Whether small businesses like it or not, survival during the Covid-19 crisis will depend on how you and your staff adapt to working from home. The niche movement of remote working has suddenly gone massively mainstream.

Here in the US, and around the world, from UK to New Zealand, many Governments are now insisting employees work from home. Staff are frightened about the future and worried about their health and wellbeing. Families, flatmates, friends are being forced into living – and working – in close quarters which only adds to the stresses and strains.

For a lot of businesses the speed of the crisis has meant there’s been almost zero notice to prepare. Here at MyHub, we’ve operated a remote working business model for several years. All our employees work from home – across several different countries and timezones. And so, here we share six tips on how to help your staff work from home during the coronavirus crisis.

1. Flexibility and Empathy

The first step to successful remote working is around flexibility. This is especially important for those businesses forced into telecommuting almost overnight with minimal preparation. Empathize with staff as they figure out their new way of working. Ask them:

  • When will your employee be available?
  • What’s the best way to reach them for different needs?
  • How are childcare responsibilities or fellow home workers impacting on their availability?

Plus, with many school and college students also looking to access online learning and perhaps several family members working from home, the situation could be complicated. You will, therefore, need to be realistic and flexible about what’s possible.

These are unsettling times for us all and setting employees adrift without understanding and guidance will be counterproductive.

2. Measure Success In Output

When it comes to measuring success, think output rather than hours at work. The reality is you can’t monitor performance in the same way you can in the office. So, instead of checking on how many hours workers are spending online, measure success in terms of outputs. Change the emphasis to one focussed on accomplishment rather than activity.

For each remote worker set clear tasks and responsibilities. Also, be clear about the deadline and quality standard. Try not to micro-manage; instead display that essential remote manager attribute of trust. Trust in your team to deliver the goods: if goals are achieved and output maintained, then that’s whats key.

A silver lining is that remote workers take fewer sick days and are often more productive than their office-based counterparts. In FlexJobs’ recent annual survey 65 percent of respondents said that they are more productive when working from home. And this survey is supported by a two-year longitudinal study from Stanford University. Researchers found that fewer distractions and more focus when working led to massive increases in telecommuters’ productivity.

3. Encourage Staff To Set Up A Home Office

Working from home will be a challenge for many workers. It will be even more of a challenge if your staff are working from the dining room table, or a laptop on the sofa surrounded by noisy children. Encourage employees to look at setting up some sort of home office. If a separate room isn’t possible, then a quiet space in the house preferably away from other family members is a good idea. Letting other family members know they are officially at work is also good advice you can pass on.

A comfortable home set up that minimizes the inevitable disruptions and distractions is essential for employees.

A good home setup also involves having a regular routine. Encourage staff to get up at the same time, have regular breaks and take time out for fresh air and exercise. And it’s even more important to encourage the team to finish work on time. When the office is in the home, switching off from work can be hard for some employees. Model the right behavior yourself by only contacting staff during their set hours and not working late.

A good routine for both you and your employees helps to provide consistency in uncertain times.

4. Set Up Good Communication Tools

Make sure staff know how to contact you and each other. There are plenty of communication tools to support this including:

  • Intranet software
  • Video and audio conferencing platforms
  • Email
  • Social media platforms
  • Screen-sharing tools
  • Cloud office apps.

In practice, you are likely to have several of these channels on the go for different types of communication. The main thing is that staff know what to use and when.

In times of crisis, it’s critical to keep staff informed. Working from home can be isolating at the best of times. And with social interaction outside the home severely limited, now more than ever, your staff need to be kept updated. Let them know what’s happening with your business, the wider industry and the latest national developments impacting on the company.

In one-to-one or team meetings, check-in with staff daily. Here at MyHub, we start the working day off with a stand-up call. We use these to keep each other updated on progress with projects. And we also use them to check on each other’s well being, keep informed on the pandemic and what’s happening nationally and internationally.

According to one study discussed in the Harvard Business Review, the best managers were those that checked in regularly and frequently according to 46 percent of telecommuters. So, make sure you have the systems in place to keep in touch. Furthermore, staff need to know how and when they can contact you for support or guidance.

Different time zones for staff that are geographically dispersed can make this a challenge. Try to find some overlap in the working day where all team members can get together in a virtual huddle.

5. Ensure Staff Can Collaborate

The ability to collaborate is just as important to successful home working as good communication. Being able to share knowledge and work jointly on documents and projects should continue regardless of employees’ physical locations.

Cloud apps such as Office 365 and G Suite have made it much easier for collaboration to continue remotely. Staff just need to be able to access these tools and understand how to get the best out of them.

It’s a good idea to have identified experts that employees can go to when they have a problem with any of these tools. What might work perfectly well in the office, isn’t always the case when staff unfamiliar with the apps start using them remotely. Have readily available expert knowledge and sources of support identified for resolving hardware issues. For employees that are used to IT magically resolving technical problems, this could be a lifeline during a lockdown.

6. Allow Employees To Connect

And while you’re at it, make sure you have mechanisms in place for casual conversation between staff. Working from home can be a lonely business. For most this is the biggest adjustment required for telecommuting. And this will be magnified in a crisis during self-isolation or when in lockdown with just your family.

Providing outlets for colleagues to connect and socialize will be important stress relievers and morale boosters.  From sharing vacation plans for when the lockdown is over, swapping Spotify playlists or just sounding off about the stresses of self-isolation, informal connection makes a difference.

Your team members will already have a good team spirit going. After all, they have worked together in the office for years. In that sense, you have a distinct advantage over other distributed teams, who may never have met in person. Make the most of that advantage, keep team spirit alive and support employees’ mental health during the crisis.

Remote Working Builds Business Resilience 

The current coronavirus crisis has brought into sharp focus the need for businesses to develop resilience and operational continuity. The truth is that a remote working policy developed from this experience will stand you in good stead for any future crisis. Extreme weather events, terrorist attacks or natural disasters are becoming all too common. Any one of those could easily impact your future operations often at a moment’s notice.

What’s more, in terms of work-life balance, reducing the impact on the environment and creating happier and healthier workforces, telecommuting has much to offer. The numbers of remote workers are increasing all the time.  The latest data tells us that regular telecommuting has grown by 173 percent since 2005, that’s 11 times faster than the rest of the workforce.

The move to working from home is, therefore, likely to last longer than the current pandemic. In fact, CNBC is predicting that as COVID-19 is forcing millions of workers to telecommute, the US economy may have reached a ‘tipping point’ in favor of home working.

Note to Editor: To support businesses in surviving these difficult times, MyHub has introduced a fast-track emergency intranet launch service. Work-from-home employees will be able to access essential business information and stay updated, informed and connected within 5 working days.

MyHub Intranet Solutions is a world-leading, cloud-based software provider. Established in 2002, its software is used by organizations all around the world, of all sizes and across all sectors. @MyHubIntranet

Remote working stock photo by fizkes/Shutterstock