What you really need to know about working from home

Working from home is not a new concept and has been utilized by many companies to offer a more flexible working environment. However, some organizations offer work from home only when necessary and not as a standard practice. 

The current environment, driven by the spread of COVID-19, has quickly motivated companies of all sizes to practice social distancing in the workplace and implement mandatory work from home policies. E.M. Wasylik Associates (EMW) is a virtual company with 20 years of experience working remotely.  Our associates are spread across the United States, Europe and Latin America. The EMW team is focused on solutions for our clients to navigate all shades of economic environments.  We hope to share our experiences about a working from home so that other companies may benefit from our knowledge.

According to an article from CNBC, the VP of talent solutions EMEA at LinkedIn argues that a company’s ability to continue to operate efficiently during a transition to a remote workplace will greatly impact their ability to navigate this specific economic climate. He describes this moment as a wake-up call for companies who have avoided work from home procedures prior to this event.

We aim to explore the strategies that work best for our team and that may work for others rather than divulge into the pros and cons of working from home.  The “work from home discussion” is no longer focused on if a company should allow employees to work from home, but how companies will maintain productivity while employees work virtually.

EMW has first-hand experience navigating work from home culture and we fully understand the value and challenges that accompany this work style. Our team has worked remotely for over 20 years, and from that experience we have gained strategies that allow us to take advantage of the many benefits of remote working. We invite you to read EMW’s guide to achieving continued success while transitioning employees to work from home.

1. COMMUNICATION

Many managers’ first reaction to allowing their employees to work from home is the absence of face-to-face communication. There is no replacement for this form of communication, but there are many solutions to effectively communicate without being physically present. EMW associate Elena Cueller explains, “For companies just beginning to work from home, establishing a quick, accessible and ongoing medium of communication is key. In an office environment you can quickly pop over to your coworker’s desk or chat as you pass in the hall. When working remotely, team members need a replacement for those small day to day interactions that oftentimes are overlooked. Tools such as Microsoft Teams or Slack are great examples of communication mediums that keep lines of communication open for work related tasks and community chatter.”

Some companies may already have communication tools in place that can be leveraged for remote working environments. If you do not, it is highly encouraged to set up a software that meets the following criteria:

  • Allows for instant messaging
  • Shows the “status” of team members (i.e. “away”, “available”, “in a meeting”)
  • Is capable of sharing files quickly
  • Has a collaborative aspect that allows for continuous conversation using features like comments, replies, or “likes” and “up-vote” capabilities
  • Has audio and video calling

This type of tool not only facilities the ease of communication among team members but can help to replace small day to day interactions that are still meaningful. If you are a manager or supervisor, make sure to check in with your team members often. Everyday messages and chats about ongoing projects may be necessary, especially at the beginning, to establish frequent communication and accountability.

If your company does not have access to this type of tool, look into setting something up as soon as possible. If you utilize Office 365, you may already have a tool like Microsoft Teams available to you. If you use other software, consider a free tool such as:

  • Chanty
  • Fleep
  • Skype
  • Google Hangouts

Whatever, the tool is, the more important factor is that your team is using it. Encourage employees to always be logged in during business hours and communicate frequently.

2. WORK ENVIRONMENT

One common worry about working from home is the plethora of ever-present distractions. For those who have never worked from home before, their home likely represents a personal space where they can relax, do chores, work on hobbies and projects or spend time with family. It is challenging to create a workspace that mentally removes us from our daily personal environment and set ourselves up in an environment that welcomes productivity.

EMW associate, Michael Stone, explains some of his thoughts on preparing a work environment that promotes productivity. “Find a way to separate work and home, physically, or at least psychologically. When working from home, it's easy to get distracted by non-work tasks such as laundry and errands. While these tasks may feel necessary and productive, they dramatically impact your productivity at work. It's important to designate a workspace where distractions are avoided and you're in the right mindset.”

Encourage employees to select a space in their home where they would feel comfortable taking a video call at during any time of the day. EMW’s Managing Director, Ken Wasylik, explains, “This can’t be a countertop stool in the kitchen or the couch in the living room with various distractions present; this must be a space where full concentration can be achieved.” Having the freedom to design a personalized day-to-day workspace provides the opportunity for employees to create their ideal office environment that fuels productivity for them. This will undoubtably vary from employee to employee but minimizing distractions and creating an environment that allows employees to focus are key for productivity.

Nonetheless, EMW has always had a realistic outlook on the impact of being at home during working hours.It is important to understand that employees will be more distracted, especially at the beginning. Many employees will take advantage of the flexibility and utilize some of the workday for at home activities. While this may not be ideal, it is important to encourage maintain separation of work and at home tasks. For example, it is certainly possible to fold laundry while proofreading a report. However, it is certain that both tasks will not be completed as successfully or efficiently. Establishing the physical workspace helps to create the mental barrier and reduces the temptation to mix home and business tasks.

3. ROUTINE

In addition to a dedicated work environment, routine also plays a key role in minimizing distractions and staying focused. EMW associate, David Urintsev, shares his ideas on creating a sustainable day to day pattern when working at home. “Take the first couple of days to get comfortable with your new setting and schedule and then experiment with some variations to find what works best for you.”  

By transitioning from an office to work from home, employees are experiencing a major paradigm shift. Changing everything at once is a more difficult adjustment than gradual change.Your or your employees’ routines might not be the best right away.  By making minor adjustments each day, you can develop a practical and effective routine that maximizes productivity. Check-in with your team members frequently to see how their routine has developed.

Wasylik, who has been working remotely for many years, shares a few quick tips to help employees develop a routine to start their day. “Some of us require what’s called a psychological commute. This is that mental transition from personal life to professional life. Many of us perform better with a normal routine based on working habits, which could be a walk down the stairs, a morning drive to get a cup of coffee, or morning exercise.” Ultimately, a routine provides an important period of transition for an employee to prepare their mind for a productive day at work.

Although change can be scary for any organization, it is vital to keep in mind the storied truth that with change comes opportunity. Our job at EMW is to help our clients capitalize on those opportunities. In this case, working from home presents major benefits to both employers and employees, when implemented correctly. Strategically executing a communication plan and designing an effective communication structure, encouraging employees to create a productive work environment and developing a healthy routine are some of the vital areas to focus on when transitioning to a remote work structure, whether for an intermittent time, or long-term.

As more organizations require employees work from home, new collaboration and productivity challenges will continue to emerge. We're here to help! We've worked remotely for years, and through trial and error have come up with a list of tips and tricks to help you and your employees improve productivity and collaboration in this environment.

Connect with us: Ken Wasylik, ken.wasylik@emwasylik.com​, +1-608-850-5643