As more and more companies across the region are asking their employees to work from home, many questions are being raised about how that can be managed both from the perspective of the employer and the employee.
In light of the ongoing Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreaks, working remotely is becoming an ideal means to remain in the workforce and to continue to be productive thereby maintaining all the tangible benefits of being part of an established company, while enjoying all the advantages of being based at home. Most importantly, this arrangement is aimed at minimizing any unnecessary physical contact and mass gatherings that could result in a further spread of the Coronavirus in the Middle East.
However, working from home has its potential pitfalls and challenges that everyone need to prepare for to mitigate any further obstacles to maintaining productivity and well-being.
The key concern for every employer is whether an employee can be as effective working from home as they are when at the office. How can you make sure that communication is seamless within the team and that all data is secure?
In essence, virtual teams are different because they don’t communicate and interact in a traditional face-to-face manner; however, it is possible to successfully manage telecommuting as long as you plan well for it:
- Set your team objectives: Though members of your team may be working remotely they need to operate as one unit. A well communicated set of objectives and goals will ensure everyone is on the same page. Also make sure each member of your team knows exactly how they are contributing to achieve the set objectives. If your telecommuting team members think they are working individually, they will act individually;but if they know they are working towards a common objective they will be more active in collaborating with other team members.
- Use the right technology: Using the right technology and online tools is important for the success of your telecommunication program. Make sure your team members who are working from home have access to the internet, audio-conferencing, file sharing and other software for collaborating. You also need to understand the software and tools that your employees use on a day-to-day basis and the associated security risks involved, so make sure you take this into account in your overall telecommuting plan. Ensure that sensitive data such as contracts and client lists are available for viewing only. Carefully assess such things prior to allowing employees to work offsite, to avoid technical glitches and data leaks.
- Communicate often: To make sure that your telecommuting team does not feel isolated, arrange for weekly or short daily teleconferences. Regular communication will also keep your team motivated and engaged.
- Proactively manage their workload: Be extra diligent in workload management to ensure that work is completed on time. Explicitly communicate the deadline to your telecommuting team when assigning tasks. If the project has a six-week course for completion, then break it up into weekly phased completion. This will ensure that your project delivery stays on course and achievable. Telecommuting can be a valuable option for employees and helps to establish you as a considerate employer.
Now, as an employee who is trying to navigate through this new work arrangement, it is good to be aware of the advantages and the disadvantages of working from home. And despite the fact that remote work is becoming the favored option to counter the spread of communicable diseases, it can actually be a very smart way to increase your sense of independence and flexibility with work. Here are some of the highlights:
By working at home, you save on many hidden costs associated with going to work. These include the costs of commuting, car wear and tear, fuel, road taxes, parking as well as indirect costs such as expensive professional wardrobes and the dry-cleaning of those. Often you can also save on older children’s care arrangements, although for younger children it is highly unadvisable to forgo the childcare arrangement and try to balance close care and supervision with the demands of the job.
This doesn’t just relate to timings either, although the flexibility to determine your own work hours to some extent is the most important aspect of this. You can also determine your environment, lighting, temperature, setting, mood; basically work in the framework that suits you best and makes you happiest and most productive.
Coworkers banter and distractions, unnecessary interruptions, unimportant meetings can all be avoided if you are safely at home and sealed off in your own environment which you have barricaded from any possible interruptions.
Proximity to home and family
For many, the physical proximity to family and the convenience of being at home are tremendously comforting. For parents, it can be especially pacifying to know that they are very near to their children and available should they be needed for any reason. This also applies in the case of elderly care.
The stress of commuting in bumper-to-bumper traffic at rush hour in many countries is extremely counterproductive and can lead to disgruntled workers who are already exhausted and worn before they have even begun their day. This is especially true where the workplace is far from the office. Other stresses often cited include unfriendly coworkers, a suboptimal work environment, and constant distractions.
Removed from the stresses and distractions of the workplace and working independently in their own preferred environment at their own pace, professionals are often a lot happier and a lot more productive.
Often with long commutes and anywhere from 1 to 3 hours a day spent getting to and from the workplace, both physical and mental health are adversely impacted; the former as the exercise hours are usually the first to go and the latter due to the stresses associated with both the commute and the workplace itself. By working at home, the commuting time saved enables you to resume physical exercise (ideally from home), as well as to take care of your general physical and mental well-being.
Better work/life balance
Work/life balance, the aspiration of the modern professional, is often achieved and tuned to satisfaction through a working at home arrangement, particularly when a professional has the flexibility to report into the office and work from the office partially as an option and can fine-tune the arrangement to achieve the most optimal balance.
Often, professionals working from home complain of isolation and loneliness given their removal from their bosses and coworkers, and this can be very depressing to some. Since the workplace provides a location to meet people and make friends for many professionals working from home have to be more creative and resourceful in getting to know people and in staying in touch with their colleagues.
Although office distractions are avoided by working at home, different distractions may arise. Interruptions from children, work, neighbours, friends, family may be very disruptive and special efforts must be made to make it known that you are actually working and unavailable for interruption within work hours despite your physical presence at home.
Difficulty in separating home from work
The temptation to engage in household matters since you are at home is often very strong. Suddenly you may start feeling obliged to clean the home, do the shopping, the childcare, the cooking, the home finances and the socializing all while meeting the full requirements of the job too. It is essential to draw the line between home and work so as to avoid both areas suffering.
Work doesn’t end
Since there is no-one looking over your shoulder enforcing strict hours, you may feel tempted to work endlessly. This pressure to work endlessly may be compounded by the fact that you feel there are greater expectations made of you as a home-worker or by self-imposed pressures to prove yourself and your abilities in this arrangement. Moreover, the lack of physical separation between home and work may add to this pressure to work endlessly.
Working from home takes a lot of dedication, self-control and discipline. To motivate yourself to persevere in working at home alone over the long run without succumbing to the distractions and losing drive and momentum is a tough feat. Nonetheless, this can be an easily cultivated skill with the support of your manager and team and by focusing on the aforementioned tips. And let’s not forget that it can strongly support the efforts to stop the spread of viruses and diseases and maintain safety and productivity at large.