As unemployment skyrockets and the people fortunate enough to remain employed struggle to find ways to work from home, we’re faced with re-imagining how work gets done from a distance. As Derek Thompson noted in his article for The Atlantic , prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, over the last fifteen years, the number of people who work from home has tripled as a result of increasing living costs in metro areas and of rapidly developing technology that makes collaboration from afar much more practical.
But a gradual increase in working from home is one thing. Right now, we have people thrown into unexpected work environments, all against a backdrop of a global pandemic that has increased our collective anxiety about safety and financial security.
We – employers and employees alike – need some ground rules for how to navigate our new normal-for-now. Here are my six commandments for working from home during this stressful time.
Thou shall communicate regularly and appropriately. This commandment has two components. First, employers and managers need to establish how and how often teams should touch base. Maybe you have a 9am group Skype session to check in, or maybe everyone provides weekly updates in a shared project management tool like Trello. Checking in keeps teams on track, ensures managers and employers that work is actually being done, and gives workers some much-needed connection with their team. The second part of this commandment is perhaps even more important, and it’s no surprise that a company known for disruptive innovation in communications has insight on how to make sure that different kinds of communication are handled appropriately. Nextiva, in their blog post about remote teams , provides a list of questions that help in the creation of communication guidelines. The questions, like “Which meetings would benefit most from video conferencing?” help businesses maintain efficient and effective communication, even when the world’s unsettled.
Thou shall be goal-focused. Clear, measurable, attainable goals must be established and should guide the work being done from home. Being focused on outcomes and on clear expectations keeps teams unified and moving forward. The point isn’t to chain an employee to a kitchen table…it’s to get important things accomplished. Managers frequently express concern about how much work actually gets done when workers are remote. The solution is to stay focused on progress toward a goal.
Thou shall be flexible. Company and project goals should guide work, but flexibility is required both of employers and of workers. A sudden shift to working from home would be jarring enough, but when you factor in homes full of school-aged children and unemployed partners, finding a quiet time and place to work can be a challenge. Good communication about company and workers’ needs and challenges can help us all be more flexible and productive.
Thou shall have the right tools . Whether you Zoom, Skype, Loom, or Nextiva, determine what the team needs to get work done right. Make sure your team is trained on any platforms or tools you need, and keep an eye out for ways to get work done even better. You can be certain that top minds are working hard to meet the challenge of a work-from-home boom. Also, keep in mind that your new work scenario may not require any new tools. For example, your CRM platform may have capabilities you’re not even using…because you’ve never really needed them before. Investigate the tools you have before you go out and buy new ones.
Thou shall strengthen company culture. What gets businesses through tough times? A healthy company culture that unites teams and encourages them to press on, even when things look bleak. How do you keep your team close and connected when they’re miles apart? It may take a little creativity, but it’s absolutely possible. Maybe you dedicate a few minutes of your weekly team videoconference to telling funny work-from-home stories. You could start a team book group, meeting online once a month to discuss. Or create a virtual space for sharing tips and strategies for being more effective and productive when working from home. The goal should be to remind your entire team that there’s more to the company than just a bottom line. Shared values and goals are powerful motivators that can get us all through crises.
Thou shall not stop growing. Yes, I know the economy is contracting. Yes, I’m all too aware that the immediate outlook ain’t that great. But sooner or later the economy will recover. People still spend money. People and businesses still need services. If you put the brakes on your sales funnel, you’re increasing the amount of time it will take to get that funnel back up and running. Maybe you keep in touch with prospective clients by sending useful information from your industry. Or you could work on creating a new, more affordable version of what your company offers. Maybe you build brief modules or webinars that offer a glimpse into your company and its expertise. Basically, the goal is to keep your existing prospects interested and engaged so that when people and companies are buying again, you’re top of mind.
The challenges we face are unique. I can’t count the number of times I’ve remarked that I’ve never seen anything like this global pandemic. Yes, there’s a lot to be concerned about. Odds are, no family and no company will be unscathed. We’ll all know someone affected by the pandemic, whether it’s illness or lost wages.
Butbusiness must go on.
We need to buy stuff, sell stuff, and create stuff. So here’s a bonus seventh commandment: Thou shall take care of one another. Supportive, unified teams can pull companies through even the most challenging of work environments. We can still do our jobs, still accomplish goals, and we can do it while being a little kinder, more compassionate, and more patient. We’re all in this together, and it’s together we’ll get through to the other side.