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COVID-19 has accelerated an endless number of transformative initiatives that are otherwise put on hold indefinitely. Among all, working from home (WFH) or working virtually/ remotely was the one that witnessed the sharpest growth due to increasing health concerns.

Today, WFH is still carried out diligently in various organisations across the globe. Instead of requesting employees to return to the office as companies are gradually reopening, numerous employers have turned WFH into a permanent perk and a competitive advantage to attract new talents. 

Nevertheless, if you think employers that offer employees the ability to work from home any day of the week is progressive enough, think again. Numerous employers today have not only successfully adopted the concept, but they have also expanded it far beyond the “home” boundary. The two binaries "in office" and "at home" no longer play the central roles. They have adopted a concept that conveys what flexibility truly means - untethered schedules, low stress levels, and a borderless work environment.

Welcome to the work-from-anywhere (WFA) era! What a great world that we are living in.

In this guide, we will explain what WFA is and how to implement it successfully across your entire business. It also contains guidelines for individuals on how to cope with working in isolation for an extended time without suffering psychological and emotional exhaustion.

What is “work-from-anywhere” (WFA)?

Due to strict restrictions like physical distancing, offices shut down, and nationwide lockdown, it was impossible for employees to commute to work. Amidst COVID-19 peaks, transitioning to a virtual workplace was a must as there was no other option.

Even when healthcare experts have brought us multiple feasible solutions to subdue the global health threat, remote work is still a highly favourable preventative method along with masks and social distancing to protect your and your team members’ wellbeing.

Today, WFH is no longer a privilege that explicitly belongs to startups or tech giants. Any types of knowledge work in any business now can be performed remotely. And not just from home, but from practically anywhere that employees find they are most productive.

If you are still grappling with the idea of working from home, you might want to skip it and jump on the bandwagon of “Working from Anywhere” - a future that companies will soon reckon with.

Just like the name implies, work from anywhere (WFA) is what it is. You can work however, whenever, and wherever you want, i.e., at the beach, at a nearby café, in a hotel, from your hometown, etc. In other words, work from anywhere literally means anywhere employees deem fit - the ultimate geographical freedom. Thus, they are no longer confined to one specific location but in complete control of their own workspaces, which could be in a different city, town, or even country, from their employers.

For instance, here at TRG International, we have a very diverse and inclusive workforce with employees from Thailand, Malaysia, Pakistan, India, the UK, Saudi Arabia, and the US; all are given the liberty to work in the time and zone they are most comfortable.

The ability to work anywhere essentially does not limit to specific groups of professionals. Its benefits can reach all full-time permanent staff members, from the intern who just joined the company yesterday to senior managers that want to move closer to their homes or the CEO themselves.

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The surprising benefits of an undefined office

According to McKinsey findings, four- fifths of people surveyed about their compromised working conditions stated that they prefer the home office to the traditional one. Furthermore, a large majority even declared that they were equally or more productive than they used to be, before the transition to the virtual workplace. 

There are many reasons to explain this increasingly popular view on the home office.  Firstly, as it is now, people can simply wake up and find themselves already at work. The need to commute to and from the office is eliminated, meaning that employees can save on the time and monetary costs of transport.

Secondly, the present arrangements enable more flexible work hours than ever before. Not everyone is the most productive from the conventional 9-5. Some find that their brains are more active at night, and thus are more suited to create better results when people are generally preparing for bed.  

Thirdly, since nobody is looking over your shoulder and you are in the comfort of your own home, it is much easier to take breaks when you need them. This helps mitigate the ‘afternoon slump’ that many workers feel from around 1- 4 pm, therefore potentially bolstering overall productivity.  

Aside from these employee benefits, management may also see some advantages with remote work being normalised. For example, since nobody really knows when the pandemic will end and seeing that geographical boundaries for organisations are collapsing, allows HR to experiment with their recruitment procedures to include international applicants. The traditional method of employment requires talents to be physically present in the office, which can essentially weed out quality individuals that want to work for a specific company but couldn’t due to geographical or physical obstructions. Therefore, with businesses that do not adopt the WFA model, there is a real risk of losing new valuable talents and retaining the best employees.

Steps to implementing a work-from-anywhere policy

1. Set the right expectations

Undoubtedly, remote working is not for everyone, and there are challenges to overcome. If asked, most people would probably say working virtually comes with great perks. But the fact remains that there are serious shortcomings in working remotely, being away from your co-workers, and away from the familiar environment of the workplace.

Some of your staff thrive on constant interpersonal interactions at work. Some may find staying at home provides too many distractions. Others may be tempted to waste time on social media without the usual supervision. 

What's more, WFA is primarily applicable to knowledge work. With the rate that technology advances today, hopefully, this ideation will one day reach every corner of the world, enabling and empowering employees regardless of the jobs and industries that they are in.

Regardless of the reasons, the transition to a virtual workplace will definitely affect the productivity of the employees and their teams. You must assure them that there are ways to dampen those effects.

2. Decide who must stay in the office

In a normal circumstance, when working from home is a choice, you will first decide who can work remotely. These are the people who can deliver expected results with little supervision. But during this pandemic, what you have to do is to identify a skeleton staff operating from the office, and send the rest to work from home.

The skeleton staff include those who must stay in the office to ensure mission-critical functions still running.

There are certain teams - IT, accounting, treasury, maintenance, etc. – that need to be physically present at the office. For those teams, you must decide on a job-sharing arrangement. Several options are available, such as split days, alternate days or weeks, and staggered time.

3. Identify the technology requirements

If there is a silver lining to this pandemic, it is that it happens when cloud computing has been widely adopted.

Messaging/ video conferencing applications like Skype, Zoom, Google Hangouts are now ubiquitous. Cloud-based storage services like Google Drive, MS Office 365 have made the virtual office a reality.

Even sophisticated enterprise applications such as ERP and financial management software that once required a cumbersome on-premises IT infrastructure now can also run completely on the cloud.

Nonetheless, sending the majority of your staff to work from home still poses some serious technical challenges. Cybersecurity is one area you need to pay attention to. Your staff are now handling sensitive information using home networks which may be more vulnerable. Consider equipping a VPN (virtual private network) to those who deal with confidential data.

4. Track the performance

Decide which teams can goal-setting systems like KPIs, OKRs where you can monitor the end results, and which teams need time-tracking apps to see whether the employees are sticking to their working schedules.

5. Agree on means of communication

There must be a redundancy when it comes to communication. It means the company should have multiple methods to keep the employees reachable: emails, SMS, instant messaging apps, video conferencing apps, or task/project management apps.

Teams vs Skype vs Zoom

Also, there should be a daily well-being check for every employee even if they have no one to report to. Make sure that you have the emergency contact information of every employee in your company.

That is why our editorial team at TRG along with Rick, our CEO, is dedicated to put out a series of Business As UnUsual (BAUU) and CEO’s Letters bi-weekly to keep our internal teams, clients, and the wider networks up-to-date with our plans and activities.

You can click the button below to read our very first CEO’s Letter that started it all.

Letter fro TRG Founder & CEO

Tips for working from virtually anywhere

Now that we have all agreed that WFA is not as simple as it sounds. How can you, as well as your team members, stay focused without supervision? In this section, we will present tips to help prepare yourself and your workspace for maximum productivity.

Set up a dedicated workspace

Working at home does not negate the need for a boundary between “working space” and “personal space.” At the very least, you should have a desk used for working only. Keep it clutter-free and organise it the way you would organise your working desk at the office.

Work from home - Set up a dedicated workspace

Ideally, this workspace should be away from sources of distraction like your couch, TV, kitchen, main entrance door, etc. It should also be filled with natural light.

Additionally, it is preferable that you have two computers, one for work and one for personal uses. Only the work computer should be allowed in your workspace.

Have everything ready within your reach so you do not have to go back to the “personal space” very often. For instance, prepare two pairs of headphones, two sets of phone chargers, etc.

Having a dedicated workspace at home also involves letting your family members know and respect the boundaries, i.e., try not to disturb you during the working hours unless absolutely necessary.

This could prove particularly challenging when you have kids. Still, it is a good idea to have a conversation with your children, explaining the situation, your expectations, and telling them how they can help.

via GIPHY

Set a working schedule 

Time flexibility is touted as one of the greatest benefits of working from home. But it can also be your undoing. If you let your professional tasks and household tasks mix, your productivity will suffer tremendously.

Just because you are working at home does not mean you can throw your discipline and professionalism out of the window. You still need a work schedule and stick to it to maintain your productivity.

Avoid doing house chores, shopping, preparing dinner, etc. during the working hours. Conversely, do not let work creep and eat into your personal hours. Always allow time for lunch breaks.

Stay reachable

You should strive to stay easily reachable during the working hours. It means having at least two channels of communication:

Let others know which of your channels are available and at what time.

Have a daily well-being check

You or your teammates may live alone, so having a daily well-being check at a fixed time is crucial to ensure everyone is still doing well. Also, it helps boost morale and maintain team spirit.

Cope with loneliness

Coping with the sense of loneliness stemming from self-isolation has always been a constant struggle facing remote workers. This problem can prove even worse for those who are forced to work from home during the pandemic.

Work from home - Cope with loneliness

Because loneliness can have a deteriorating effect on your productivity and job satisfaction, how can you cope with it? As mentioned earlier, your team should agree on a predetermined daily well-being check. A simple “Hi” would suffice.

No one knows how long this crisis is going to last. Which means you should be prepared to work remotely for months on end. Some experts go as far as saying people may need to work from home for more than a year until a vaccine can be rolled out.

Such an unusual long period of working in isolation can cause psychological and emotional strains. As such, you may want to try more unorthodox approaches to helping them cope with loneliness

Some remote workers find virtual co-working particularly effective. This is how it works: at certain times of the day, you and your team members log on a video conferencing tool and turn the video on without sound.

That way, you can see your colleagues working, and they can see you as well. As strange as it may sound, having someone virtually present could actually help get you going.

If you need professional help, talk to our Founder and CEO, Rick Yvanovich, who is also a certified Executive Coach. Learn more about Rick and his field of expertise via the button below.

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Extra tip on staying motivated

Studies show that productivity spikes when employers allow their workforces to work from home more. Many of us certainly enjoy the benefits of working from home, but at the same time, it can be distracting. There will be days when all you want to do is procrastinate. 

To help you to find your usual groove when working with little to no supervision, we have two tips that can boost your mood.

Create a routine

As we no longer have to be present in the office at 8 AM every day, we tend to let our schedule slide to work on personal projects. 

Having a dedicated time slot for different projects is an effective way to keep your focus. You can be all fired up at 5 PM, and that's okay, as long as you know that's when you are most productive. So, setting a work schedule around that time can allow you to do your best work.

Some others maintain their productivity by following the same “going-to-the-office” routine, i.e. waking up early, exercising, showering, getting dressed, making breakfast, and then tackling the day with a to-do list.

However you want to kickstart your day, make a plan and stick to it until it becomes your daily routine. As you get used to the new rhythm, you will find it much easier to stay motivated and accomplish your goals.

Take regular breaks

It is proven that taking regular breaks can increase your productivity. This may sound too good to be true, but scientists found that the brain, just like every other muscle in your body, gets tired from repeated stress.

Therefore, taking short breaks throughout the day can help improve your brain function, keep your focus, and help you re-evaluate your goals.

So, what's the formula for an optimised work-break time? According to The Atlantic, you should take a 17-minute break after every 52 consecutive minutes of working. Preferably, you should spend these seventeen minutes away from your computer, for example, going for a walk, doing some light exercises, or checking up on your family members.

Protect your devices and valuable information

Remote workers are susceptible to both physical and cyber thefts. The stakes are even higher when you are handling sensitive data, proprietary information, and client contracts at home.

Here are some fundamental notes to keep in mind.

Cybersecurity

We can't stress enough how vital it is to have a secure password. Your IT departments or your banks would not ask you to change your passwords every three months for no reason.

Passwords alone are not obsolete, but having strong and frequently updated passwords can protect your online identity and your business.

To help secure your digital life, passwords need to be:

  • A secret. An unquestionable fact that you don't share your passwords, PIN, or CVV numbers to anyone. They are yours to keep.
  • Different for each account that you own. That way, if one of your accounts is compromised, others can remain unharmed.
  • Lengthy. Many experts recommend having a password of at least 16 characters long. 
  • Difficult to guess but easy to remember. Opt for a sentence or a phrase that is meaningful to you. For example, salmon onigiri.
  • Complex. Add in special characters, numbers, uppercases, lowercases to increase the complexity of your password.

Diligently following all of the above guidelines can be challenging. Humans are not very good at remembering stuff. That's where solutions like a password manager app come in and save the day.

Password managers are safe deposit boxes that optimise and keep your passwords secure. Many offer to back-up your passwords and synchronise them across multiple systems. Therefore, you only need to remember one password to sign in to your password manager app, and the rest can be taken care of.

Several free options recommended by the University of California, Santa Barbara, are:

Physical security

Physical security is as important as your cybersecurity. Damage or lost data due to thefts, accidents, house fires, or natural disasters can result in financial losses.

Your devices and physical infrastructures are vulnerable to damages. Even at home, there are still risks. Not having adequate security measures, which allow criminals to break in and steal your valuables, is one of them.

A basic rule of thumb is to keep them within sight as well as keeping all entrances and windows tightly locked before going to sleep. Additional precautionary methods to implement are:

  • Back up your data often using hard drives or cloud-based solutions
  • If applicable, install a security camera
  • Use locking cables on laptops and desktops 
  • Keep a fire extinguisher that is suitable for electrical equipment within reach
  • Make sure you have erased all data in the device before disposing
  • Company's belongings tend to be insured. You can consider a similar plan for your devices at home.

We tend to have food to snack on and something to drink next to our workstation. Food crumbs and liquid can get into the equipment and damage them. Water damage occurs more often than you think.

Therefore, try your best not to eat in front of your computer. If you want to have some water nearby, use a container with a lid to minimise the risk of accidentally dousing your entire workspace.

If you have to bring your devices somewhere, carry them using a padded bag. Many tablets and laptops are broken simply by dropping them.

For hard copies of contracts and other confidential documents, make sure you store them in a locked filing cabinet. Practice strict shredding policy just like how you normally do in the office. More important, don't display sensitive papers out in public, even if you are sure that your home is absolutely safe.

Make full use of modern applications

There are a wide array of solutions, tools, and software to help us stay productive and achieve our goals when working during physical distancing. These tools are built to automate processes that are otherwise labour intensive and time-consuming, such as editing documents, organising and sharing notes, reading online content, tracking time, managing tasks/ projects, scheduling meetings, issuing and sending invoices, etc. When these manual processes are eliminated, your productivity increases as a result.

Below are some of our favourites you should look into today:

  • Microsoft Teams: a communication and collaboration platform that offers workplace chatting, video meetings and scheduling, file sharing, classroom training, and many more. The tool comes with your company's Office 365 subscriptions and can integrate with many other applications to match your needs.
  • Slack: one of the most sought-after communication tools for remote teams. Slack allows you to chat with your teams regardless of their geographical locations, create specific chat channels, share files, stay organised, and add comments to documents. What's more, Slack integrates well with multiple software and social media platforms to further increase your communication.
  • Trello: a highly recommended platform for project management. Its simple and straightforward interface brings incredible organisational and task management power.
    Other big names in the project management realm include Microsoft Project, Basecamp, Asana, and Bitrix24.
  • Amazon Workspaces: a solution that allows you to access your desktop securely via any device when you are at home but the equipment or data that you need is in the office. It is more cost-effective compared to traditional desktops or other virtual options.

The downsides of virtual working

Results from research done by Airtasker on 1,004 employees revealed that virtual workers (on average) work 1.4 more days per month than their office-based colleagues. Moreover, virtual workers are only unproductive for 27 minutes a day, 10 minutes less than their office counterparts.

In an interview with TechRepublic, Kamal Janardhan, General Manager of Microsoft 365 Insights commented that although the interest in remote work increases, the lines between work and home are blurring, creativity and innovation are under threat, and remote employees are showing signs of exhaustion.

50% of employees respond to a chat within five minutes – they are not stepping away from work and are constantly processing others' body language via a computer screen. People only interact in a close-knit group, a.k.a. their immediate team members; interactions outside this circle are declining.

The same TechReuplic interview also stated that Generation Z is "surviving rather than thriving". They are flat out exhausted after work. What's more, they find it difficult to feel engaged, suggest ideas, raise their opinions in meetings, and even network with others to grow their career.

In fact, Gen Z is not the only portion of the workforce that feels overwhelmed. In Microsoft's Work Trend Index study, along with Gen Z, women, frontline workers, and those new to their careers are reported to be struggling over the past year. Only Millennials/ Gen X male business leaders are "thriving and faring better than their employees."

What's also worth noting is that companies advertising remote positions do not live up to their standards and invest in what staff needs to make virtual workplace works. More than a year after the pandemic, employers seem to focus on other areas of the business instead of office supplies (42%), adequate internet connection (1 in 10 respondents), and remote work expenses (46%).

If not well taken care of, businesses can lose valuable talents and the bottom line.

The next workplace disruption – A hybrid work arrangement

Hybrid work, where employees are free to choose to alternate between working onsite and remotely any day of the week, will be the next disruption. The model is among the top priorities of many corporations like McKinsey and PwC, both of whom expect to apply it permanently for their workforce.

Beautifully designed offices and decent paychecks are no longer enough to attract and retain talents (especially Gen Z), but a work environment where employees feel content and willing to contribute is.

Simon Sinek, thought leader on organisational leadership and management, does not believe that COVID-19 marks “the end of the office.” His arguments for why he feels this is although we might be “functional” as it stands, humans are ultimately tribal animals that perform better for creative and collaborative projects in a social environment. 

However, he does foresee that as a result of this mass assimilation to remote work, organisations will allow employees to enjoy greater autonomy and leniency towards how often they come into the office, given they have shown equal levels of productivity at home.

And if such a relaxed policy becomes popularised, we can expect office occupancy to change day by day, and average employee density only a portion of what it used to be. Considering the time it could take before people feel safe enough to commute regularly again, this model fits well with coronavirus health and safety measures. 

COVID-19 prevention regulations will definitely impact physical office layouts and design as well. That is, desks and individual workspaces will invariably be reorganised so that workers are more spaced out, and social distancing guidelines and sanitisation areas also adopted.

To empower employees to achieve greater productivity, engagement, cultural cohesion from practically anywhere, whether they choose to work onsite, offsite, or a mix of both, business leaders need to pay attention to not only the operating model but also to the office space and the technology that helps unlock flexibility and bridge physical and digital worlds.

To achieve such a goal, employers and employees need to speak the same language first. For instance, in a recent PwC research about the same subject, 68% of executives reportedly believe that employees should be physically present in the office for at least three days per week to maintain the company culture. In contrast, over half of employees (55%) prefer to continue working remotely for the same number of days – three days a week.

ADAPTING TO A NEW NORMAL

 

A world post COVID-19 will not operate "as usual." Businesses need to be prepared for every eventuality in order to be sustainable.

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[COVID-19] is not just a public health crisis, it is a crisis that will touch every sector. So every sector and every individual must be involved in the fights.

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus WHO Director-General