As humans, we enjoy being around other humans. It’s one of the reasons office buildings for corporations exist, although the biggest reason is that it’s more efficient to have everyone working on a project in one place. When COVID-19 hit in early 2020, the global economy shifted to majoritively working from home. Even once restrictions are lifted, many companies offer remote work positions for a variety of reasons. If someone is new to this practice, adjusting to remote work can take time. There are some best practices for employers and employees to follow to ensure a successful adjustment.
Remote work requires specific people with specific qualities to be done for any length of time. Many people are adjusting to remote work amid the pandemic, and most are learning that it’s not really for them. Maybe they have time management down, maybe they are disciplined and are capable of functioning in this environment, but they don’t like it due to the lack of social interaction. Or maybe they simply enjoy leaving their home every day and having separation between work life and home life. Regardless, it’s certainly not for everyone.
Adjusting to remote work, whether it’s due to the pandemic or you’re hiring/starting your first remote position, takes anywhere from a few weeks to a month or so. The old adage that it takes 21-40 days to develop (or break) a habit applies in this scenario. It takes time to figure out what is comfortable, what works and what doesn’t work. Employees have to figure out where they are working, what room in their house or if they are renting office space in a separate building. Wherever they can be highly focused and eliminate distractions.
Employees have to figure out how to manage their own time and make sure they’re doing it efficiently. They need to make sure they are eating during the day because there’s no one next to you who’s going to get up for lunch and remind you that you need to eat too. They have to balance other commitments around childcare, errands, appointments and other obligations. It will potentially take 3-4 weeks for someone to really figure out what schedule is sustainable and works for them, one that keeps them highly focused and highly motivated.
If you’re bringing in someone who’s new to remote work, it’s imperative to be supportive. Provide advice where you can, but be positive in providing feedback. Even if that feedback is negative, find a way to make it not so painful to discuss. For example, saying something like, “Hey, it seems like that schedule is working well for you, but I find it hard to get in touch with you. Can we schedule a meeting at this time of day to touch base?” This ensures that the schedule will work for both parties, but also allows you to check on your employee. Are they adjusting well? Are they focused, motivated and efficient? Most importantly, verify that they are not overworked, that they’re eating and taking bathroom breaks.
When you have that meeting, another thing to make sure is that your employee isn’t working more than 8-9 hours a day. After 3-4 weeks, if someone can’t match a 7-9 hour work day, then it’s highly unlikely they will be successful in productivity without intervention.
Now, during COVID-19, it’s highly likely that your employees are not working 7-9 hour work days and may not get to that point. It’s not for lack of effort, it’s because this isn’t true remote work, it’s trying to work from home during a crisis with everyone in the same home. In this case, people have spouses and roommates and children and potentially have to help care for elderly or infirm parents who’s in-home care has been suspended. This is a crisis, people are anxious, depressed. There are new, arduous tasks they are dealing with that weren’t there before COVID-19. All of these things will affect a person’s ability to work effectively and be productive. So be patient and supportive to help maximize efficient use of your workers time and be willing to accept you may only get 5 good hours out of a worker a day.
Still, after the four-week mark, progress should be showing. Even if an employee was only hitting 5 working hours per day after four weeks, it’s still an improvement and it shows things are moving in the right direction. The worker has found a groove and formed a habit that’s workable. During a crisis, whether it’s this pandemic, an extreme weather emergency, a personal emergency whether for an employee or one of their relatives, there are a number of factors that affect productivity at times. But when we don’t know what to do or can focus to decide what to do is when we rely on habit. So as long as those habits get formed, crisis will be whethered, even if no habits have to form at the onset of one.
Think about it, though, even if someone is coming into the office and sitting in their chair for 8 hours every day, when they have outside factors affecting their ability to focus, they aren’t as productive as normal either. The expectations for remote employees should match that of on-site employees, and it’s unrealistic to think otherwise. So while you may notice that a remote worker is only available 5-6 hours a day ask yourself if they get more or less done than peer who is in the office 7-8 hours a day.
The best way to ensure a newly-hired remote employee is successful in this endeavor, is to take onboarding slowly, provide support and allow time for adjustment. After 30 days, schedule a meeting to discuss the schedule, what’s working and what isn’t, and determine if this person is truly going to be effective at working remotely.