Amid Coronavirus Fears, How to Support New Remote Workers

The news cycle is full of the unknown right now when it comes to coronavirus. How far will the disease spread? When will it be contained? What should we do? For businesses around the world, it will continue to have major impacts on operations and performance.

In Asia, businesses are already weeks into reaction and planning. Mandatory stay orders are being executed in some locales while other countries are encouraging employees to work from home. And many organizations are obliging. This will likely expand in Japan as the country just closed all schools.

As of the end of February in the United States, plans are just beginning to emerge, organizations are already thinking proactively, managing the costs of events and travel plans already in place with the cost of a mass outbreak. 

One measure we’re sure to see in the United States is an increase in the flexibility of work-at-home policies. It seems easy to simply encourage employees to work from home, but for some, it can be a massive behavioral change. 

Here at exaqueo, we have been a fully-remote team since 2011 and some of our team members have been remote for decades. Getting comfortable with working from home and shifting to this kind-of-policy isn’t a quick change. It requires thought and purpose, even if the decision has to be made quickly.

If your organization is starting to consider providing this option, our experienced crew has compiled our top recommendations:

1. Set rules and guidelines up front.

Don’t just assume everyone will know the behaviors around working from home. What are the expectations for meeting attendance, for background noise, for participation? It’s important to set the stage proactively to minimize frustrations as employees get used to new surroundings and ways to interact. - Susan LaMotte

2. Test your technology.

Working from home only works when everyone knows how to use and engage with technology to share presentations, join calls, etc. Now is the time to provide training and look into any new platforms, if needed! - Adrienne Betenbaugh

3. Get comfortable with flexibility.

Working from home typically is not 9-5. In a unique situation like this where kids may also be home due to school closing, getting work time in may require some flexibility. The expectation that everyone will be at their desk strictly at 9 and work a consecutive 8 hours may be unrealistic. Give the team flexibility to manage their unique schedule, with the appropriate guardrails in place to ensure productivity and alignment. - Lexi Gordon

4. Treat people like adults.

Even though you can’t physically see people in their offices or at meetings, it doesn’t mean they aren’t working. Don’t assume that just because your employees are at home that they are on the couch watching daytime television. Give your people the benefit of the doubt, though do check in to say “hello” and ask for a weekly update on projects, progress, and results. - Shannon Smedstad

5. Create new ways for employees to connect as a team and for support.

Working from home can be isolating or lonely at times. Making sure employees feel connected is just as important as having the tools and technology to be connected. In addition to regular meetings, encourage virtual coffee sessions or office hours to promote camaraderie and engagement with peers as well as managers or leaders. Don’t assume that email and phone calls will be enough. Try video conferencing and instant messaging to communicate and get a pulse on how employees are adjusting to working at home.  - Emily Fritz

6. Understand and help your team prioritize the work ahead.

Working in a location that is not your everyday setup can be challenging but can also create opportunity. Sure, you may have to cancel an event you were planning, or put a project on hold, but temporarily working from home can provide individuals with a concentrated, focused window of time, and fewer interruptions, to work on projects that have been sidelined. Some of this work may actually be more conducive to a quiet environment; things like research, design, budgeting, and coding (as well as cleaning out that inbox). - Jackie Wollett

7. From someone who is new to the work-from-home world, as an employee, you need to maintain focus.

For some, that may be a dedicated “office” space. For others, it may require a change of scenery from time to time. As an employer, be sure that all employees know what is expected of them and if this is a temporary situation, ensure that message is communicated to the team. Technology can also be your best friend or worst enemy if your employees are not armed with the proper internet speeds and phone connections. Know your team’s availability and what their schedule will be working from home so that all team members are able to get in touch with each other at mutually convenient times. - Jennifer Wienke

8. Empower employees to create a structure to their day.

Employees need structure at home just like they would have if they were arriving to work in the morning, and leaving in the evening. When working from home, it’s easy to get online first thing in the morning and work into the late hours of the night. Encourage employees to take a break, go for a walk (even if it’s just around the house), and step away from their computers for a real lunch break. These pauses in the day not only improve concentration and productivity, but they’re also good for overall mental health. - Alyssa Bani

Additional Resources:

Work From Home Strategy Resources: team guide, planning form, planning form with notes, and form sample templates (via exaqueo)
Employer Brand and Talent Acquisition Crisis Response Resources
(via exaqueo)
Employer's Coronavirus Resource Guide (via HR Examiner)
Public Coronavirus Communications and Resources (via Lars Schmidt)

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