You have never worked from home during a pandemic before.
Sure, in this digital era, it’s possible you have spent a day or two in your life working from home, or maybe you are working completely remotely for long.
But, going from fully physical office to fully remote in a week’s notice, then maintaining the Home-Office balance while getting flooded with the COVID-19 breaking news, it’s something unique.
After publishing the article Surviving Coronavirus: A Guide For Startup in Future Startup, I got hundreds of messages from leaders who expressed concern regarding the ways to work from home staying productive. In this article, we will try to provide some guidelines and 7 Practices that can help you and your company to stay productive during this pandemic.
[We have also published an Infographic, you can check that as well.]
How to Lead Your Company To Work From Home
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, we have seen many companies already declared working completely from home. Many companies are partially working from home considering the need for physical presence (like Service Companies, financial institutions, Food Industry, Delivery Companies, etc). These include large corporations like GP, Unilever, Brac and Startups like Pathao, Truck Lagbe, Bongo, Styline, Intelligent Machines and many more.
While it’s easier to work from home for some of the departments, it’s extremely challenging for service companies to work completely remote and serve the customer in this time of need. I have talked with several leaders from startups like Paperfly, Kludio, eCourier, Pathao; and they mentioned to help the community getting service in this critical moment, they are continuing limited operations while maintaining maximum protection for their staff and customers.
Whether your company is fully remote or partially, you need to create a “Virtual Workplace Protocol” for your employees. I have written more detailed guidelines on this topic in my earlier article that you can follow.
Ruhul Kader, CEO of Future Startup, with his years of Work From Home experience, has provided some incredible resources and guidelines that you can use while working from home in this Surviving A Pandemic: The Complete Working From Home Guide article. I highly recommend checking that out if you haven’t already.
Apart from those above guidelines - I suggest creating a ‘Work From Home’ policy and share with your employees if we are going remote for more than one month. This policy should include Leave policy, Responsibilities, Communications protocol etc.
Then set up the essential tools, and train your employees to use them efficiently. Some of the tools we suggest are Google Suits (Gmail, Google Drive, Docs, Sheets etc), Slack / Whatsapp / Skype / Google Hangout / Zoom, Trello / Asana / Todoist, Time Management Tools and of course your companies own customized tools and web applications.
Be in touch with your employees more than you used to be at the office. Check out in the morning and midday and know what they are working on. At the end of the day, you can ask everyone to send a ‘Status Update’ email summarizing what they have accomplished that day.
Now, I am not talking about micromanaging here. But you need to make your team productive, as well as your employees need a supportive hand and guidance more frequently.
Use video as much as you can, this will help to reduce the stress of isolation and will feel to be connected. Beside communicating as a group, the managers need to have one to one sessions on a regular basis. Whenever needed, you can share screens to help out each other.
And finally, build a culture. We don’t know how long we will need to work from home. It can be for one week, it can be a year. Start thinking about how to build a distinctive culture company-wide if you need to continue this for several months.
This “A Founder’s Guide To Surviving Coronavirus Pandemic” article will also be helpful for you to ensure health of your business in this extraordinary time.
Work from Home Practices During a Pandemic
In this article, I am going to describe 7 Practices on how to work from home during the crisis. Please understand that each company’s need and culture is different, so consider this as a guideline, and customize per your company's needs.
1. Create a Workspace at Your Home
One of the biggest challenges that you may face while working from home is keeping your home and office life separate.
Since you were going to the office every day, there was a clear physical distinction. The office structure, the environment, your colleagues everything used to put you in the ‘working’ mood instantly. And then at the end of the day when you come back, you used to switch to ‘home’ mood.
This is not going to happen since you are suddenly starting to work from home. It’s tough, I know!
Being a Software Engineer, for the last few years I have often brought my work laptop home and jumped into fixing a bug or two at the weekends. But we decided to go completely remote at CodeCrafters for the time being, it feels so different.
So I suggest creating a temporary workspace at your home right now.
While talking with Tariqul Hasan, Lead Software Engineer, CodeCrafters International, he said that he set up a neat workspace to work from home in the coming days, with multiple monitors and other tools that he normally used in the office (see the pic).
Now, you may not need or have the capacity to have a full-fledged workspace at this moment. But instead of just working from your drawing room sofa while the TV is on (and showing news of Corona spread), consider isolating yourself in a separate room during office hours.
And your workspace doesn’t have to be its own room—it can be a corner in a room—but it should feel as separate from the rest of your home as possible.
2. Set Clearly Defined Working Hours
Remember that we don’t know how long we are going to be working from home during this critical moment. It can be days, it can be months.
If you don’t have dedicated working hours, if you start working at 11 am one day, and keep working on late nights another day, soon your work-home life will start to suffer. It will feel like you are 24 hours working, while you are 24 hours at home, and it will start to create a lot of stress.
I suggest companies use some kind of time tracking tools, it can be a full-fledged software, or simply a google sheet. Everyone will log the time they are working and will write down on what they are working at that time. This will help both the managers and employees to keep their time dedicated.
Start your day every day at the same time, and end the day at the same time. Take short breaks as necessary, and at the end of the day completely stay away from work.
3. Stay Focused And Productive
Distraction is one of the major challenges we face while working from home, especially as many of us are not used to it.
In the book review on ‘Deep Work – Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport’, I mentioned removing distractions of Social Media. This is very important now since it’s our natural tendency to get sucked into Facebook feed and news media to know what’s going around.
While I personally don’t like companies to use screen capture tools to monitor their employees, it will be your responsibility to stay focused and productive.
One of the methods that can be helpful for you to stay focused on is the “Pomodoro Technique”. Using this method, you break your workday into 25-minute chunks separated by five-minute breaks.
I personally find it very helpful to get a cup of coffee, put my headphones on, shut down all notifications and then dive deep into work for a specific chunk of hours (two hours work best for me). Use the ways that work best for you.
High-Quality Work Produced = (Time Spent) x (Intensity of Focus)
4. Avoid Distractions and Non-work related Activities
This is one of the major concerns when you are working from home since your spouse, parents, and kids are at home as well. Explain your loved ones that you are fully working, and not available for any kind of household chores or discussions during working hours.
It’s okay to take short breaks, check the news, talk with your family. But otherwise, keep those tabs closed from your browser and don’t get involved with non-work related activities.
At the end of the day, complete disconnect from your work and give the people you care about your full attention. Having a separate time and space to work will allow you to be more present in your home life and maintain Home-Office blance.
5. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Out of sight, out of mind can be a real problem for remote workers.
As we are not used to working from home, chances are there will be some bumps in the road as we are suddenly going remote. The key to steering through these bumps is communication, especially with your direct manager.
Communicate with your manager when you start your work, it can be a Slack or What’s app message or can be a short Skype call to start your day. Whenever you are stuck, be in touch with your manager.
Not only regarding the work but get in touch with your colleagues from time to time. If you were in the office, you would talk to them several times a day.
Stay connected, but make sure you are not distracting others too much by sending too many Instant messages. Email can be a good communication tool for this, but each company will need to establish its own communication protocol and channels.
6. Maintain Rituals
At the office, we normally have different kinds of rituals, based on our company culture. Each culture is unique, and the rituals are unique. Try to replicate the rituals you had in the office while working from home.
I have seen many remote work experts suggest to ‘Get Dressed’ while you are working from home. It might seem like a simple tip, but it can be a crucial one.
Commuting to office, following the dress code used to set our mind ready to work. You can try going to your bedroom in the morning, getting dressed for the office, then go to your workspace. At the end of the day, close your work laptop, go to the bedroom and change to your comfortable home dress.
Another ritual can be arranging Video calls with all employees, or team-wise, at a specific time of the workday. It can be your Snacks/Teatime or sometime in the afternoon when your manager used to provide daily status updates.
Just because we are staying at home to stop corona spreading doesn’t mean that no one from work will see us. It’s 2020 and we’re all about to have a lot of video meetings.
7. Enjoy your work
I know it’s hard. This is a challenging time.
But we need to accept life as it is and make the best out of it. Here I am quoting the cliche yet appropriate phrase ‘When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemonade’.
One benefit of working from home is you are being able to avoid the commute time. If you live in Dhaka like me, you know what I mean! You are saving commute time, as well as the everyday struggle on the road.
You are saving energy, you are saving time.
Use this opportunity to become more focused, brush up on the skills you need to become a master in your field.
Home is the New Office!
The COVID-19 pandemic is a unique crisis our generation is facing. We have heard about World Wars, we know more about our Liberation war, but this is a crisis we are all in together.
We need to fight this pandemic and win the war against COVID-19. And, we need to prove our capability, strength, and determination to our future generation.
Use this time to get more connected with your family, spend time learning new skills, stay healthy with exercising, finish some major tasks that you have been planning for years but couldn’t manage time.
Just don’t blend the working hours and your personal hours. Make yourself part of history by playing your part properly.
We will keep fighting against the virus and survive this pandemic together.
And when we do, we will become stronger than ever.