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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.

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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4. Keep your devices safe at home

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.

Your passwords

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.

5. Stay motivated when working from home

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.

6. 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. 
    Besides MS Teams, Zoom, Skype and Google Hangouts are also businesses and individuals' favourites when it comes to virtual communication.
  • 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.

ADAPTING TO A NEW NORMAL

 

The current coronavirus pandemic could last for months, and shape your business for years to come.

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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