The New Normal: How to Stay Productive and Healthy Working from Home
The New Normal: How to Stay Productive and Healthy Working from Home
April 15, 2020
These are unprecedented times. Millions face weeks of social distancing and working from home as health officials work to slow the spread of COVID-19. Organizations large and small are figuring out the best long-term remote work solutions to keep critical business operations moving as efficiently as possible in the midst of a pandemic. As a business owner, you are facing unprecedented pressures. The last thing you can afford is to lose the productivity of your workforce as well. To help, we have put together some strategies to help you and your team stay productive and be aware of healthier options in the midst of the coronavirus emergency.
Imperatives for a Productive Workspace
For most workers, an office is a highly-structured environment with a set schedule and a desk that's a personal workplace. Working from home for the first time can be disorienting when those things are missing. In an environment like this, one strategy is to try to replicate the office experience at home. It puts people in the right mindset to be productive.
1) Start with a Dedicated Place to Work From
For workers who are not at home alone, they should try to choose a room where they can close the door and keep distractions out. Setting a dedicated workspace creates a physical distinction between "work time" and "home time." If the home doesn't have a dedicated office, can they use a bedroom, dining room, or bonus room? It helps a lot if family and pets can't wander in.
If your workers don't have a dedicated workspace, working from the kitchen or dining room table can be a short-term fix. But we have to be realistic. They will probably be working from home for an extended period of time. They need to build a workspace in a separate room to be comfortable and productive. A home office doesn't have to be something formal with a traditional heavy wood desk and filing cabinets. A simple modern desk paired with an active ergonomic chair may be all that's needed, and they pack away more easily when not in use.
Investing in these two elements is a wise decision and should provide a good return on your investment during these trying times. Desks and chairs also get workers positioned with the proper posture and support they're used to in the regular office. Modern home office desks, such as standing desks, easily adjust up and down so they can sit or stand and move around throughout the day to help keep them active, comfortable and productive.
A good-quality ergonomic office chair also helps because they come with lumbar support and all sorts of adjustability, from back position to moveable armrests, so they're lined up just right for typing for long periods.
2) Manage Time Wisely
Working from home can make many feel tempted to try to do it all—be productive at work while also making sure the house is clean, the laundry is done, and dinner is prepped. In the midst of this pandemic, the line between personal life and business life is blurring.
As a business owner, supporting your team while at home is crucial. Make sure to have guidelines on when meetings can be scheduled and try to leave your team some time to decompress at lunch. Burnout can be a real issue when working from home. In our normal environment at an office or store, we are in and out of meetings, engaging with customers or co-workers, moving from our workspace to conference rooms, and back on an almost constant basis. When working at home, you will probably be in one seat, looking at one screen for as many as 10 hours a day. Providing time to let people take a breath mid-day is going to improve productivity in the long run.
3) Add Accessories
Depending on where people are working and what they need to get comfortable, a few office accessories may be useful too. From good quality lighting to read small print to an ergonomic keyboard and mouse to help prevent carpal tunnel syndrome, a small investment can pay big dividends in productivity. For team members that are forced to work from several places in the home because of children and spouses, a mobile file cabinet can help with organization while also acting as an impromptu laptop stand if needed.
4) Ask the Right Questions
First priority for all of us during this difficult time is to make sure we are trying to stay healthy and limiting the possible exposure to the virus. As a business leader you need to engage with your team not only on “what” is getting done but also “how” they are working. Asking some simple questions about their workspace can give you the insight you need to make helpful suggestions that can improve the speed and quality of work, and help promote the wellness of your team.
Technology Requirements for Remote Collaboration
Work, by nature is collaboration. Very few of us truly work independently. To a large degree, Coronovirus has isolated your employees, but they still have to find a way to work together as a team. Technology is the foundation of how people can share information remotely and even personally connect using video collaboration services. But there are requirements to make this collaboration possible.
Even people who have never worked from home likely have an Internet connection with Wi-Fi. Many probably also use a streaming service like Netflix or Hulu, but that may be about as much as they've thought about their home technology. Transitioning to remote work leverages some of that same tech, but there are special considerations around security and speed. They may also need better equipment or want to customize devices with some add-ons to improve their overall experience.
1) Stay Secure
It's sad but true. A big increase in people working outside the office is an opportunity for hackers. If employees are using their own devices, they need to make sure they have addressed security considerations, by having anti-virus software installed and that it's updated.
When working remotely with any device, the home Wi-Fi network must be set up securely. The name of the network, also known as the SSID (Service Set Identifier), should be changed to something other than the default name so hackers can't immediately tell what kind of router it is. The name used should be something that doesn't identify the home and be combined with a strong password. "John Smith House," for example, just lets a hacker know which network belongs to your worker over a neighbor’s. Strong security measures are something people should be doing anyway to protect themselves, but you want them to protect the business too.
Many organizations rely on Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) to encrypt data and scan devices for malware to block hacking attempts through remote users. But most VPNs have not been tested for the potential loads of having an entire company working from home, which can lead to slowdowns, or users experiencing complete connectivity failures and crashes. Load testing is key.
Employees working from home for the first time will need education on how to use a VPN as well as when it's appropriate. For some, other tools like Microsoft Office 365 may give them access to what they need without necessarily consuming VPN resources.
2) Up the Speed
The best collaboration technology, like videoconferencing, requires a significant amount of Internet bandwidth. If a worker's spouse and kids are home too and need to connect, they may suddenly find their system unable to handle the load. Many people have broadband plans that are much slower than what they have at work. So, before the connection crashes, it's an excellent time to see what they have and consider increasing it. There are many websites where they can run a test like Fast.com and Speedtest.net. Streaming companies like Netflix recommend at least 5 Mbps for high-definition TV, but it's a lot higher than that for the new 4K standard. The more users you have, the faster the connection you need. Homes with multiple streamers may need 50 Mbps or more.
If a worker has an older Wi-Fi router, that may be a bottleneck too. Newer multi-band routers give you the ability to connect to 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz channels. The additional channels in 5 GHz allow for more bandwidth, which is better for business apps, teleconferencing, and the large file size transfers needed for remote working. And even if you do have a fast connection and modern router, strength of signal throughout the home could still be a problem. This might be the time to suggest a mesh networking solution that amplifies the Wi-Fi signal throughout the home.
3) Get the Right Tools
In addition to connection speed, remote workers need the right equipment and software to do their jobs well. This is not the time to be stuck with an old, slow computer because that drastically affects productivity. If you're providing laptops, make sure they have the horsepower to run the business applications your associates need like Microsoft Office.
If you've been considering moving to a cloud-based collaboration platform like Office365, this is the time to do it. Such tools allow users to connect with the data they need from anywhere and anytime. Documents can be shared and worked on as a team, which improves productivity, and lets everyone see changes in real-time.
Consider also if workers will need the ability to scan documents and print in their homes. The fact is that home printer/scanner technology has improved significantly in the last couple of years. And while we may only print a few pages a month in our private life, working from home can drastically increase that volume. This may be the time to upgrade to a home printing solution that is affordable while still help turn critical documents around quickly.
If your team finds they need to send printed materials to a customer, vendor or co-worker, mobile printing can allow them to get high-quality copies of presentations or contracts printed at a retail store and then delivered directly to their audience. And, depending on their role, a shredder may be needed too to protect private information that is printed in the home before it goes in the recycle bin.
4) Make the Laptop More Like a Desktop
For employees used to a big keyboard and multiple monitors at work, switching to a laptop at home may be a less-than-positive user experience, but you can change that. Adding peripherals like a mouse and more monitors is relatively simple. If they need to connect more devices than they have USB ports, then consider adding a USB hub to give them what they need.
5) Improve Videoconferencing with an External Web Camera, Microphone, or Headset
While just about every modern laptop has a built-in camera, microphone, and speakers that can be used for videoconferencing, they're not always the best. The video quality can be poor, and if the angle of the monitor isn't just right, people may only see the top of a person's head. Built-in microphones often pick up the sounds of typing or force people to lean in and speak very loudly to make themselves heard.
External cameras and microphones are relatively inexpensive yet deliver crisp pictures and sound that radically improve video collaboration. One of the least expensive upgrades is a simple headset/microphone combo that also shuts out any background noise if the kids are reenacting their favorite movie in the next room.
6) Think About Support
Employees at the office generally have some kind of IT support they can call on when things break, but how will you handle that for remote workers? If you have in-house support, they're going to need to know how to contact it. This may be the time to find an IT partner who can offer 24/7 Service Desk support that can solve computer or network issues remotely, and even give advice on challenges the team may be having with software applications.
How Are You Engaging with Customers and Vendors?
In the new-normal of social distancing and stay-at-home orders, how will you and your employees interact with your customers and the vendors on whom you depend during this pandemic?
1) Do Video Meetings
Yes, the phone call and email are still effective ways to contact people, but if you want to take it up a notch, schedule videoconferencing with important contacts. Everyone is so socially isolated that they'll probably appreciate the novelty of it and the ability to interact with someone outside of their usual social network.
2) Print Creatively
Engaging with customers, partners and vendors requires that you put your best foot forward. As prevalent as digital communications are, a simple PDF won’t impress as much as a high-quality printed piece. Because the office is closed, it doesn't mean you can't print big jobs or colorful presentations and brochures. Switch to online print services that let you pick up in-store or have shipped directly to your audience. Especially when you can't meet customers in person, well-done printed materials will be a differentiator.
3) Use Same Day/Next Day Delivery
Delivering products and presentations can continue despite the ongoing coronavirus events. Leveraging same day or next day delivery methods is another differentiator that will put you ahead of competitors. It's also an excellent way to get material and equipment out to your employees so they're as productive as they can be.
Staying Physically Active and Mentally Engaged
As Covid-19 has required teams to work remotely, a big part of the challenge is the feeling of being locked in and stagnating without activities and social interaction. Employees should make sure they're getting exercise and making time for self-care practices like leaving the house to be in the yard or walking around the neighborhood while practicing social distancing. Disconnecting from work helps people feel refreshed and motivated.
There are small things people can do around the personal workspace, like adding plants. Some sources suggest that plants help to improve mental outlook and reduce stress throughout the day while giving the immune system a natural boost. Plants can improve air quality and add humidity in the home, both positive factors for a better breathing environment. Studies have also shown that they can improve productivity and even learning capabilities.
For those that don't have a green thumb, consider an air purifier to capture household odors, pet odors, and cooking odor.
It is important to stay active for health, even if gyms or favorite workout classes are closed. Regular exercise can help prevent or manage many health issues, including high blood pressure, depression, and anxiety. Studies have also shown that exercise can improve mood, boost energy, and help with sleep. This may be an excellent time to pick up some simple home fitness equipment and check out these free at-home workouts to help workers stay happy and healthy.
Keep in mind this information does not constitute a medical consultation and cannot replace medical advice. Any information should never be used as a substitute for the advice provided by a physician or other health care provider. Before anyone starts working out, they should get a medical checkup or otherwise be fit for the type of activity.
Make Remote Work Successful
The coronavirus pandemic has forced changes in our society that none of us could have imagined. We are being asked to work and collaborate as never before. These are challenging times, but you can make them less so by setting your employees up to be successful in remote work. We all hope for a quick end to this threat and a return to normalcy. But as business leaders we must prepare as if thesituation could go on for months. The quicker you implement a strategy to support your team’s ‘new normal’ of working from home, the quicker you will minimize business disruption and help keep your people healthy and happy.
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