The reality has hit. Working from home is here and the novelty will soon start to wear off for many. The majority of employed people are discovering what many freelance or gig workers have known for some time. To work from home doesn’t just require the right tools but also a lot of discipline. That’s a hard balance to strike when so many of us are not only confined to our own four walls but also with our spouses or partners, children and, in some cases, extended family members. Working from home is not as simple as it sounds.

While there’s lots of things we can do on an individual level to help ourselves and loved ones with this new, temporary set up, what can you do if you’re part of a large organisation and manage a team? 

While you may have been used to working in one office, one building or spread across a few locations, you and your team will have all been used to certain quirks of working together. Try to embrace the positive elements that this new approach to working life brings but be mindful of the pitfalls along the way. Here’s a few thoughts to help…

Leading Your Team and Make the Most of the New Normal

• Maintain the norm/Keep the good habits – if you’re used to regular updates with your team keep them in place and if you don’t, now’s the time to schedule them. To be successful set out the rules for the meeting not only in your diary invite but also at the beginning of each update. Be the host and take control:

o Give each member of your team a few minutes for their top line updates

o Perhaps ask them to share one fun fact about their new working space before getting into the serious matter of work

o Where possible keep the conversation light and not focused on the various stories circulating around the globe about Coronavirus.

• Be socialable – you’re all used to spending time together, in fact many spend more time with their colleagues than with their loved ones! The little chats over a coffee or before a meeting have vanished overnight but keep them going and allow for a 10 minute team social via conference call. So far, we’ve heard of people getting their pets involved in calls, their spouses or kids saying hi. Make something good come from this turn of events and help to reinforce relationships.

• Stay informed, use your company resources, properly – if you work for a large organisation the chances are that you have all the resources and tools in place to work remotely. And if you don’t, your IT department will be working hard to ensure you’re better equipped. 

We’re facing a pandemic and from what we can tell this virus affects people quickly. That means members of your team might be full of energy one afternoon but in their bed by that evening. It’s important that people use the company’s online resources to share files and keep everyone on the team of progress. If you don’t already have these processes in place introduce them so that anyone can update, and anyone can find them without causing more stress. 

• Time management – suddenly not having a daily commute can make people behave in bizarre ways! Some members of your team will be really disciplined and still get up and be organised for their working day as normal, but others will struggle with that extra hour or more in bed. 

Encourage people to set realistic timescales for completing tasks and make sure they factor in personal demands. Are they home schooling, do they have an elderly relative they need to administer medicine to or check in at regular intervals?

• Staying productive – There’s an opportunity here to be precise and clear on what projects you’re all working on, the end goals and what steps need to be taken to reach them. Be as clear and as concise as you can to keep moving work forward. But importantly, remember those coffee breaks and team trips for a quick drink at the local bar have vanished. Push people to take regular breaks away from their computers, take the dog for a walk or at least step away. These breaks will help to maintain productivity and keep people sane.

Beware of the Unintended Consequences

Presenteeism – Some people might take this new working day to be online more than usual, and to over communicate to colleagues. As a manager you need to make sure you’re not guilty of overloading your team and you also need manage any over-eager members of your team. Too many emails and messages can spill into other people’s lives, causing unnecessary anxiety and stress. Set clear boundaries on what you expect and want to see from people and do the same yourself.

• Poor broadband – Be realistic – the internet has never taken such a pounding! Nor have the mobile networks. Most households will have two people working, accessing files on the cloud, carrying out conference calls and children will be taught online as well. Take into consideration that people’s broadband won’t always cope with the demand. Simple things like switching off the cameras for calls with help with bandwidth, closing down apps that aren’t required.

• Being supportive – Sadly, given the current situation people are going to fall ill or members of their family are. If you believe a member of your team is struggling try to work with them and also involve HR to support you. It could be simple help in dealing with the anxiety of being stuck in doors, or worrying about loved ones

• Tag Team – People have got too used to pushing themselves too hard when they’ve been ill. We no longer have that excuse neither should we allow people to work when they’re not well. We know that many people are going to fall ill and when they do the team needs to pull together to pick up the load, quickly. You may want to consider re-adjusting working hours so people can allow for rest and recuperation.

• Do not tolerate bad behaviour or scaremongering – we’ve already seen a lot of fake news being shared across social channels. We’re also witnessing varying levels of anxiety amongst people and sadly, there are also a number of scams by cybercriminals being carried out. Make it clear people should not share medical advice or news that they have picked up from their own channels (Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, etc). If they want updates on the spread of the virus they should visit valid sources such as the WHO or John Hopkins sites or indeed their government or main news sites. Official company news will come from your main channels via the HR and Internal Comms team – make sure people know that water cooler conversations, virtual or not, will not be tolerated.

 There’s no doubt that most of us are experiencing the most challenging time in both our work and professional lives but this can also be an opportunity to learn. We can learn how to be more tolerant and supportive of others, to be kind, not just to those around us but also ourselves. People have pushed themselves to the absolute brink for so many years and now, with a new way of working, albeit enforced, perhaps…, just perhaps they can get that time back. Time to really explore a work/life balance where hobbies, health and family can be enjoyed while experiencing a fulfilling time at work. The technology is there and has been for a while. We no longer need to be slaves to the commute and the office. We just need to adapt and evolve. If there’s one good thing to come out of this experience, perhaps that’s it – we can change our behaviours and habits for the better.