While telecommuting isn't a new concept, events like an international health pandemic can kick-start changes in an organization to allow its teams to work remotely. Whether your business is new to working from home or employees have been successfully remotely working for years, it's always a good idea to check in with best practices to make sure your system is working for both you and your team.
Refer to a Policy, or Create One
A policy could outline any of the following:
Eligibility to work from home: depending on your line of business, it may be necessary to outline when it is appropriate to work from home, whether for specific days or for reasons.
Some common reasons include:
- Medical appointments during the day
- Parenting commitments
- Illness that does not preclude work responsibilities
Given that you may have local, regional or national guidelines to observe at this time due to COVID-19, the eligibility examples above are more to keep in mind for future use of a work from home policy. However, it’s important to make sure that there are clear reasons when working from home is appropriate.
Availability: it should be clearly communicated to employees when they should be available. Whether that is determined by time zones, office hours or an agreement between management and the employee, that is up to the discretion of your business operations.
Security requirements: depending on your line of business, it may be necessary to outline a protocol when dealing with sensitive information. For example, some information may only be accessible in a closed system. Therefore, the business would need to offer access through a Virtual Private Network to ensure that there is no interruption to an employee who needs the information, even when at home.
Technical support: it should also be made clear if access to certain software is required to work remotely. If your business has a dedicated IT support team, you will need a system for communicating with them, should any assistance be required when working at home.
Work environment support: if an employee is working from home but does not have the same equipment as they do at the office, an allowance could be made for this. This would also be an opportune time to see how a policy can impact others, like an existing expense policy.
While the above list is not exhaustive, a policy about working from home can clearly outline expectations for teams, improving transparency and communication. Some teams may be starting their telecommuting journey now and are still ironing out wrinkles in the process - this is an ideal time to come together to create guidelines that everyone collaborates on and agrees to be held responsible to.
Make Clear How Evaluation Continues
It's critical to be clear on how employees will be evaluated while working at home. This can be made part of a policy, but depending on the business structure, an agreement between employees and evaluators is also a solution.
Many companies choose to evaluate on output, and not by duration. Example ways to measure on output are:
- Support tickets answered in a day
- Leads qualified in a week
- Tasks completed in a sprint
These outputs should be able to be measured, whether it's in a progress tracking or project management tool, or by some other system. The idea is to both ensure results and to assure the employee is being evaluated on their productivity, not how long they've been at their desk at home. Without trust, it can be difficult to earn the buy-in necessary for a successful execution of policy.
To make this work, providing feedback often is crucial. Establishing lines of communication, discussing difficulties and successes and integrating feedback into future action are all key parts of in-office communication, and it should be no different with a remote team.
Make Efforts around Engagement
Making sure that teams still feel connected is key. Some may already be feeling burnout from an inundation of video calls, instant messages and emails. Others may be feeling isolated.
At Wardell, we've implemented a "daily huddle" meeting at the beginning of each workday. A concept from scrum, this allows each team member to share what was accomplished yesterday, what is planned to do today, and if there are any obstacles in completing work. With each member getting a maximum of five minutes to discuss their work, this is a way for us to stay in touch at a consistent time; within clearly defined time boundaries.
Another part of engagement is emphasizing the importance of culture to an organization. By establishing purpose, setting clear objectives and building trust, buy-in can be earned from every team member. Healthy cultures foster individual accountability and team cohesion. A truly strong culture can withstand changes, especially as businesses adapt during times of change.
Adaptation is nothing new to the small business owner. While obstacles come in different shapes and sizes, hallmarks of a strong organization, such as culture, systems and communication are all great assets for businesses facing the next challenge.