This is what needs to be done to improve telework so employees can thrive

Before the coronavirus, telecommuting was already gaining traction among progressive business owners in the US. 

The 2017-2018 Bureau of Labor Statistics report indicated that remote work was on the verge of taking over the labor market, with a third of employees agreeing that their job could be done just as easily from the comforts of their home. This figure has more than doubled in the time since the COVID-19 pandemic urged national shutdowns.

Industries that were once fearful of the production costs that might be exchanged for telecommuting are now by and large eagerly contributing to its rising popularity. 

In fact, industry insiders predict that the sectors that can sustain profits under telecommuting will likely continue to do so even after SARS-CoV-2 is a crisis of the past. 

A recent Brookings report showed that remote work continues to rise among workers of every economic quintile, though high earners are more likely to commit to it in the months to come.

“Overall, these numbers suggest that about half of employed adults are currently working from home, though a recent paper estimates that only a third of jobs can be done entirely from home, “Telecommuting has been the fastest-growing method of commuting over the last several years. If our new telecommuting culture sticks, the pandemic will have accelerated this trend dramatically. Already, nearly one in five chief financial officers surveyed last week said they planned to keep at least 20% of their workforce working remotely to cut costs.”

Having said that, although the system is enabled by technological advancements, several key adjustments need to be made before telecommuting can replace conventional operations.  

Industries that are thriving during shutdowns aren’t working around them, they’re adapting to the by translating corporate language into a burgeoning digital ecosystem.

Here’s how. 

Staying motivated 

When executed correctly, telecommuting is basically a win for all parties involved. 

For executives,  it dramatically reduces emissions and real estate costs. For employees,  it facilitates a healthy work/life balance and despite conventional beliefs, the data actually suggests that it makes workers more productive. 

The pros are a lot easier to imagine from an employee perspective just as the cons are a lot easier to mitigate. 

However, managerial duties are complicated when physical interactions are removed. It seems insignificant but coordinating tasks, enforcing deadlines, and encouraging morale is bolstered by subtle visual cues; handshakes, eye contact, and even articles of clothing.

For staff, the real hurdles come down to prolonged isolation while employers have to find inventive ways to keep their teams motivated. When the former festers and the latter fails, all of the benefits afforded by telework are basically undone. 

Establishing small tangible goals is a great way to both measure and encourage engagement. To do so effectively, it’s important to distinguish goals from deadlines. 

Deadlines are tasks required of an employee while goals should be framed as aspirations shared by a company. These often relate to long-term career development. 

Whether it’s improved profits, increased output or social coordination, assigning weekly objectives will instill organization while staff work remotely.  

These can be done interpersonally as well. One of the most celebrated advantages of working away from the office is the freedom to disengage from projects on a schedule conducive to optimal performance. 

Consider the Pomodoro Technique, which segments tasks into 25-minute cycles with the help of a tomato timer. When the timer chimes at the end of each cycle, users take short five-minute breaks, so that they can regroup before addressing the next item on their docket. Setting up a routine is essential to team performance. 

To fight the temptation to slack off,  remote workers will often overcompensate by taking on multiple tasks at once. The thought is: If I waste three hours I’ll just make it up by getting eight things done in half that time. This will almost certainly hurt performance.

“You might have heard this before but it’s so true that it’s worth repeating: multitasking is a myth. There is absolutely no way for an average person to do two things at the same time and excel in both. As soon as you choose quantity, quality will have to suffer,” explained Career Expert,Alice Calin. “How many times did it happen to watch a movie and get water on your chest while trying to drink from a glass? If you can’t accomplish those two very simple tasks at the same time flawlessly, what are the chances with more complicated things that require even more focus?”

Managers have a role to play in tempering low-quality work too of course. Experts suggest employers establish a specific teleworking policy before initiating remote work full-on. 

In it, executives can articulate their expectations in full detail. An unmistakable document will give workers less leeway to collapse in a non-traditional work setting and it will help employers track staff productivity. 

This document should also oversee salary, the mechanisms that constitute hours logged, meetings schedules, attire code, and relevant changes made to office culture under the current circumstances. 

Stay protected 

Because telework is still a novel concept in some circles, some companies were thrust into it without the proper tools at hand.

Programs like Zoom and Slack are integral for communication purposes but in a digital landscape, it becomes extra important that you and your team remain protected from destructive online agencies.  

“Working from home can create special challenges to the security of your corporate information. When working in an office setting, employees are normally protected by layers of cyber-security measures. Once an employee begins to work remotely, however, the layers of security may diminish unless specific actions and policies are in place,” employment litigation expert, Ashley Prickett Cuttino reports.  “It is critical to the cyber-security of your operation that a company work with their information technology (IT) department to ensure the same level of security exists for employees working remotely as for those working within the walls of the office.”

Protective measures include VPN services, updating the encryptions on all employee software, cryptic passwords, and multi-step verifications for all connected emails.   

Additionally, The Department of Homeland Security adds: “Best practices involve avoiding public Wi-Fi when possible and using a hotspot or encrypted web connection. Using a hotspot will prevent other persons on the same Wi-Fi connection from gaining access to the user’s information. Most cellular service providers allow users to set up a mobile hotspot through the user’s data plan. “Ensure all computers/devices with access to your data have an up to date firewall.”

Once corporate data is sufficiently protected, company leaders should invest comparable research into devices and technologies that facilitate social wellness and payroll retention. 

The COVID-19 dynamic has been emotionally debilitating for many. Sometimes providing comfort is best achieved indirectly. Inmate inquiries about the health and or economic status of loved ones might be a sore subject for workers, so instead check in a roundabout way.  Allot time in virtual meetings for casual catch up sessions and be sure to make face time with some regularity. 

“Check in with your teammates and make time for small talk, stories, and jokes. Make things like shared Spotify playlists, or take a break and watch something on Netflix Party, ”Webex reports.”Weirdly, everyone working from home is a way to get to know your coworkers even better. While it’s best to reduce distractions in video meetings, you might occasionally get to wave hello to kids, significant others, and pets as they walk by. Don’t let a closet or bed in the background of your video bother you (but it doesn’t hurt to make sure you’re not showing off anything you’d rather not),”

Ultimately, telework will not be for everyone. Some industries are simply incapable of calibrating demands remotely.

However, until this coronavirus catastrophe is categorically behind us, the best any of us can do to protect our health and economy is to develop ways to work without presenteeism. 

According to a recent study, 74% of workers routinely feel pressured by their managers to come into work while ill and a comparable majority fears that a failure to do so would preclude promotion opportunities in the future. These are presumptions that need to be addressed irrespective of our pandemic status. 

“This sounds like a cliche surely, but being able to tell a colleague, who is clearly struggling with a cold or the flu to go home, and stay home, is not that obvious. This is part of the feedback culture, which should be fair, transparent and honest,” writes career analyst Agnes Uhereczky. 

 “It is important to stress, that workplaces shouldn’t need a wake-up call like the previous SARS outbreak or the novel coronavirus spread to appreciate the opportunities from staff working away from the office or workplace.”

  CW Headley is a reporter for the Ladders and can be reached at cheadley@theladders.com