indicatorAdvice for Alberta businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic

Integrating successful work from home strategies - tips for business owners and leaders

By ATB Financial 27 March 2020 5 min read

man working from home on laptop

The COVID-19 outbreak has triggered a frenetic trial run for remote work at a grand scale. Albertan businesses, among many others, are reacting to this rapid shift in work environments and staff-manager communication with impressive agility. However, this is still new ground for thousands of companies embarking on work-from-home strategies.

Numerous studies have found that remote work could benefit both employee and employer. The latest one, via a 2019 survey of 7,000 workers by FlexJobs, found that 65 per cent of those working from home said they’re more productive outside the office, citing benefits such as fewer interruptions from colleagues, minimal office politics and decreased stress from commuting.

As hundreds of organizations across the province, from small to medium and all the way up to enterprise level operations pivot to implement remote-work policies, what are some key considerations for employers? How can they keep performance levels high while also ensuring social isolation doesn’t fracture the mental well-being of their staff? Also, what are some tips for remote workers who now are waking up every morning and walking 15 steps to their new home office?

Pick the right tools, don’t neglect security

Before businesses launch work-from-home programs, they should think ahead to the kinds of issues that allow seamless workflow. Security measures are top-of-mind for many prepared managers. How can employees access the company’s internal network from home is in many cases an essential question that needs to be answered.

Employers should work with their IT departments to develop the proper protocol that any worker will need to consider once they work out of the office.

Next, “Businesses should identify how they want to collaborate with their staff,” says Tara Adams, Corporate Wellness Manager at ATB. Firms large could use tools such as Google’s software suite, or other platforms that allow for collaborative team work, such as the messaging service Slack and video-conference app Zoom (the latter of which soared to the top of Apple’s iOS app charts within days of the coronavirus upending the world’s office life). Still, integrating leading-edge tools that allow employees to get the most out of a work from home environment will come with a few bumps. For example, “Businesses need to realize it can take time for those who are used to having desktop files and then migrating everything to the cloud,” Adams says.

The same patience has to be leveled at transitioning from paper-friendly practices to digital equivalents. For example, we’re accustomed to signing documents and asking for signatures from colleagues, but in a remote environment teleworkers have to find other resources such as e-signature software like DocuSign.

The changes to checking in and hour tracking

In traditional office spaces, managers can literally see who arrived when and what task they’re tackling. But with remote workers, managers have to decide on new ways to stay on top of staff responsibilities and analyze performance metrics.

“Under remote work, you go from tracking hours to a results-based work environment,” says Adams, adding how this transition requires managers to monitor specific goals instead of using the proxy of office attendance.

“With remote workers, managers also can’t bump into folks on their lunch break, asking them about this or that project, so they should use collaboration tools and messaging services to stay in touch with staff,” advises Adams.

Email may seem like a go-to option for staying connected with employees, but it’s ideal to harness a richer communication tool such as video-conferencing. That kind of face time (and, literally, FaceTime) sends a signal to employees that managers want to replicate the high engagement level found in the office.

“Seeing other people can help with our emotional health, especially if we’re alone all day at home,” says Adams. Bringing video to meetings surpasses a phone call, too, in many ways, Adam notes: body language and looking into someone’s eyes is crucial for both professional and social connections.

Offer support from 9-to-5, but allow for work fluidity

If workers suddenly have to shift to remote offices, as we saw when the coronavirus struck, it is critical for managers to acknowledge stress and anxiety among their employee base. Listening to their concerns and fielding their questions and empathizing with their challenges can go a long way to boosting the work-life balance this type of flexible schedule can allow.

If a newly remote employee is suddenly finding their new home office difficult to adapt to for whatever reason, managers should find out how they can help. Even just asking, “How is this remote work situation working out for you so far?” can give employers important information that they might not otherwise hear.

Adams recognizes how a fluid schedule may appeal to both managers and employees, but she stresses the benefit of structuring the work day around a 9-to-5 schedule. “Employees might feel guilty that they didn’t reply to a 5 p.m. email because, after all, their boss knows they are home but work needs to be cut off at a certain point.”

She advises managers that if they send emails in, say, the late afternoon that require an immediate reply, writing “Urgent” in the subject line would tell the receiver that an answer can’t wait until the next morning.

With that being said, with work-life environments hanging in the balance as many employees juggle work priorities with caring for children and the elderly or vulnerable, it’s important to leave room for fluidity of work. We all work our best in different ways, and at different times. Allowing team members the flexibility of deciding when they can deliver their best work will not only promote productivity, but a culture of mutual trust and accountability.

In times when Albertan businesses are called to be more resilient than ever before, integrating work from home policies doesn’t need to be another disruption that keeps you from getting back to business at hand. In fact, this may go to prove, your business is more agile than you ever thought possible.

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