With the sudden onset of COVID, millions of people who previously worked in traditional offices flocked to work from a home office with little to no advanced preparation. All in all, employees have adapted to life in the home office and are finding ways to be productive. Telework provides opportunities to maximize organizational efficiencies, reduce organizational and employee costs, and provide a better work-life balance. However, I believe that - just as with any other learned skill - telework takes time to master. On that note, I'd like to offer some suggestions to help make sure your employees are fully trained to work productively from home.
Home Office Set-Up
Being productive in a home office isn’t as simple as opening up a laptop and simply getting the job done. Sure, in a pinch we can all do some work in front of the TV, at the kitchen island, or from any remote location. But to be truly productive and efficient day in and day out requires a dedicated routine and set-up.
It might seem like it's overstepping to train employees on how to set up space within the walls of their own homes, but the fact is that productivity and efficiencies are at stake. Most jobs require a dedicated set-up in a dedicated space in the home to provide an environment most conducive to productivity. There’s a difference between “making do” on a temporary basis and being set up for maximum productivity for the long term. In today’s world, with all the apps and programs required for most desk-based jobs, technology and equipment generally work best in a space with all the gadgets and gizmos hooked up and ready to access on the spot. For many this means at least one external monitor, a dedicated spot for paperwork, and a quiet space for focused work and calls or videoconferences.
I’ve heard many stories of teleworkers setting up at the kitchen table and being constantly interrupted by family members or other housemates. Truth be told, many of these employees feel frazzled and like they aren’t giving their best to their family or their job. When employees have a dedicated space that is for work only, this delineation of physical boundaries helps provide a clearer separation of home and work. This not only enables teleworkers to be more productive but also reduces the stress of trying to manage both home and work responsibilities during the work day.
It’s ideal for the home office to have a door that can be closed off to other distractions and also closed during off-hours. Especially with other household members working from home or even attending school from home during this pandemic, it's all too easy to lose productivity without even realizing it. Employees should also be trained on tips and suggestions for maintaining boundaries between work and home, both in the area of managing distractions as well as in keeping equipment and materials separate. Of course, not everyone has a separate room they can dedicate to work and shut off at the end of the work day. If the work area is in a shared space, employees should be encouraged to at least clean their desk off at the end of the day and keep work and personal equipment, supplies, and paperwork separate.
It's also important for employees to let family members or other housemates know when they will have free time and can be interrupted. Working from home has so many benefits but one of the challenges is not blurring work and personal boundaries too much. Providing as much advance notice as possible to others allows employees to manage their day with minimal interruptions.
Training employees on the most productive set-up not only benefits the organization from a productivity standpoint but the employee as well. Their work and home satisfaction will increase when they have a space to get their work done that is properly set up and appointed for their work hours. At the end of the day, closing that door and leaving work behind is incredibly good for one's mental health.
While time management is a skill that can be applied to any area of life, it is especially applicable to a setting such as working from a home office. The home office provides so many opportunities to achieve a healthier work-home balance, but it also has many challenges due to the lack of built-in structure (in many cases) and the distractions that are prevalent. Helping employees gain control of their time will benefit not only the bottom line productivity, but also help employees guard that precious work-life balance. Some factors to consider in time management training for teleworkers include planning ahead, time blocking, prioritizing tasks, dealing with distractions, overcoming overwhelm, breaking work into manageable chunks, and mindset barriers to effective time management.
Use of Technology
Some employees are not as technology-savvy as others. They may struggle with all the wires, cables, connections, apps, etc. When in a traditional office, there is often an IT “go to” resource, whether in the form of a help desk or a fellow employee who is a technology whiz. When working from a home office, employees are often on their own, and technology issues can be hair-pulling. There are also security protocols that should be followed in terms of firewalls and network security, protection of data, etc. It’s important for employees to be trained on basic technology issues to help them feel confident in doing their job, to protect company assets, and to allow their work hours to be focused on productive work rather than technology flare-ups. Employees should know who to contact for troubleshooting of technology issues as needed.
Managing Employees in a Remote Environment
Managing employees in a remote environment has many similarities to managing employees in a physical office, but it also has some unique challenges. Managers may feel disconnected from their employees and frustrated by the inability to pop their heads into their employees’ offices or workstations to check on their progress. Some managers struggle with how to know their employees are working productively and making wise use of their time. It’s important to train managers on trust-based management that focuses on clear expectations regarding measurable results. Managers should also be trained on how to keep the lines of communication open with employees, and how to recognize signs that employees may be feeling disengaged or struggling with productivity. Managers need to clearly communicate expectations regarding policies, communication protocol, reporting procedures, and telework-specific job requirements. There may be additional training opportunities the manager can recommend to help employees become more engaged and productive.
Making Training a Top Priority
In establishing training opportunities and goals, it’s important to ensure that these expectations have been identified and discussed with all employees. Training goals can be discussed with employees during 1:1 sessions, reviews, or another format managers use to communicate with employees. Training should also be tracked and documented, and the results and primary takeaways of the training should ideally be shared with the manager and/or other employees to foster communication and shared learning.
While we all know training is important, it’s often pushed to the background due to other urgencies and the fact that it doesn’t directly contribute to the company’s profitability. But the value of training cannot be overstated. With so many free or reasonably priced training sessions available today, particularly online, there has never been a better time to invest in your organization’s most valuable asset – its people. The return on investment to the organization and employee is beyond measure.