A lot has changed during the first quarter of 2020 on a global scale. A lot of things that were considered for granted have backfired in the faces of many companies and their stakeholders. Companies who always thought work can only happen within the confinement of its buildings and only during fixed working hours had to let their employees choose wherever they wanted to work from along with the flexibility to choose their own working hours. Employees who always believed in climbing the corporate ladders on the basis of predefined input-oriented work learned that they will have to make their own ladder by customizing their skills and focusing on the output required for the success of the company.
This led many firms to consider postponing its operations going into a hibernation of sorts, asking employees to go on partly paid leaves to get through this period. Many manufacturing firms reprogrammed their production line to produce complementary essentials using existing raw products while many had to let go of their workforce to cut down costs to make it through. Smaller firms with a more flexible approach went back to the drawing boards to relook at strategies, rework on their product line, and prepare themselves with fallback options, all the while they were at home.
Working from home although might seem inconvenient to many, especially folks who are not used to it, does come with its own pros and cons. While communication can be streamlined via video conversing technology, it can also create misunderstanding among the teams or a drop in their productivity due to either gap in communication or over communication, respectively. Managers need to clearly set expectations while distributing tasks among the team on a daily basis.
Flexibility to work at your own chosen hours may sound enticing but employees should always treat it like they were working from an office. Not setting up specific working hours, or a proper working environment can lead to decreased productivity. A simple solution can be to set up a designated work area towards a wall with an upright chair, simulating your own office space. Avoid distractions during working hours, thus ensuring tasks are completed within office hours. Similarly, avoid working post office hours to enjoy a good, and a mandatory, work-life balance.
Working at home can also have its own psychological drawbacks as regular employees are not accustomed to an unstructured working style, especially in isolation. With uncertainty on when things might get back to normal, this can hamper morale and productivity. Employers need to invest in their employees by public praises on completion of a task, celebrations and more frequent one to one discussions to motivate the employee.
Both companies and employees should understand that these are stressful times. Negative news, worrying about your dear ones, or even panicking on a shortage of food can create havoc requiring you to go running to the local store, putting high priority tasks on the backburner. Constantly communicating with colleagues and discussing personal issues including mental health can help ease the strain. Managers should also realize that it is on them to provide clear communication and keep up the morale of the workforce. Acknowledge their stress and difficulty and avoid letting anyone sink into depression. Rather than expecting the employee to self adapt to this situation, managers should consider investing time and in courses to walk them through it.
We, at Tuck Stand, following a very agile approach, have opted to connect daily for stand-up meetings to plan the rest of the day. The time is also used to check up on each other and how they are coping during the lockdown. Managers keep themselves available throughout the day for discussion, over a phone call or a Zoom call. Using team task management tools like Trello helps us track each other’s progress without it being too intrusive and without the need to having regular calls to check on the progress. Though we don’t follow strict official timing schedules, being punctual to meetings and following working hours, without getting too distracted, helps us manage a work-life balance. Overall, we have adapted our working life around the lockdown to fit into the continually evolving work culture while being at home.