Work From Home Challenges, and How to Meet Them

Is your workforce remote? There are definite benefits to working from home for employees. No commute, fresh cooked meals, not having to chat with Don from accounting when going to the water cooler. It’s also beneficial for employers. Less real estate required which also means a lower tax burden. A wider talent pool, leading to better employees.

However, working out of the home environment has a definite downside. In an ideal world, everyone would have an extra room they can use as an office, a place where they can close the door and put a big KEEP OUT sign on the handle. The reality is that most employees are working in a shared space.

So how can you assist your employees in creating a productive environment?

I have trained a lot of people who are working from home. These are the three persistent issues I’ve seen and solutions that have been most effective:

Boundaries

Les Nessman, in the classic tv series WKRP in Cincinnati, put tape around his desk and insisted that everyone knock on an imaginary wall and come through the door space that he marked. This was played for laughs. However, in the world of working from home, this is exactly the approach needed to be successful. It’s vital for both the employee and the people they live with. They need to define where their work life starts and ends. It lets the other people in the space know that when they are there, they need to be focused on doing their job.

One of the appeals of working from home is that people can be more available to deal with difficult situations. However, this is still work. A good guideline is to ask, “what would have happened if I had been in the office?” If the answer isn’t, “rush home and deal with it”, then everyone needs to wait until there is a suitable break. Creating focus is key. Resisting the urge to interrupt work to take care of that thing that will only take a minute is hard but necessary. One thing here, one thing there, and suddenly the boundaries have disappeared.

Noise

This can means blaring tvs, barking dogs, arguments in the background. This is especially hard on introverted workers, who prefer a quiet space so they can focus. It’s crucial when they are communicating with your customers. No one feels comfortable when they hear a crying baby in the background.

Employees need to emphasize that they are being paid to do work and that needs to be respected. They may feel that this is hard to manage because they are just used to the noise. I offer these tips:

TV: wearing headphones or schedule time that is tv free. This can be especially helpful with children as tv-free time can be turned into learning/reading time.
Arguments: a kitchen whiteboard (these can be found in any office supply or dollar store) that is used to list issues to be discussed outside of work hours. Very important that they don’t use this to avoid the issues, so they need to schedule time to discuss. (This also has the added bonus of improving relationships within the household as matters get discussed after the flashpoint, where there’s a good chance tempers are not running as high.)
Crying babies/children & barking dogs: A lot of people apply for WFH because they believe they will have the flexibility to manage these issues, which is true unless they are in a customer-facing role. This is also important when they are in virtual meetings. They need to designate someone to deal with these issues during work hours – someone that isn’t them.

Privacy

Whether or not they are dealing with proprietary information, keeping others from being able to look on their computer while they are working is vital. They can buy a screen or create their own. I created an inexpensive one by using a rolling wardrobe rack from IKEA with an inexpensive tapestry attached to it. It doubles as a Zoom backdrop. There are other great DYI suggestions here.

What Can Be Done to Help?

Understanding the challenges that your workforce has in working remotely is step one. With high real estate costs, the reality is that most of your workforce will be struggling with at least one of these issues. A lot of people want this option because a traditional job just doesn’t work for their situation so be compassionate in listening to their concerns and working out a solution.

Have a check in with each employee. Find out what would help them be more focused and effective. Share the suggestions above. Would they prefer a flexible work schedule so they can work in places or during times with fewer distractions? Many people don’t request flex options because they perceive it will negatively impact their career and your night owl employees would especially embrace this option. Find ways to create flexibility even if flexible work schedules are not an option for customer-facing positions.

Create a calendar so that they can book in times to talk if they have a concern. One of the frustrating elements of remote work is not knowing who to talk to, when you can talk to them, or when to expect a response. Have two – one for HR and one for their direct report. If an issue needs time to be resolved, give them a check in time and date and stick to it, even it it’s only to say you are still working on it.

Add in team activities that aren’t mandatory but can help employees feel less isolated and more connected to their co-workers. There are some helpful suggestions here.

Go one step further and offer training to help them develop the skills they need to have the difficult conversations with the people they live with. Most people are conflict-adverse, having never learned to set boundaries. For some, cultural conditioning has told them to put others’ needs ahead of their own. Creating the right work environment requires some difficult conversations. Give them support while they deal with the blow back that is common with change. Not only will this help them become confident in navigating their lives, but their added confidence will make them better employees.

Work from Anywhere can be a huge boon to companies who set up structures to address the unique challenges it provides. Here at S&P Data Digital we have had a lot of success with the work from anywhere model. Ask us about how we use this to create great results for our clients.

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