Special Guidance – Working from Home
To help you and your workforce be productive and work in a collaborative way, it’s important to plan and understand that some changes in ways of working are required. Whilst this can be confronting, if adopted with the right attitude, it does provide opportunities for business improvements.
To help you get started, below are some steps for consideration
Resetting what was normal for your team
When you go remote, it’s worth taking the time to get together as a team and explicitly articulate what your social norms currently are, and how these may need to change now that you’re working from home. Start with a remote kick-off meeting to agree on expectations around communication, response times, and working hours. Document these.
For example, you might agree to simply turn-off chat notifications when you need an hour of undisturbed time. Or change your status in chat to “in a meeting” when you’re on a call, so teammates know not to expect an immediate response.
Working from home means relying more on writing as a form of communication. We lose tone, nuance and the ability to utilise non-verbal cues when communicating by phone, email or chat.
To avoid potential misunderstandings, it’s therefore super important to be empathetic and assume positive intent. It’s also why some consideration should be given to, when possible, turning your camera on when meeting with others.
Recognise that this time (i.e. COVID-19) is new for many. Workers may be currently challenged with the changes in both their work-life and home-life. This is the time to be empathetic with your colleagues. Put yourselves in their shoes and be patient. The distraction of work can be helpful. But we all need to remember to put our fellow employees first!
We will be learning a lot from this experience and should be open, and collaborative, to ensure we are adjusting our work and personal styles to this situation. Considerations to support trust being maintained:
- Avoid applying the “seat being warm” mentality to how quickly someone responds to an email, phone call or message. Conversely, don’t feel you need to respond to every message to show that you are on task or at your desk, as this is a great way to not get any work done.
- Working remote means relying more on asynchronous communication as our primary way of communicating. Simply put, this means not expecting an answer immediately.
- For managers, focus on the work product as the way of measuring performance.
- For individuals, be intentional about your schedule (if your role allows) and set aside time for email and heads down work.
Working from home requires you to manage your own time, be self-motivated, disciplined, and organised.
Introduce virtual stand-ups
When you’re not chatting with your teammates face-to-face, it’s harder to keep track of what everyone is working on and what’s coming up next. That’s where stand-up meetings come in. This ritual from the agile world helps you stay on the pulse and can easily be done over a video call. So it doesn’t become a distraction, you should aim for it lasting no more than 10/15-minutes. Each person briefly shares:
- What did I work on yesterday?
- What am I working on today?
- What issues are blocking me?
These shares highlight progress and help flag team blockers. Also, it strengthens the team when everyone shares the progress they’re contributing to the team. The daily reinforcement of sharing individual successes and plans keeps everyone excited about their overall contribution to the organisation.
Typically, teams hold stand-ups at the start of each day. This works great for teams that churn through lots of granular tasks each week. If your work is oriented around longer-term projects, you might find that weekly or twice-weekly stand-ups are sufficient. It this is new, focus on the purpose of the stand-up, that being keeping everyone in your team aligned; and the process (i.e. frequency, length, conversation, etc.) will fall into place.
While you won’t have the water cooler anymore, you can still foster great relationships with your fellow workers, you just need to be intentional about it, and show some curiosity.
Here are some ideas that you can put into practice:
- Host a regular team or organisation happy hour virtually
- Have coffee with someone virtually – say 10:30 am. Once the coffee is finished, the meeting is closed
- Use WhatsApp, Slack, Microsoft Teams to create new “water cooler” channels for connecting socially with your team.
Setting yourself up at home
Maintaining your usual morning routine puts you in the right frame of mind for work – this means getting out of your pyjamas, showering and getting ready for your day the same way you would as if going to the office.
A dedicated space for working is ideal. But if you’re not set up for that, choose a spot in your home with minimal distractions, comfortable seating and where possible, some natural light. Avoid your bed or couch where possible. Working in the same place you sleep is poor sleep hygiene and is not recommended. Your brain starts to associate your bed with being alert and productive (who knew!) … not to mention what it does for your posture! For more information on posture take a look at the section “Now to your ergonomics…” below.
Create a schedule. It may seem simple, however, set yourself reminders or block out time in your calendar to focus your attention towards a particular task or project; and ensure you schedule in breaks. Stand up and stretch. Fix yourself a cup of coffee. Unload the dishwasher. Five minutes is all it takes to refresh your brain and get ready for another round.
Importantly, have a conversation with your family or housemates. Working from home is different, and family or housemates may see this as an opportunity to spend time with you, and involve you in their day. Whist this can be fun at first, in the long run, it can be a distraction, and make it difficult for you to work effectively.
Set “rules” and/or structure. Can you work with a door closed, meet them in the middle by stopping to have lunch with those under your roof? If you find yourself “patenting” or “caring” for housemates – communicate this to your manager. That way you can discuss how you will manage your expected outputs.
Now to your ergonomics…
Focus on setting your workstation up safety. This will help reduce aches and pains – often experienced in the shoulders, neck and back.
Previously, the Action OHS Consulting Team has developed some tools to assist workers to self-assess their workstation set-up, and we want to share these with you:
- Ergonomic Assessment – Non-Height Adjustable Desk | https://www.actionohs.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/Ergonomic-Assessment_For-Non-Adjustable-Desk.pdf
- Ergonomic Assessment – Height Adjustable Desk | https://www.actionohs.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/Ergonomic-Assessment_For-Adjustable-Desk1.pdf
Working off a laptop?
If you’re using a laptop, you may need to be creative. If you can access an external keyboard and mouse, raise your laptop so the screen is at eye level. You may find some purpose for that cookbook that has been collecting dust in your kitchen.
Don’t have an adjustable chair?
If you don’t have a height adjustable chair, you may need to consider using pillows to increase your height in your chair, so your elbows are at the height of the desk. This will reduce strain on your shoulders and neck. If your feet are not on the ground, grab a box – and place your feet on the box.
Discomfort in the lower back, roll up a towel to create a lumbar support.
How we can assist
Since 9 March 2020, as workplaces commenced instructing workers to work from home, there are a number of initiatives that we have worked on with clients to support this transition. These include:
- Remote Workstation Assessments, where we have provided advice via interviews, photos or surveys.
- Instructional videos that can be shared with workers to outline how they can actively set-up their workstation safely when working from home.
In addition, we have scheduled a number of webinars that will provide you and your team with information outlining how we can all work remotely safely. Review out upcoming webinars here: https://www.safetychampion.com.au/webinar/
This assistance is in addition to our comprehensive and proactive workstation assessments, and Online Module: Safe WorkStation Setup. So, rest assured, we have got you covered.
If you have any other suggestions or identified things that have worked for you or your team, we would love to hear from you so we can build on this list.