Don’t let the pressure of working from home cost you your best employees.
We are in a period of perhaps unprecedented strain for many businesses. Covid 19 is still having a crippling, and deadly impact in countries around the world. Brexit is starting to cause problems in Europe especially for the UK and Ireland where buffer stocks that were built up are starting to run low and there are signs that some of the transport issues have still not been ironed out (DPD have stopped accepting shipments to Ireland, Shops in Northern Ireland are reporting issues getting stock). And of course 2021 is the year when we are going to see a lot of supply chains realigned to source suppliers that are not half way around the world. All of this will require good leadership, strategic vision and hard work throughout our organizations.
But as we are in the 3rd wave of Covid 19 many of us have had to return to working and teaching from home. The pressure is on working parents once again. Businesses need to careful not to force valuable staff members into a position where they have to pick between family and work. This article popped up in my Flipboard feed this morning and it perfectly highlights the conflict that many parents are feeling at the moment.
It resonated with me as I sit at my desk at 9pm trying to catch up on work not done earlier in the day as I had to help with home schooling. I’m sure I’m not the only one. But for me I work for my own startup. Long hours are expected. It is what I am passionate about. But not everyone wants that from their career and I think this Pandemic will have changed people’s perspective on what is important in their lives.
We are almost at the end of the pandemic. Vaccines are being rolled out and within months we will be looking back at Covid and planning for the new realities. Your key staff will be essential to that planning phase. If they are unhappy you will not get the best performance from them and you may not be able to keep them. So check in with your staff. Time invested in them now may save you a lot of heartache in the months to come.
Here are some useful tips for managing employees working from home:
Invest in the technology they need. If your employees have to work from home then get them the laptops etc that they need. Remember this is not something they are choosing to do. They have been forced into it just as much as you have. You need to make it as easy as possible for them to do the work. If they are battling to do their work that is not setting a foundation for either short term success or long term satisfaction.
Maintain a routine but be flexible. There can be a tendency by staff to drift into a sort of holiday mode with late nights and equally late mornings. So having a routine with check-ins etc. throughout the day can help keep them focused. But that is not to say they need constant monitoring and a rigid schedule. You must remember that they may have children who need help with home schooling and a partner with similar work requirements. I have seen situations where my wife, my son and I all had zoom or google classroom video calls scheduled at the same time. If their internet is not up to such heavy usage then they will all fail so a priority call must be made. If you are flexible and understanding and allow your employee to be the one who opts out of their zoom call (as long as they get the job done overall of course) then the goodwill you bank now will stand to you in the months and years ahead.
Set a cutoff time for work. Set a time when you expect staff to have completed their work for the day and no longer be online. Say 7pm. Now they may go past that but the rule of “work expands to fill the time allotted to it” will kick in and they will most likely be able to finish their work by a reasonable hour. And you need to lead by example. If you are sending e-mails at 11pm then your staff will feel under pressure to work that late. If you must e-mail that late use an e-mail scheduler to hold the e-mails and send them in the morning. I have worked for companies that before Covid-19 had a culture of long hours. 7:30-am to 9pm were common. I once had a boss who would arrange a team meeting for 7am and then later walk into an office at 8pm and ask “where is everyone”. The approach seemed to be to burn away the weak. And they did indeed have a very high turnover of staff. But when I look back at the career paths of my former colleagues on Linkedin I can see 2 interesting things. (a) Only 2 are still working for that company. (b) At least 10 of the rest have achieved higher levels of management or have founded their own companies. So was that “burn away the weak” policy really the best for that company?
Be Social but do not make fun compulsory. People socialize at work. That’s a key aspect of life. They share coffee breaks and lunches. They go to the pub after work. They have nights out. That has all disappeared since the lockdown. Encourage people to maintain those links. If you use team working apps like Slack etc then have a channel for people to just hang out and chat (but of course you will have to remind them of rules around harassment and respect especially if they are using company resources). Organize quiz nights or a bingo session. If you have the budget maybe hire a comedian or musician to perform a set on zoom for your staff. They need the work and your staff will appreciate it. Likewise have family friendly events. Have a magician for kids or organize an online showing of a new release they won’t have seen in the cinema. But don’t make attendance at these events compulsory. If a parent has to put their child to bed the last thing they need is their boss emailing asking why they aren’t on the bingo session.
Look at the perks and benefits you offer. You use pay and benefits to attract and retain key staff. Lockdown is no exception but perhaps you have to adjust those perks and benefits. If your office gym is closed perhaps look to offer the services of a personal trainer over zoom or agree a corporate reduction with a local sports equipment supplier (as with the earlier comedians and musicians they need the business). If there are local education providers who offer grinds or private lessons see if you can arrange two or three sessions free for the children of your staff. Or maybe a corporate reduction. You don’t have to spend any more money on benefits than you are already spending but if you find that your HR budget is going unspent at a time when your staff need more support than ever before then you probably need to examine what you are spending that money on.
We are nearly through the pandemic. But we may never go back to the sort of work environment we had in 2019. Expectations of staff have changed and more importantly their life priorities have changed. The companies who retain and attract the best staff will be the ones who recognize this.