Stay home. Shelter in place. Don't go outside unless your house catches fire -- even then, try to remain at least six feet away from the next escapee.
The coronavirus pandemic has led to some immediate and drastic changes in the way our world lives and works. Some companies were prepared for the crisis and made the transition smoothly, while others continue to struggle. The businesses thriving during this period of uncertainty are using a combination of tools and processes to empower employees to work from home.
The catch: Workplace expectations will never return to the way they were before.
What the Crisis Has Revealed
Employees now know that most employers have the means to facilitate work-from-home arrangements in the long term. Once the crisis passes and regulators give the all-clear to return to normal life, thousands of employees will choose to maintain their newfound flexibility. In this era of work-life balance, the mental health benefits of remote work will appeal strongly to top talent.
Companies that attempt to press employees into offices will find their best and brightest leaving for competitors who offer more generous arrangements. The age of the home office began in earnest in March 2020, and the workers of the world will expect employers to accommodate their needs moving forward.
Not all work-from-home arrangements provide the same results, however. Managers can't expect programmers to call in to dictate their code to scribes, nor can they ask salespeople to wait 10 business days to receive new marketing materials. To make the most of the home-based workforce now and after the pandemic, your business must make a point to empower remote workers.
This is how you can keep employees working from home connected, productive and happy:
1. Provide benefits that facilitate mental well-being.
Employees who work from home need to feel comfortable to stay productive. Employers can help by making it easier for employees to access self-care resources.
Provide employees with lifelines and tools in case they need to speak to professionals about pressing issues like depression or domestic violence. Telemedicine company Nurx put together an excellent list of resources for employees who may feel uneasy about isolation or the spread of COVID-19. Consider providing employees with complimentary memberships to at-home fitness and meditation services, as well, to reduce stress and improve well-being.
2. Boost remote employee engagement.
Remote employees want to feel like part of the team. During the pandemic, everyone's in the same boat, but that could change when the virus passes out of the headlines. Once some team members return to work, those who remain at home deserve to feel like equal members.
Build your remote work culture by checking in frequently, both for work matters and for regular chats. When social distancing ends, set up recurring invites to bring remote workers to home base and keep faces fresh. Ask them directly what the company could do to ensure they feel connected to their colleagues. Create structures that make it possible for remote employees to earn promotions and rise within your company.
3. Buy workers the physical necessities.
Imagine two designers working from home. One has a desk, a comfortable chair and a functioning computer with a drawing tablet. The other works on the couch with old equipment and spends most days trying to find a position that doesn't lead to lower back pain. Which designer will produce the best results?
Businesses must invest in remote employees the same way they invest in office workers. Use the savings on rent and utilities to outfit remote employees with the equipment they need. Chairs, desks, technologies and even personal services can boost productivity. Payments company Gusto recommends offering childcare assistance to help working parents manage their workload without sacrificing their families.
4. Invest in communications software.
Overnight, Zoom transformed from a quietly successful videoconferencing product into an international necessity for businesses, schools and citizens alike. Without shared physical spaces, companies need tools to facilitate easy communication and provide a more human touch than emails.
Just as important is getting face with customers. One-on-one videoconferences might not be cost-effective, but they're not the only answer. Live-streaming tools can help you connect with audiences at scale to share insights and answer frequently asked questions.
5. Create processes for asynchronous collaboration.
Communications tools work well for people who share hours, but what happens when employees in different time zones need to collaborate? Even with team members in the same city, one person might prefer to do creative work in the evening; another may feel more productive at dawn.
Work with employees to create processes that turn asynchronous communication into the standard. No one enjoys tasks between tasks, but project management tools work best when workers update the status of their projects as they go. Clean project charts and robust notes can help team members tackle challenges at the times that work best for them, freeing businesses from the classic constraints of "work hours."
No one can say for sure yet when the pandemic will pass, but companies can't sit idly by to find out. By proactively supporting remote workers now, smart businesses set themselves up for long-term success in a world where remote work could soon be the standard.