With the ongoing threat of the coronavirus and many organisations looking to allow workers to work from home to reduce the threat of infection and transmission of the virus.
I do a fair amount of remote working and location-independent working and am quite happy about doing this, I have working from home on a regular basis for about the last twenty years. Even so with the possibilities of forced home working to reduce the risk of transmission, this is going to be a different experience to what I am use to. For those who don’t do this often or rarely, they may find it challenging.
In this blog post I am going to discuss and reflect on some of the challenges that working from home could entail, in a landscape where lots of people are working from home, schools are closed and there is restrictions on movement and transport. This is not a complete article on home working, more some of the issues I have been thinking about over the last few days on this subject.
Myself, Lawrie and Donna, and did a podcast back in 2016 about location independent working,
The podcast was a response to Lawrie’s blog post on the subject.
The web affords us new ways of working, new opportunities to connect. It furthermore allows for a richer experience of work and life, rather than forcing us to segregate our time from ourselves via physical location, allowing us to choose when and where we are most productive, and how to conserve our face to face energy for those times that truly require it.
In this current landscape of forced home working, the issues we discuss are very relevant, however with the challenges of the coronavirus, it’s not quite the same as it was before and there are some issues you will need to consider in addition to the topics covered in the podcast and the blog post.
You are not alone
Even if you are use to working from home, with coronavirus it won’t be the same as when you have worked from home before.
In Italy they have closed all the schools and colleges, to reduce the risk of transmission. If similar measures are taken in the UK, then you (or your colleagues) will probably be trying to work from home and there will be children at home. Though I work from home a fair bit, during the school holidays I usually go into the office, so I don’t get in the way. You may be lucky and have your own office where you can shut yourself away, but if not you may need to plan how you work around the others in the home. This could mean changing the hours when you work. As result you will also need to consider the times others may be working.
Asynchronous communication may be more effective than trying to find mutually convenient times..
I often use external locations, okay places where I can drink coffee, will these still be open? Will people want to visit them or will they avoid them to ensure less risk of infection? The reason for this is about motivation and productivity, so you will need to think about what you do during a day to keep working effectively, and what you can do instead.
It’s not just a matter of space, there is also the issue of bandwidth. Normally when working from home I have all the bandwidth, but with “forced” home working and schools closed, it won’t be just you wanting to use the internet. You can imagine the increase in demand for streaming services such as Netflix. This also won’t be isolated to your home. Your neighbours may also be working from home, or using the internet so the contention ratio may rise as more people try and use the same data capacity. It won’t just be restricted to home broadband, but also mobile networks. This will have an impact on how you work, if you depend on connectivity. For calls and meetings. You may find asynchronous low bandwidth communication and collaboration tools a better option than the full functionality high bandwidth tools you are use to.
If you are use to people responding quickly, you may find the delay in their response frustrating, if they are working to different hours or have bandwidth issues. One way to overcome this, is to plan your work to take this into account, be more proactive than reactive when it comes to collaboration and seeking responses. Let people know in advance, when you will be seeking their input or feedback, so they can plan accordingly. We usually work in a manner that our environment allows us to (lean over the desk for a chat or a question), but when it comes to constrained working patterns as may happen with the coronavirus, the way in which you work, will also need to change.
Planning your day and sharing those plans with your colleagues and managers will enable them to plan their days accordingly and then be able to schedule calls and meetings when appropriate and convenient.
An online meeting is not the same as a face to face meeting, and though similar there are differences. Chairing online meetings is a skill and they need to be managed effectively. The main challenge is that often the visual cues that are present in a face to face meeting are missing and without these you can cause arguments and frustration. I have found you need to ensure meetings are planned and that when allowing people to talk that this needs to be more structured than in a traditional meeting format. This also needs to be communicated to all people attending the meeting as well.
The nature of work
The work you can do in the office may not be possible to do at home, so when it comes to planning your work, you may need to take that into account. There may also be opportunities for new ways of working and new pieces of work as well.
There are plenty of articles being posted across the web about the tools that allow for more effective home working. As mentioned before with the increase in people working from home, will these services be able to cope with the increased demand for these tools? Are there alternatives you can use?
An assumption often made is that people know how to use these tools and how to use them effectively and efficiently, that may not be the case. There is a question of support and training that may need to be put into place to ensure that tools don’t become a barrier to working from home.
Finally the human side of working is important. You, your colleagues, your team, are all people.
I found this blog post from Lawrie, Donna and Peter an insightful view about the criss from a human perspective.
Your colleagues may be struggling, they may be anxious, they may have friends or family who are infected with the coronavirus. They may be ill themselves. They may have challenges in finding medicines, food (even loo roll) and this will undoubtedly impact on the way they work and what they can do.
Work is one thing, but at the end of that Teams call, the Yammer post, the e-mail, the Skype conversation, is a human being. In these testing times we shouldn’t forget that we are all human.