I/O psychologists’ advice - working from home for managers and employees

A few months ago, I made the transition from corporate life to own practice and working from home in two different businesses.  When you think of the change you want to make, you envision what it would be, often it is different to what you imagined.  That is true, when you think about working from home.  Well for me, it was.

The reality of working from home is very different from the idyllic world of getting up late, going to the gym, etc. Yes, you have more flexibility and can arrange your life so that it makes sense.  The key is, you must arrange it so that you do not go crazy.  COVID-19 has brought another dimension into working from home.  We are practicing social distancing, your daily routine is disrupted, you are staying in one place, with your family, kids, doing home-schooling and trying to keep your manager happy.  Who may understand your situation and may know how to deal with it?  Your manager may not how to manage the situation himself/herself with a remote team?  While they need to manage their team, they are also going through this change themselves.

For a leader, managing a team that is doing work remotely and in a virtual environment it is very different.  No longer can you simply get up and walk to a colleague.  Managing the performance and outputs of the team is not as easy.  You need to keep your team working and staying productive. This is not business as usual or life as usual. As a leader, you need to understand that. 

The most important concept is to understand that the concept of work is different now. Yes, there are certain outputs required, but you now have employees that are working remotely and potentially not in ideal remote working spaces. With extended family and children that require attention and care, while dealing with the potential anxiety of job loss and the effects of social distancing.

As a leader, you need to recognize and understand this. For some leaders, this may not have been your preference and you are still used to working the way that you did before.  Nothing is the same now and potentially may look very different going forward.

Here are some tips for leaders and employees for working remotely, while practicing social distancing.

  • Arrange a dedicated workspace.  For some, it may be easy that has designated office space, for others it is working on a kitchen or dining room table.  Whatever your situation, keep the following in mind.  Do you need lots of space or just space for your laptop? Do you prefer to have a lot of paper around you? Arrange a dedicated space that you can use for this period, where you are as comfortable as possible within the confines of your home. Or if you are like me, you prefer to change your space now and then and move where your laptop can sit on a flat surface and you on the floor. Find a space where you potentially can close a door if you need to. Recognize there may not be an ideal situation at this point.

  • Find a way to manage and stay connected to your team.   For the leader, it is important to remain connected with your team, despite being in social isolation. If you have not yet done so, agree as a company how to do this.  Use mediums like Microsoft teams, Facebook workplace.  Agree on a time that works for the team to connect, keeping in mind that you have team members with kids at home, you might even get to meet them if you do a video call.  Use these opportunities to learn more about your team, and do not expect things to be the same orderly situation as in a boardroom or meeting room.  Use humor and check in on what your team is experiencing.  Remember this will have far-reaching effects on the mental health of some employees.  Humans are not meant to be alone; we may not yet understand what this means at this point.  

  • Minimize distractions.  Possibly easier said than done.  Find a space where you are separated from the rest of the house if you cannot do that, agreed boundaries with your family.  Agree times that you will be working, lunch, etc. Divide the tasks and activities. Keep in mind this is no longer 8 to 5.   This is an important concept for the leader to understand.  With the disruptions in the home, your team member will need to juggle their time and other duties to meet the desired outputs. Also, you cannot work 24 hours a day, remember to take time out. Create a space for yourself that is not filled with COVID-19 Facebook posts, CNN or other news. Yes, you can stay abreast of what is happening in the world, but do not fill every waking moment with social media. If you are a team member and are finding connecting with your team challenging, maybe the timing is over lunch, communicate and be honest with your team and leader.  

  • Self- Discipline.  If you are in a role that requires specific outcomes for the business to function, you are required to complete your tasks, as if you were in the office.  The big difference being, is that you need to manage this yourself and have the discipline to do what is required, within the time frame and standard. 

  • Communicate, communicate. With so many variables and distractions in your home, be honest with your family members and leader, when you are struggling.  For the leader, make sure that you think of the practical implications of meeting times or check-in times. Be open and clear that there may not be ideal situations at this point.   Agree on expectations and work outputs and how you will manage this. 

  • Connect, Reach out. Remember social distancing, is not emotional distancing. Loneliness, depression, anxiety can become very real for those stuck alone or with limited social interaction. Talk to those close to you, family, teams. A simple good morning can make a huge difference. Understand that everyone is going through this. For a leader, you need to create an opportunity for social connection.  If you are in a role, where you are required to have customer interaction, don’t forget about your customer, short courtesy call can ensure the continuation of an effective relationship. 

  • Share and use humor.   There are so many jokes and new things going around, from apps to listen to radio stations worldwide, to virtual tours of game reserves. Share with your team members. Within reason though, you do not want to spend your mornings cleaning email.

From a human resources perspective, the way you support your remote workers is also different.   There a few things you need to think about. Some examples may include:  Employee Assistance Programme for those requiring psychological support, education programs focusing on debt management, regular communication via apps or internet from the company itself, equipping your leadership to support remote work, keeping the teams connected eg Microsoft teams, must be a priority.