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As the coronavirus pandemic continues to sweep the globe like wildfires, showing no sign of slowing down, businesses are increasingly grappling with the question of how to stay operational during this crisis without compromising the well-being of their employees, customers, and the public. Many are sending staff to work from home, yours should be as well.

In this guide, we will explain in detail why you need a work-from-home policy and how to implement it successfully across your entire business. It also contains guidelines for individuals on how to cope with working at home, in isolation, for an extended time without suffering psychological and emotional exhaustion.

1. Why you need a work-from-home policy now

The most obvious reason for the transition to a virtual workplace right now is you may soon have no other option. With the pandemic appears to gain steam, and without any viable cure or vaccine in a foreseeable future, more and more countries are turning to drastic measures like containment zones, quarantine zones, travel restrictions, or even nationwide lockdown.

As a result of such restrictions, some or all of your employees may find it impossible to commute to work. Your office may even be asked to shut down by authorities in an attempt to slow down the virus spreading.

In these cases, the only option is to turn your office into a virtual workplace by letting your employees work from home. 

Work from home - Virtual workspace

Even if your company is not directly affected by those restrictions, implementing a work-from-home policy is still highly recommended as a way to stop the illness from spreading, and to protect your staff and your community.

This health crisis calls for companies to step up and demonstrate their social responsibility by following medical experts’ advice on social distancing – a set of practices include limiting large groups of people, closing buildings, and cancelling events.

The power of social distancing - Gary WarshawCredit: Gary Warshaw, IG: @garywarshaw

The greatest risk, however, is if one of your employees gets infected and unknowingly comes to contact with other employees in your office.

At the very least, your office will be closed for disinfection. At worst, many of your staff will be either quarantined or even hospitalised, causing an abrupt disruption of your business operations. The damage would be incalculable.

Furthermore, becoming an infection hotspot during this outbreak attracts a lot of negative attention from the media and the public.

Implementing a work-from-home policy will undoubtedly create a slight, albeit controllable, disruption. Yet it can greatly mitigate all of the aforementioned risks at a minimal cost.

 

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2. Steps to implementing a work-from-home policy

Set the right expectations

Health experts so far still have not had a clear answer to when we can stop the outbreak. Some predict we will have to live with it until a coronavirus vaccine is available for the public, which can be a year from now.

Consequently, your employees should be prepared for the situation where working from home is a new normal for at least a couple of months. They should also understand that remote working is not for everyone, and there are challenges to overcome.

If asked, most people would probably say working from home come 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. 

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.

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.

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 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.

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.

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.

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.

To learn more about what actions TRG International has undertaken, please read our Founder and CEO's full letter to all customers here.

A Letter from Our Founder and CEO about COVID-19

 

3. Tips for working from home

Now that we have all agreed that working from home is not as simple as it sounds. How can you, as well as your team members, stay focused while working from home? In this section, we will present tips to help prepare yourself and your home 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:

  • Emails
  • Phone
  • Messaging apps (Skype, Whatsapp, Viber, etc.)

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 this 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 – whether it is Zoom, Skype, or Google Hangouts – 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.

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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