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COVID-19: Preparing your Employees for Virtual & Office-work in the New Normal

As a small business owner, preparedness has likely always been one of the keys to your success. Whether it be seasonal shifts in the sales cycle, unexpected costs, or employee absences– you have a had a plan in place to help you succeed through the ups and downs of any business’s life. However, the current COVID-19 pandemic is something else entirely. Few people will dispute we are now entering a period of profound change. As people practice social-distancing across the globe it has forced workers and businesses to adapt to fully digital workflows—at least temporarily— if they are to maintain operations. Although businesses have always had reasons to embrace digital workflows in the past, this recent disaster has shown everyone the immediate necessity of at-least having the capability to do so.

With that said, there are some obvious drawbacks to a digital
work environment. Particularly for small businesses— where personnel management is key— this time has brought to mind some of the more negative or unexpected problems of having a fully remote work office. Whether or not this recent foray into a wholly-digital work environment will be seen as a unique (but not entirely revolutionary) one-off event; or if it is in fact the dawning of a “New Normal” in the state of work as the buzzword’s popularity implies, remains to be seen. In the meantime here are some things to keep in mind (and take steps towards) when trying to prepare yourself and your employees for an extended period of virtual work, and what you can be doing to prepare your physical work-space for their return.

Some Negatives of WFH vs. an Office:

  1. Employees’ work-time is less structured as their day is often interrupted by domestic concerns (kids, utilities, etc.)
  2.  Coordinating virtual Meetings & getting input from other team members (both peer-to-peer and employee-employer) takes much longer than in a physical office.
  3. Under-performing technology at the home drives down productivity (no scanner, no printer, poor wifi, etc.)
  4. Lack of supervision and hands-on guidance when trying to deal with novel issues.
  5. Loss of creativity and espirit-de-corps.
  6. A lack of social interaction and shared work-goals for everyone at the company.

It's Important to get Everyone Together for some "FaceTime"

According to the State of Remote Work Report, “Loneliness” and “Difficulty Collaborating on work projects”, were among the two most consistently rated top stressors for those working remotely. Indeed though workers often report working longer hours when operating remotely, that time is often significantly less productive. According to Enkata despite the longer work hours, WFH employees are on average about 50% less productive on an hour-by-hour basis than their in-office counterparts. They also, counterintuitively, take more and longer breaks on average than in-office workers. So how can we mitigate these negative side effects?

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SHARP: Guide to Empowering your Workers to Work Remotely

Use virtual meeting applications like Zoom & GoToMeeting to have weekly company “round-up” meetings to catch all team members up on each other’s progress. This is especially useful, if not outright necessary, for those companies whose work is primarily project-based. These weekly meetings will help remind everyone they are part of a team, and hopefully mitigate some of the mental health issues brought on by loneliness. These applications will help you meet the second challenge of collaboration we mentioned above.

These applications can work as a base camp or framework to set-up ‘work teams’ with your employees. Have employees work in peer groups on quarantine-specific short-term projects. Consider having them update your social accounts or improving your white paper collection for clients—tasks that have obvious value to the company but are the kind of tasks often put-off when faced with more immediate revenue-generating tasks. These small work-groups will promote worker sociability during this time of isolation. It also add some level of “peer-to-peer accountability” among your employees, and hopefully give them a sense of accomplishment for these completed tasks once the quarantine is finally over.

Do What you Can to Prepare your People and Your Office for "Coming Back"

On of the most concerning aspects of the recent outbreak is the growing likelihood that the COVID-19 is here to stay for the foreseeable future in some capacity, even after the workplace is reopened. The more protective measures you can establish now before that reopening occurs will help ensure it is a successful one. As an employer, you should begin preparing your office for that day, even if when exactly that will be is still unknown.

  • Do what you can to reevaluate your company floor plan to ensure the maximum spatial distance between your workers without unduly hampering workflows.
  • Put up physical barriers like sneeze guards high-traffic areas where your employees might interact with someone who has contracted the disease.
  • Open windows to increase ventilation in your office and good airflow.  

There are also administrative controls you can put in place to ensure your employees and your business operates in a way that is most conducive to promoting health. Depending on your specific industry and business model, the specific ways you go about this might vary. But here are a few ideas to get you started.

  • Remind sick workers to stay at home.
  • Ensure employees whose role requires them to interact with clients face-to-face (ex: copier technicians) are healthy and wearing medical PPE (personal protective equipment) to protect both themselves and your customers from undue exposure.
  • Train your workers on proper sanitation of themselves and as well as their equipment.
  • A proper methodology should be established for daily on-site sanitation procedures, as well as the appropriate disposal of used PPE equipment. You can find information on how to appropriately sanitize your office equipment for the COVID-19 virus here.
  • Limit the number of people in your office at any one time by having alternating, staggered, or extra shifts to reduce the total number of your employees in your facility at any one time and thus limit the opportunity for transmission if an infection has occurred.
Latex & Nitrile Gloves are a basic article of PPE

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