Prolonged home working – staying productive in times of uncertainty

We all know the feeling of breaking up for the Christmas break, a few days off with family at home and then a few days home working in the period between Christmas and New Year – a great time to sort out the e mail in-box of the 400 e mails still not filed or deleted, catch up on reading articles we have been saving for a quiet time, and start on plans for the most productive return in the New Year, all whilst wearing a reindeer onesie and eating Quality Street.

It’s also not like those times when we plan a working from home day to shut out the distractions and background noise of the office to concentrate on getting a bit piece of work out, or to focus some clear thinking time for planning strategy.

But as we held our last team meeting in the office at WME yesterday before moving to home working for the foreseeable future, it was not like breaking up for Christmas, or taking a home day to finish a big report, it was like joining up to go to war. The feeling of uncertainty, anxiety and strangeness of the current situation will have been experienced by many of you, and as we work to understand what the new “normal” is for the next few months we need to think about how to keep ourselves and our teams engaged, productive and healthy, not just for a few days, but for the weeks to come.

Each team will have its own ethos, culture, approach and ways of working which will need to be adapted, but here are some things you can use to make the most of the situation

Establish a workable routine

It is helpful to set a routine or schedule, and to stick to it. Without the daily commute we may find we have more time at either end of the day, so work out if you are naturally a morning person or an afternoon person, and use that to your advantage to harness your naturally productive time. Get up, dressed and “ready for work” to put yourself into the right mindset. Schedule in regular breaks and make sure you give yourself permission to take them. One of the most difficult things about working from home is the lack of social interaction, so try and spread your phone or video calls through the day rather than all together, and have a coffee break with others in the household in the same way as you would break for a coffee with colleagues at work. As the situation changes and things happen such as children being home from school you may need to change your routine, but having clear “work time” and “home time” will help to keep you productive and sane. There is advice for working from home with children in the house here Self Isolating as a family

Set clear objectives and monitor progress against them

Whether they are objectives for yourself or your team, its important that time away from the normal office, formal meetings and all that surrounds that is used effectively so that we still feel useful and productive. It may mean that we have to move to a more structured, task based approach to working than we are used to, with a list of things we can usefully complete being given out to teams, with reports back on completion after a set time as follow up. This will be especially important for team members who are not used to working remotely, who can sometimes feel “cut adrift” without the daily rhythms and routines in the way they are used to working. See this research from Harvard Business School Managing Newly Remote Workers

Find ways to engage in fun stuff

Many of us love work for the social, fun and human contact it gives us. For people who live alone or in a small household, the thought of being at home every day without that can be really frightening. Whilst we are all used to e mail and virtual exchanges, make sure you build in some face to face fun times to keep spirits up. If you have Teams, Skype or even WhatsApp to engage with your team, you can use that for social things too. What about a weekly “Family Fun Friday” hour where others in the household can get on the video and chat, or show colleagues their latest treasure, painting or trick. Who has the cutest pet? A weekly exercise or yoga class done together remotely via YouTube? You will know your teams and what will engage them, so be creative about how that will work for everyone, so they stay engaged.

Meet up in a safe environment to keep contact going

Where possible, and team members feel ok about it, try and arrange meet ups in small groups or pairs to go for a walk in the park or around a local beauty spot. Fresh air and physical exercise is still important, and it will give you the opportunity to touch base and check in with your team, chat about work and how they are managing, whilst keeping you in the most safe space in the circumstances. Make sure you keep up to date with the latest advice here.

Many of you will have EAP providers or the equivalent. It is important to signpost staff to these in times of uncertainty and stress. Apart from the isolation of home working many staff may have worries about other family members, job security and financial concerns. All of these can be helped through the appropriate service. It may be that people just want to feel they are not alone in feeling how they do – and by reaching out through networks, having a space to express concerns and receive reassurance that will be enough to keep people on track. Watch out for signs of people coping less well – lack of communication, poor productivity or an inability to “switch off” from work at the end of the day – and provide additional support and contact where this seems to be happening. There is lots of support, try mentalhealth.org.uk Corona Virus outbreak as a start.

One of the likely positive outcomes of this current crisis is that agility will become the new normal – organisations who have been resistant to home or flexible working and have struggled moving to modern working practices because of a culture of presenteeism will have the opportunity to demonstrate how productive and engaged a remote workforce can be: That being said we as HR professionals will need to be at the top of our game to make sure this works, so that whilst it feels like an unwelcome social experiment now, it will have a lasting positive legacy with welcome outcomes for the future.

Article By:

Lesley Shore, MCIPD
Director Of Corporate, HR and Membership Services, West Midlands Employers

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