Analysis and Commentary

Working from home in a pandemic by Juliana Queiroz

Analysis and Commentary

Working from home has become the norm for many especially white collar workers in manufacturing. But there need to be changes if you are going to get the most out of remote employees, and they are going to get the most out of their work, writes Juliana Queiroz

One year after the coronavirus outbreak, we are still learning what means the “New Normal”.

What we thought was temporary has now substantial impacts on our lives and there is simply no way back.

This outbreak has made working from home a necessity, and as time goes by and economies reopen, the reality is that working from home is here to stay.

Although some analysis insists that working from home increases productivity, I am still sceptical.

In the recent Workhuman® Livestream, CEO Eric Mosley said the real killer of productivity is a lack of connection.

According to this Australian survey, the four things employees miss most about working in the office is related to connections. They miss easily bouncing ideas off with co-workers (63 per cent), the camaraderie and friendship of colleagues (50 per cent), ease of communication with a team leader or manager (36% per cent) and the general energy of the workplace (34 per cent).

These statistics make me even more sceptical. My answer to the question are we really getting the most productivity out of working from home is…it depends.

Productivity requires balance

The reality is that employees are working more hours in the hopes of staying visible and adding value. In the same time, they are dealing with the usual domestic chores in addition of having the kids around.

When working from home we commute easily from “home” in the kitchen to “work” in the living room. With no physical separation between the office and home, it’s harder to turn off and set a healthy boundary.

The result is that they are tired, fed up and burned out. They are completely disconnected from home and work.

To get the most productivity out of working from home we need balance.

Hard work and dedication should be interspersed with time off to refresh and revitalize. Getting this balance will connect people again with their work and family life. Having dedicated time to enjoy both worlds is necessary.

Quick wins: Encourage your employees to have a healthy boundary between work and non-work activities. You can help by defining a fixed time slot to work, establishing rules like no emailing or phone calls after a certain time. Encourage them to have time for themselves like sport time or cuddle time with theirs kids.

Changing clothes is maybe a good idea to mark the boundary when work is finished, try it yourself! Get in touch, ask them what is really going on and what you can do to help. Connect with them, understand them. Sharing your own difficulties can help to connect with them. How difficult is it for you to live the new ‘normal life”?

Productivity requires collaboration

Working from home isn’t conducive to building meaningful relationships with co-workers in the same way that working in the office is. All virtual meetings are not enough to connect with your peers as it used to be.

Remember that coffee you took with a colleague that shared with you he got engaged? Do you remember seeing happiness in his eyes? That kind of informal conversation which truly connect us all, is now over. The chitchat that helps to create a common culture and social cohesion among the employees is over. The reality is that it’s tougher to build and maintain trustful relationships from afar.

To get the most productivity out of working from home we need collaboration. To collaborate is the action of working with someone to produce something. It requires interpersonal skills, communication skills, knowledge sharing that mostly used to occur on informal meetings.

The best way to connect with someone is to engage an authentic relationship with this person. The deep knowledge of what makes this person tick is essential to creating and sustaining successful partnerships.

Quick wins: Encouraging on site meetings more often now that we can see each other (respecting the current restrictions of course!). Encourage spontaneous discussions when offline and online. What about an unexpected call just to talk about the last footy match?

When doing meetings, online or not, I recommend some icebreaking games to get people to talk about themselves. You can find a whole list of games here. I like the game “two truths and a lie”, I always get people wrong on finding the truth!

Productivity requires a strong company culture

Company culture is important to employees because workers are more likely to enjoy work when their needs and values are consistent with their employers. Developing a company culture isn’t just something to be done for its own sake, it has meaningful effects on employee retention, satisfaction, and productivity.

Company culture is mostly fostered by employees coming together and engaging in team-building activities and meetings. It is hard to have a strong culture even with a full time onsite and Working from home can make this even harder to accomplish.

To get the most productivity out of working from home we need a strong company culture that get employees connected to a higher purpose. When people believe that their work matters, they’re four times more likely to be engaged, are more motivated, learn faster, and are more fulfilled. As a manager, connect your employees to this higher purpose should be a priority.

Quick wins: Results push people for the short-term, but a higher purpose pulls them for the long-term. That means you need to connect your people’s individual objectives to the company’s higher purpose.

The implementation of Objective Key Results can help to translate the company culture into operational goals, so your employees could understand better why your company exists. The aim is to connect your employees to “why they do what they do” and how important it is for humanity.

Working from home is here to stay, full time or partially. To get the most productivity out of it we need to stay connected, not only connected to people around us physically and virtually, but also connected to ourselves, to what we value and care.

Juliana Quiroz is an engineer and founder of What Engineers Want, a consulting company that helps advanced manufacturers get the most productivity out of their engineers using culture development and collective intelligence.

Picture: University of Adelaide

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