbing their co-worker. One company we have heard of do an afternoon stretch and wiggle exercise session in the office every day. After almost all of their workers were asked to work from home due to the COVID-19 situation, they have simply taken that online, with everyone joining in via video!

Family at home

The situation in Canada regarding the coronavirus is changing daily, and WFH parents may suddenly have children at home who were previously at school or in daycare. That doesn’t mean they will spend all day with their kids and abandon their work. It simply means their hours may have to be more flexible, and allowances made until the situation settles down and home working becomes to norm not the exception.

Just because you can…

As managers, you might like to remind employees to talk to their families about what working from home involves from their side. As an article in PC Mag suggests:

“Set ground rules with other people in your home or who share your space for when you work. If you have children who come home from school while you’re still working, they need clear rules about what they can and cannot do during that time. Additionally, just because you’re home and can let service people into the house or take care of pets doesn’t mean other family members should assume you will always do it.”

At the end of the day

Many remote workers actually find it difficult to sign off at the ned of the day. As managers, you might like to send a fun message at the time your employees would normally stop work and head off home. Equally, just because they now work at home, don’t expect them to work through their usual commuting time either. You could every home worker up with a timer app that reminds them to stop, take their breaks and stand and have a stretch.

WFH and coronavirus

Businesses across Europe and the US are encouraging people to work from home as much as possible to reduce their exposure to the COVID-19 virus. However, if your business relies of employees doing physical work in a particular place, remote working can be difficult if not practically impossible. If so, make sure that their presence at work everyday doesn’t expose them to more risk than necessary. Take every precaution possible, and follow government advice on cleanliness and ways to prevent the spread of the virus. You can find the latest COVID-19 information at Public Health Services

Supporting local businesses – we’re here for you

Your local Chamber of Commerce is here to help you and your business in these extraordinary times. Call us with your questions and concerns, and also information on the Government of Canada’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan, announced on March 18th 2020.