Work from Home Extended? Prep Employees for a Remote Winter

The COVID-19 pandemic transformed corporate attitudes about remote work—and few plan to return to prior policies. Companies and managers that believed their employees could not sustain productivity or would “goof off” and fail to fulfill their professional obligations were forced to confront the reality that neither is the case. Indeed, both turned out to be far from the case. A recent study by Mercer, an HR and workforce benefits consulting company, found that 94% of employers admit employee productivity is the same or higher than it was before the pandemic.

The situation is aptly described by Lauren Mason, a principal and senior consultant at Mercer. “[T]his forced experiment around remote working … has shattered those perceptions to prove that most employees can actually be trusted to get their work done from home,” Mason says. “As organizations are thinking toward the longer term, they are looking at how they can execute flexibility at scale to deliver on the value of flexible working, like enhanced performance and productivity, a better employee experience, an expanded talent pool, and, in some cases, potentially reduced costs.”

Extending Work from Home into the Winter

Even before the recent spike in COVID-19 cases and concerted focus on renewed lockdowns, many businesses instituted remote work-from-home policies that extended far into 2021—with some deciding to allow employees to work from home permanently. Studies show that the majority of employees do not want to want to return to the pre-COVID-19 world where they must return to permanent office space. A recent study published in Forbes by MobileIron reveals an amazing 80% of workers do not want to return to the office full time. 

It seems definitive that a large portion of the professional workforce will continue working from home—even for businesses that plan to return to a permanent workplace—over the fast-approaching winter. As few businesses probably imagined work from home would extend this long, many are assessing how to prepare their workforce to continue working from home in 2021. 

Prepping Workers to Extend Work from Home

Following are some of the things businesses can do to prep their workforces for working from home through the winter.

1. Structuring Your Work Schedule

Professionals who have struggled during work from home often find they do not maintain a consistent structure to their workday. Having a regular schedule, place to work, times for breaks and errands, and other things enable professionals to create lines of demarcation between work and personal time and activities.

2. Dealing with eLearning and Managing Your Kids’ Activities

For many public schools, learning is virtual and kids are at home and not school while parents are working. Their requirements for parental assistance on studies, lunch, and other activities can quickly encroach on work. Professionals need to set a schedule for interacting with the kids and stick to it. At the same time, businesses need to provide their workers with sufficient flexibility to address unforeseen requirements that arise and kids and family members appearing in video conferences. 

3. Shutting Down at the End of the Day

Contra what some employers thought would happen if their workforce was remote before the pandemic, workers are actually logging more hours and working longer days now. Being unable to unplug at the end of the day is cited as a problem by many professionals. Thus, it is important to follow a protocol to shut down at the end of the workday. Cal Newport, the author of Deep Work: Rules for Focuses Success in a Distracted World, explains: “This ritual should ensure that every incomplete task, goal, or project has been reviewed and that for each you have confirmed that either 1) you have a plan you trust for its completion, or 2) it’s captured in a place where it will be revisited at the right time.”

4. Establishing Goals and Metrics

Business metrics remain just as important—whether employees are working from a permanent workspace or home. It is important to ensure employees clearly understand business goals and how those cascade to their roles and responsibilities. This means they need to develop measurable goals and metrics that are transparent and shared across the organization. John Doerr, the author of Measure What Matters: How Google, Bono, and the Gates Foundation Rock the World with OKRs, notes: “When people have conflicting priorities or unclear, meaningless, or arbitrarily shifting goals, they become frustrated, cynical, and demotivated.”

5. Offering Extra Empathy at Work

Working remote can take its toll—particularly when couple on top of the stresses brought on by the pandemic. Everything from juggling work and kids, competing with your spouse for home workspaces, and staying safe can wear anyone to a frazzle. Employers can help reduce some of these stresses by giving employees greater flexibility, helping to defray the costs of purchasing ergonomic chairs and desks, and offering employees a surprise day off. Not only do these activities release stress, but they build engagement and loyalty. 

6. Using Digital Tools

There is a long list of digital tools that make it easier for employees to collaborate and communicate with each other. Many have significant functionality, and businesses need to ensure they are getting full value out of them (e.g., Slack channels, etc.). Tracking and managing project is much easier with project management solutions like Workfront, Trello, Monday, Wrike, Basecamp, and a number of other tools break down the walls separating remote teams and ensure projects are kept on time and budget.

7. Codifying Remote Work-from-Home Policies

Many small businesses went directly into the remote work-from-home normal and had little time to adjust. Now that eight or nine months have passed, many businesses are looking back and realizing that their work-from-home policies are lacking—and absent in some cases. With work from home extending into the winter, it may be time to codify work-from-home policies to establish clear parameters for employees.

8. Celebrating Successes and Milestones

With everyone working from home for many consecutive months, it can become easy to forget to celebrate successes. Recognizing everyone for their hard work and project contributions builds engagement and loyalty. When the majority of the workforce is in a permanent workspace, it is easier to take a moment for these important celebrations and milestones. But with everyone separated from each other while working from their home offices, it is easy for forget or give these moments short shrift. 

Capitalizing on the Opportunities of Remote Work

Sadly, for some companies, if COVID-19 lockdowns had not forced their hand, it may have taken many years for them to recognize the power of the digital workplace. Yet, suddenly thrust into a realm where their fears become an immediate reality, they discovered them to be unwarranted. Plus, as their workforces got a taste of a work-from-home or hybrid workplace, the genie will be virtually impossible to put back into the bottle again. 

Many businesses are discovering that there are numerous plusses to a remote workforce and are planning not only to extend the policy into the winter but far beyond—permanent in a quickly growing list.


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