By Busie Mjimba
We’ve always talked about the future of work, but little did we know how it is possible to rapidly adopt to new ways of working until the Coronavirus pandemic taught us!
As the Coronavirus pandemic continues to grip economies across the globe, few organisations have been left untouched by its effects. Measures aimed at containing the outbreak such as social distancing and work from home policies have required organisations to get creative - in just under a week, South African companies have had to come up with strategies for working over digital platforms, after most had to close their doors as the best precaution to curb the virus from spreading.
Shifting to the “home office” has become the new normal for many of us and will be for a while to come. However, some employees are working from home for the first time – and they have to manage this under an environment where they have to also manage their children (who also need their attention). A working mother of 4 recently lamented in a Twitter post “Working from home is awesome – right up until the cat throws up on your laptop and you have to be referee to a heated fight over a toy with 2 of your youngest children…”
So how do you ensure your employees remain productive and stay on task in the home office environment? As an HR professional you’re probably being asked this question by your colleagues.
Some of our KR team members have been working virtually for a while now, and tapping in to their experiences, here are some learnings we can share with you to share with your colleagues…
1. DEVELOP A ROUTINE
Routines can be annoying and tedious, but they provide an easy structure to your day. Here’s how you can create a routine when working from home:
Start the day right like you would if you were going to the office – shower and get dressed. Look, you don’t have to – but it’s an option, particularly if you tend to get distracted. Being dressed for work reminds you that you are not on holiday!
Set working hours – decide what your working hours will be and stick to them. For example, you could wake up as early as 6am, and work until 9am. If you have children, they may probably be awake by 9, so you can take a break – have breakfast with them for a few minutes, then continue with your work. One Executive suggests that employees can respond to mail by day and do other tasks requiring quiet time (like drafting reports etc.) very early in the morning or later in the evening. What is key is to ensure you start and finish your work the same time everyday!
Use a planner – Plan out your week. Whether you use a sophisticated planner app or just your calendar on Microsoft Outlook, jot down how much time you will spend working, which tasks you will do when, how much time you will take to prepare meals, spend time with your family, time spent outside and working out (in the confines of your home off course!)
2. CREATE A COMFORTABLE WORKSPACE We are not saying go and break the bank and get a whole new office set up in one of the rooms in your home. Also, not all of us have large homes. Even if you live in a 2 bedroomed apartment, creating a workspace is doable! All you need is a desk and an upright chair – this could be your dining room chair and table, a kitchen table and chair or a chair and dressing table in your bedroom. Lying in bed with a laptop for example, can actually have a negative effect. Research reveals that a slouched posture in front of a computer creates anxiety thus hampering productivity. So, you certainly need to be deliberate about your workspace. Set aside that space solely for your work and nothing else. This also serves as an important signal to those who live with you that you are at “work.” With a dedicated workspace where you can concentrate, it becomes easier to unlock the benefits of remote work. In a survey of 7,000 workers last year by FlexJobs, 65% of them said they’re more productive working from home, citing benefits like fewer interruptions from colleagues, minimal office politics and reduced stress from commuting.
3. LEAVE THE HOUSE
It's unhealthy to stay at home all day and not get fresh air. Take a break to go get some groceries or even eat your lunch in the garden. Make your food, pack it up and have a mini picnic with your family for a change of scenery from your desk.
4. KEEP IN CONTACT
Being in “quarantine” does not mean you are isolated! Outside of your daily telecon catch ups with your boss, Zoom meetings with team mates etc, stay connected to the world around you. Facetime with friends and colleagues, have hangouts, do some online networking (e.g. LinkedIn). Here at KR we've launched three online communities (the HR Directors Community, HR Community and the Learning & Development Community) to help you stay connected to your peers and carry sharing ideas and learning from one another. In this current climate, while we might not be as out and about as we want to be, now is the time to develop connections. 5. WHAT ABOUT THE KIDS?
Make no mistake, these are stressful times. Parents for example will find working harder if children are at home because schools are closed, meaning close communication with managers who will need to be understanding is vital. As an HR professional you need to communicate this with the line Managers in your business. The World Economic Forum shares a few tips on how organisations and their employees can collaborate on how to manage work and family demands. You could possible adopt these for your organisation:
Create shared values – As and HR professional you will need to relook your organisations values around culture – Covid-19 has created a new culture of social distancing and decisions need to be made about home working practices. Further to this, you will need to encourage your employees to have a speak up culture and be more emotionally honest. For instance, they should not be afraid to talk about the shifting childcare demands they are facing and be given the opportunity to come up with suggestions on how they can balance work and home life.
Get on the same page – We are all making decisions incredibly quickly in order to adjust to this new reality. Coronavirus or not, the key to working from home is clear communication. Ensure that communication is cranked up within your organisation and there are no assumptions. Expectations must be clearly communicated between managers and employees, however with consideration of each other off course, which brings us to the next point:
Let go of perfectionism – the corporate world has very high standards! And we may be tempted to shift these to our poor little children who are also trying to figure out why “we are all staying at home”. Managers and employees will need to loosen their grip on expectations. Maybe your house is a mess behind you during a video call, or your colleague’s toddler strays into the room during the call – be kind to one another. Look at this as a chance to re-evaluate what matters and let go of over-performing in less important areas.
Innovate and iterate – these challenging times have provided an opportunity to be creative about how we should meet the work and home demands of our lives. Old habits and routines may not work in this situation.
So, we need to build our bridges as we walk on them. Stewart Friedman and Alyssa Westring authors of Parents Who Lead: The Leadership Approach You Need to Parent with Purpose, Fuel Your Career, and Create a Richer Life, advise that “the key here is not only being willing to try new things, but being willing to iterate when they don’t work as well as you expected. Let go of the idea of finding the “right” solution for managing this crisis. Expect that you’ll need to be required to innovate, test and iterate over and over throughout the next few weeks”. A great read that will assist you as an HR professional in tapping on creativity is our recently published book on Creative Intelligence (Cq)@Play: Shaping Your Future in the Fourth Industrial Revolution by Dr Cherylene De Jager With Anton Muller.
WHAT HAPPENS 'THE DAY AFTER' CORONAVIRUS? Nothing will ever be the same again. The world will never be the same. South Africa will not be the same. Even your role as an L&D professional will inevitably change (at our upcoming virtual breakfast sessions we'll be exploring the new role of the L&D practitioner in a world after Coronavirus). But as L&D professionals perhaps we need to bear this in mind: Learning in Coronavirus times is still valid! You want your employees to learn and develop new skills, to become even more self-directed and agile. In the same breath, you also want to ensure that even if it is business unusual, employees still meet the businesses’ expectations, and business continuity prevails in this time of crisis.
We urge you to stay committed to your L&D role, this is a time for all of us to pull together and beat this virus! One day it will all be over!