As personnel move increasingly from co-located office working to working from home there will be a gradual adaption to the new way of work. This adaptation will be different for everyone and every business, some will quickly settle into the new way of working while others will struggle with any number of different facets. Much of the pace and direction of this adaptation will be dependent on a combination of the organisation and individual circumstances and demands.
Organisations are working to understand how best to maintain their businesses and workflows now that their personnel are scattered across towns and cities. They are making multiple business critical decisions on a daily basis, in some cases simply to keep their business alive, working in a more fluid and complex environment than many will have ever seen or even conceived.
Moving staff to work from home
One of the many early decisions businesses made will have been to move staff offsite to work from home. This will have involved migrating technology and ensuring staff can access corporate networks but may not have considered changes to workflows or embracing flexible working processes for staff. Once staff are reporting in that they are happily set up with computers and phones at home, and have completed an ergonomic and environment checklist for their home workspace, many businesses will move on to other pressing matters, leaving their staff at home but stressed and confused as they navigate their new workflows.
However, the technology is only the enabler in a virtual team environment. Without adequate technology everything else is very difficult, but technology needs to be supplemented by changes to practices and processes, particularly when organisations are inn this for the relatively long haul. Having a staff member work from home for a day or a week alongside a traditional co-located office staff, as has been the case, previously, typically means that the work from home staff align their hours and workflows with the home office, nice and easy, little to no change required. In this current situation, where many if not most staff of many businesses are working from home, and doing so for an extended period of weeks and possibly months, there is a real need for companies to review their expectations and processes.
Organizational factors for adapting to work from home
As I discussed in the last article in this series, there are a number of factors to consider here.
- Many companies have a formally structured “9 to 5” working day, 5 day a week simply to provide structure to their operations. In many instances employees only perform their duties within this framework because that is the cultural norm and aside from tradition, there are often few reasons that structure needs to apply when personnel are working from home.
- Many managers and business leaders are comfortable with these traditional structures as this is what they have always known. Performance measurement and client billing is also often structured around this attendance model, building a self fulfilling and for some virtuous circle.
- Employees have built their life styles around this 9 to 5 model. This applies as much on the non working hours as well as the working hours, it applies to family time and how parents will divide caring for children.
- Organizational reward structures, overtime and different pay rates for hours worked associated with numbers of hours and hours worked at traditionally non social times are also designed around these conventional business hours.
But, none of that applies now. There are no rule books for adapting to a mass transition to working from home. With your employees working from home instead of attending a centralised office do you need to enforce a standard working day or week?
There are no rule books for adapting to a mass transition to working from home
For some, the answer will still be yes, this will be where the business provides a service that is expected to be available at certain times. But for others the answer is definitely a no, so long as the business needs can be met, does it really matter what time of day the task is performed as long as it is complete when needed. Adapting your organisation to get the best value from its staff while supporting them through this situation is smart business sense as well as simply the right thing to do.
Employee adaptation to working from home
For many employees, moving to a work from home model will be a very stressful and confusing time. They are changing from a comfortable, traditional and routine co-located working arrangement to one where they are isolated from their employer and coworkers, away from their routines, away from their business support systems and redesigning their work to suit a completely new, complex and ever changing landscape.
Some will now be completely isolated, living alone in their apartments and homes, with little to no face to face human contact. Others will be home with partners and children, all trying to find ways to spend far more time together than they have for a long time and trying to balance their lives. Some may also be supporting extended family, parents, siblings and friends, some of whom may be ill or concerned about contracting COVID-19.
Many organisations have given little guidance to their staff for what is expected of them during this period. Some organisations will have been proactive and embraced a fully flexible, output driven and relatively relaxed working arrangement to allow their personnel to adapt. Other businesses may have been silent on what is expected, leaving their staff to infer accepted and acceptable practice. Then others will have set out expectations for their staff that essentially only recognise a change of working location, requiring the staff still rigidly comply with standard working hours.
Adapting to these changes will be a long and for many confusing process. A process where they need to balance family and personal health and well being needs against work expectations, while also dealing with uncertainties around job security and their ability to support themselves and their families.
Recommendations for adapting to work from home
My recommendations for organisational and personal adaption to this situation are therefore:
- Organisations need to set clear but flexible expectations of their personnel. These must recognise the extraordinary situation and allow staff to have the flexibility to work around their situation wherever possible.
- Organisations need to provide support to staff and as far as possible, share with staff the business situation and needs. This will allow staff to understand their situation better and feel like part of any solution.
- Employees need to be open with their managers and organisations about their capacity on a day to day basis to fulfill their business commitments. This could include working different hours or sharing work with colleagues to allow flexibility to support family.
- Employees need to ensure they are caring for themselves and their families alongside doing their job. Without both the stresses will build up.
- Organisations should consider declaring a period of complete flexibility for all of their personnel, with only business critical tasks given definite structure. During this period the company and its employees can settle into their new environment and work out for themselves what works. At the end of this period, companies can then redefine their working plans
We are all in these uncharted waters together and only by working together and adapting will we make the best of the situation. The mental, physical and commercial health of our communities and businesses are all in the balance and we need to explore all different options to find the best way to navigate through.