Extended lockdowns have resulted in Employers having to scramble to provide an on-line working environment for employees.
Many companies may have never ventured down the Working From Home (WFH) route if the Covid-19 pandemic had not forced them to take action, for most it was a question of “sink or swim”. Those that rose to the challenge will no doubt have managed to position themselves more favourably in the market place. A combination of adaptability and availability will make these businesses more accessible to their customers and promise some form of continuity in a potentially stressful long-term working environment.
It must be remembered WFH is nothing new and has been around for a while with many Companies having embraced the concept and accepted the challenges in a changing work environment. The advent of fast and reliable connectivity being available in every day homes has proved to be a game-changer and is no longer considered a luxury but rather a necessity.
Challenges of WFH
For the working partnership between employer and employee to be successful there are practical issues we need to be thinking about. Be brutally realistic with what you can achieve. Setting goals for a perfect eight-hour, work-structured day will not always happen, particularly where there are distractions such as small children needing assistance with home schooling, a boisterous dog or the necessary demands of household chores to keep homes running smoothly.
Yes, you may achieve the eight hours, maybe not in one or two tranches, but over the day. Start by setting goals and planning around meetings or task deadlines and be ruthlessly efficient with managing your diary, capture all work, meetings and deliverables in detail (there are no colleagues close at hand to remind you) and then realistically include the other essentials. Parents can share the load and work out a roster for child-care and chores. Time can be made up later in the evening when the young ones are asleep.
Keep focused during the work week, keep the time for work related items and let the weekend be the time for major household chores or fun activities.
1. Create your workspace
This is essential for sanity in any WFH environment. Younger employees who may not necessarily have the distraction of children, have all agreed that it becomes important to define work as opposed to home activities. It makes for a boring existence if these activities all drift into each other as they are conducted in the same space. A tiny area will do, even if you have to screen it in some way, this is the area where there are different norms, where you drink coffee not wine and where you take business calls from people that you need to impress, where income generation is the order of the day and company duties are attended to.
For those able to have comfortable chairs and desks, space to spread files out and necessary equipment at hand, enjoy the benefits! Many employees may not have this luxury. Be innovative with your designated area so that it feels special and different to you. There is no excuse to be boring and you need to look forward to going to the office! There should be buy-in from fellow house mates, even if you set up an imaginary door, make them knock and ask if it’s convenient to disturb you, demand respect for your office and its function.
2. Maintain a routine
The experts all tell us, establish a routine. Whatever works for you, we are all different and there are certain triggers that assist us to be more efficient in a working environment. It may be sitting in a particular space or at a specific desk or having certain objects close at hand. Perhaps it’s the morning routine of showering, having coffee and breakfast and checking the clock for the start to your workday; identify what your zone is. Many employees have mentioned that they ideally would like to maintain an unchanged routine to that of their normal day; in the new work zone this may not always be feasible as you juggle third party and home related issues.
3. Be presentable
In our widely connected workspace with Team Chats and Zoom, meetings or appointments can happen quickly and sometimes without notice, don’t be that person caught unshaven and in their track suit. Will anyone really care, maybe not, but they will remember it. Dress properly, be well groomed and ready for anything, you never know when opportunity comes knocking. If you are still in your pyjamas at ten in the morning it reflects in your voice and attitude.
4. Communicate efficiently
Out of sight, out of mind should not apply, stay in touch with colleagues and clients alike. If your team leader or manager is not hearing from you or about you, they are more likely to assume that nothing is happening; this makes for an uneasy working relationship and your silence sends its own message. It has been found that a morning or even daily check-in as a team is valuable for keeping morale high and focus keen. Make sure that all members of the team are given an opportunity to provide detail in their own words. Keep abreast, keep in touch and stay connected. During the lockdown period it is especially important that customers and clients are contacted and know you are available to them, business is going to become tough, be up for the fight! Work environments will change and develop, as a Company you want to be remembered and be the first point of call.
5. Establish trust
A difficult element to introduce into the WFH plan between managers and co-workers, if you are working as expected, for a full shift over a day, staying in touch and engaged in expected tasks and projects and doing it well and all the time, you will build integrity. If you normally worked some overtime to get things done or started early in the morning, keep the habit, it saves employers time and energy having to constantly check in on you. The key rule for the WFH formula is to get information to your manager, before they know they need it. We are living through an extraordinary moment in history; many people in South Africa have no income and are living in poverty. Guard employment as a precious commodity and do more than is needed on all levels, small sacrifices will be remembered and appreciated. There is nothing more important than your integrity; if you are trusted it speaks volumes.
We are human beings and there is a lot in our make-up that needs to be thought about to ensure overall wellness. Work adds to stresses that need to be managed, but work doesn’t change the need to be aware of our overall health. We need to be intelligent and proactive about both our mental and physical health at all times, but especially during a forced lockdown. Be actively engaged in ensuring that you attend to both of these very important aspects of our lives.
Socialising brings joy to our living even if we have to do it in a virtual space in the short-term. Explore and build interaction amongst colleagues, we all need it and in a work environment there are special bonds that are created by being involved in similar situations and having similar experiences.
Many Companies will find that this lockdown time may open up new ways of working with their employees, particularly if they find that WFH is successful. Employers will need to engage with their HR Departments and HR Providers to ensure that policy changes are made to accommodate a different working environment. It is not always plain sailing and people generally bring their own challenges so be prepared for checks and balances to ensure that there is understanding by employees of expectations. Similarly, we should be engaging with organisations that have already been doing it well and finding out what they have learnt.
We must not be afraid of seeking new avenues of work which may develop as a result of the change, whilst the old ones become increasingly irrelevant, now more than ever adaptability must be the new norm.