Making working from home work for you

Kansas Action for Children
March 25, 2020

As coronavirus shutdowns spread across the state and country last week, many employees and offices transitioned to working from home. That also meant being out of the office and separated from each other for an extended period. For some workplaces, this is new. And the rapidly changing circumstances mean that many may be unprepared.

What happens when you move your entire organization or team from working in an office to working from their diverse individual homes? This is unchartered territory for many, and it is important to understand that this transition to working from home is not about replicating the work environment in an office setting.

Kansas Action for Children staff members, while seasoned at working remotely on a limited basis, are navigating this new way of working ourselves. Here are some suggested practices that have guided us and that may help you.

Technology

There are inexpensive ways to acquire technology as a short-term fix to support remote working. You’ll want to ensure each employee has access to wi-fi and a computer and from there begin to install tools to support work and collaboration. Email is critical; however, you’ll need more than email to coordinate and carry out your work. Tools such as SLACK provide instant messaging to quickly coordinate between a team. Zoom is a remote conferencing service that allows you to replicate meetings quickly and see each other face-to-face.

Boundaries

Tools are most effective when there are boundaries in place for employees. An added challenge to the current situation is that working parents now have children present and needing attention … and snacks. And playtime outside. And more snacks.

Keep in mind that without a commute, distractions, or interruptions that exist in a typical workplace, employees at home may be more effective than before, even with kids around. Employees should be encouraged to maintain their typical work hours, though some may need to adjust their schedules to accommodate specific needs. This schedule should include breaks to stretch or go outside.

To the extent possible, those working from home should establish a designated works pace and try to avoid using a sofa, bedroom, or other space.

To create these boundaries, talk with your team or manager to co-create what will work best to carry out the work. Discuss the hours you’ll be available, which tools you’ll use to communicate, and what various office setups might include.

Get organized

Set clear and achievable goals. These may extend through the workweek or be daily. Create a schedule and outline activities you’ll want to complete, focusing on these goals. This might include managing email, working on a project, or collaborating with colleagues. Using the schedule and boundaries, you’ll be able to best assess if you’ve accomplished what you planned.

Stay Connected

Working from home can be isolating. There’s no opportunity to stop in a colleague’s office, or catch up on the weekend on the walk into work. Teams must structure ways for employees to interact socially while working remotely. When you work in the office next to your supervisor, communication can happen spontaneously. When you’re remote, communication can become infrequent.

Set up regular check-ins with your team or manager that allows you to not only provide progress updates but also sort through any problems or brainstorm ideas. Use FaceTime, Zoom and other video tools during meetings, or simply use them to chat with coworkers.

For Supervisors

Identify your expectations. “X is the work you should do, Y is the quality standard, Z is the deadline.” The more detail, the better. Be clear about your reasoning, intentions, and expectations. Are they what you would expect when working in an office, uninterrupted, or are they realistic for the circumstances happening?

Ask “What do you need to support remote work?” This question can provide important information that you might not otherwise hear.  Employees need to describe the conditions under which they perform best, their concerns, and the emotions they may be experiencing. This can change from week to week. Some employees may be starting week one with intentions to carry out a typical workday. They will quickly realize they will need to adjust and at the end of the week or the beginning of week two have this conversation again.

Honestly, you can have this conversation daily.

Working Parents

There is an abundance of information for parents suddenly faced with working from home and having their children with them. Here are a few pieces of guidance:

  • Create a schedule, but make sure it’s reasonable. Identify ways for children to be independently working, reading, or watching a screen so that parents can find moments of focused work during the day.
  • Communicate. This means communicating repeatedly during the day with colleagues and supervisors. This also means communicating boundaries with kids.
  • If in a partnership, alternate. This may not be possible for single working parents, but if they have another adult in the home, this is the time to use the relationship to support the workday.

If you need to have meetings with employees with children, give them time to prepare. An hourlong meeting may be challenging for some, but half an hour is a reasonable amount of time to connect in a mostly uninterrupted way.

Lastly, while maintaining personal health is critically important now, this may be a time where working early, and late is necessary. Parents can start their days before their kids are awake and pick up an hour or two when kids have gone to bed.

How will we sustain this for week after week, or month after month? No one knows. We take it one day at a time.

Support

We are all working through our emotional responses to an incredible amount of change and uncertainty in a very short amount of time. Before communicating with others, take a minute to consider how your colleagues will experience the conversation. Managers, your team will take cues from you in how to act and feel. This applies over the phone or through email as well. Observing others experiencing stress could cause observers themselves to feel more stressed.

If you’re looking for support on how to transition to remote working and how to manage your team remotely, our director of organizational effectiveness, Jami Jones, has offered to provide one-on-one coaching and technical assistance. You can email her here.

With nearly 20 years of experience in change management, project management, and organization development, she supports capacity-building projects that help KAC work adaptively and leverage opportunities to be inclusive and equitable. Jami is a certified Project Management Professional and Associated Certified Coach.

Be Mindful

While many of us are working from home, others cannot. It is important to acknowledge the inequities that exist in workplaces. This piece from the Washington Post delves into the issue.

And above all, remember this wise advice from a blog that many of us at KAC follow:

“We will get through this. Take care of yourself, because our world needs you. Your work matters. And I’m there with you. When I’m not feeling overwhelmed and despondent, I am determined. This crisis shines a bright light on the many weaknesses in our society and in our sector and gives us momentum to fight for some real change. When we are ready, let’s talk about building a better, more effective sector and a more just, more equitable community.”