COVID-19: Working From Home Confidently and Competently for Business Continuity

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For many of us our world careened off the road suddenly as city after city and state after state implemented some version of “Stay at home” directives affecting over 90% of the U.S. Some industries were already heavily into the work-from-home mode while others were moving in that direction. Whatever your situation, most of us are now ensconced in the guest bedroom, corner of the kitchen, basement, or garage, laboring at our computers, trying to balance home, family, and work life. We decide whether to risk a trip to the supermarket or call up a food delivery service, whether to mask-up for a walk around the neighborhood or climb on that stationary bike for one more ride.

What credentials do I have to give you advice? In 1989, the company I worked for sent me to another country once a month to work. They outfitted me with a “portable” computer, encased in a suitcase, that went aboard with checked luggage. When I set it up in the corporate apartment, I plugged the handset from the rotary phone into the apparatus to communicate with the mainframe. Since starting my consulting business in 1995, I’ve spent about half the time in a home office working with clients holding online meetings and training sessions.

Whether you’ve worked from home for years or just started, here are basic guidelines to help you through this stint or prepare you for a permanent workplace change.

Optimize your home office

Carve out your workspace and have everything you need: technology, connectivity, security, and capacity. If your company did not supply you a printer/copier/scanner, purchase one. Have a shredder to minimize paper clutter and assure security. Without these, you will not be as efficient as you need to be. If you have a permanent place to work, organize it for your preferred way of working, neat or messy. If you’re working on the kitchen table organize your equipment and supplies for efficient set up and break down. Use a rolling cart, temporary shelves or plastic storage bins. Consider comfort over style, convenience over aesthetics.

Social distance does not mean social isolation

Stay in regular contact with your colleagues and friends. Begin every online meeting with a few basic questions: How are you doing? How is your family? What’s your biggest challenge? How are you coping with it? How can I help? What’s your biggest discovery to help your teammates? This is more important than the business on your meeting agenda. Spend time so everyone can share what is happening. In the “agile” approach implemented in many organizations, the morning meeting is a staple where people tell what they were working on and where they need help. Modify this to address the human side of your “human resources.” Everyone’s stressed, frustrated, a little stir crazy, and dealing with a new set of issues on top or the what’s required for work. People are reporting those few minutes of socializing are a ray of sunshine. This is no time to ignore our human need for human interaction.

PLAN

Plan is not a four-letter word. Even if team and individual planning were not highly structured before, creating and executing plans is the most successful strategy for working remotely. Base your plan on your team and company mission. What are the results you need over the coming period to fulfill your mission? This coincides with our psychological need for purpose. Put together Action Plans (not To-Do lists) for what each person is responsible for accomplishing to meet each goal. Involve team members as individuals and as a group in figuring out HOW to get the job done. This is a time to innovate and create, one of the benefits of disruption. Use Deepak Chopra’s insight to your advantage that “all great changes are preceded by chaos.” You will be surprised at the hidden talent in your group. Focus on RESULTS not activity. Look for root causes when things don’t work out and modify your plan.

Be Flexible

Be ready to modify your procedures and rules based on the new reality. Do not expect everyone to be toiling away from 9 to 5. Studies show an 8-hour day has only about 5 hours of productive work because we have meetings, training, sick days, vacation, lunch, breaks, interruptions, and a myriad of legitimate activities. Allow people to do their most important tasks during their peak physiological times and use their low points for administrivia. Flexibility is a necessity. Work with your team to decide when they must be available and when it’s not expected.

There are more ideas, based on experience and research. Decide how to adopt and adapt them to your specific situation. Do not neglect the social needs as you learn to become productive, efficient and effective in this new world, which may be with us for a while. Be aware of what you are learning about yourself, your team, and your organization. Be ready to implement improvements when your return to “normal,” the “new normal,” or permanently changed work environment.

— Rebecca Staton-Reinstein, PhD, President, Advantage Leadership, Inc.