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One of the enduring effects of the pandemic is that it has made the concept of location redundant. You needn’t be in the same room as your teacher to learn. You needn’t be with your physician to get a diagnosis. And you needn’t be in the office to work.
Remote work and working from home have become normalised and by now, we have the data to analyse how businesses and workers are faring on that front. The data points to increased productivity that has come at the cost of work-life balance.
A Stanford study found that productivity went up by 13 per cent when employees were working from home. Prodoscore found out that the increase in productivity is at a whopping 47 per cent. This is understandable as working from home means there’s no commute, fewer unnecessary meetings and generally fewer distractions than you usually get in offices.
But working from home also blurs the line between an employee’s professional and personal lives. There’s little structure – something that an office brings – which can translate to longer working hours. While there’s proof that productivity has risen, it should be noted that people are also working more (unpaid) hours when they’re at home.
If you’re a small business owner, it’s natural to assume that this is a temporary glitch and that soon everyone will be back in the office. But more and more employees now prefer to work from home as they recognise the freedom and flexibility that come with it. Plus, a record number of workers are quitting their jobs.
As the economy opens, you might even have to decide whether to let your staff keep working from home. If you decide to do so, it’s better to understand the pressures workers are under and implement these practices for better management.
The number one thing you have to do is communicate with all members of your team. You should tell your employees the most important tasks for the week and the individuals responsible for them. You should write it down and share it with your team.
While assigning responsibilities, you should also let employees know who they can reach out to if they have any queries or need support. Projects shouldn’t be executed in silos; employees should be encouraged to talk to each other.
The next step should be to set working hours and communicate them to the entire team. Everyone should know that it’s the same business hours with work ending at a predetermined time. There shouldn’t be any phone calls or emails after that.
Asking for public feedback in a Zoom meeting can discourage employees from giving it honestly. A more effective way would be to talk to employees or their managers individually. Importantly, this should be scheduled every week instead of being a one-off event.
The most important thing is to set a new routine when working from home. You should have a start and finish time for your working day. You should tell your family members that you shouldn’t be disturbed during these working hours. Easier said than done, we know!
Your workstation should be well-lit with little to distract you. Your work desk should only have your laptop, a notebook and stationery (and perhaps a cup of coffee!). You should also position it to be away from the television. Make sure that the background is suitable for video calls.
For breaks to be effective, you need to schedule them into your routine. Every hour or so, take a five-minute break, ensuring that you spend it away from the laptop. Step outside or open a window for some air, call a friend or briefly talk to your family.
Productivity is a function of focus. One of the most practical ways to improve your focus is through the Pomodoro Technique. Start by choosing a task. Then work on it without interruptions for 25 minutes. Take a five-minute break. Get on with the next task.
After four such sessions, take a longer break. While doing the Pomodoro Technique, keep your phone on mute and maximise the screen that you’re working on.
If you want a better work-life balance, you need dedicated phone numbers for business and personal communication. You can easily get a second number through a phone number app like Chalkboard without having to buy a new phone or SIM. With that, you can direct all business calls after working hours to auto-text replies.
Both businesses and their employees were thrust into remote working without a rulebook. But with better communication, scheduling and fixed boundaries between professional and personal lives, this can be a win-win situation for both businesses and their workers.
As remote work is here to stay, businesses should roll out strategies to increase the effectiveness of remote teams
How to decide if working from home is right for your business and a practical way to implement it