COVID-19 pandemic and the challenge of working from home (WFH) II

As the Covid-19 spreads, more persons are reported to be infected while hospitals are being over stretched beyond limits.  Personal Protective Equipment such a face masks and sanitizer are becoming scarce.  The Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and other government agencies have sent out guidelines on movement of persons during this period.  The consequences of these guidelines have resulted in organisations asking staff to work from home (WFH) or remotely.

In an attempt to address the challenges, managers need to understand factors that can make remote work demanding.  This is because high-performing employees may experience decline in job performance and engagement when they begin to work remotely especially in the absence of preparation and training.  Thus there are numerous challenges inherent in working from a distance or out of the office environment.

Absence of face-to-face supervision:  Both managers and their employees often express concerns about the lack of face-to-face interaction.  Supervisors worry that employees will not work as hard or as efficiently as they should even though this may not be in all cases.  Many employees, on the other hand, struggle with reduced access to managerial support and communication.  In some cases, employees feel that remote managers are out of touch with their needs, and thereby are neither supportive nor helpful in getting their work done.

Lack of Access to Information and Documents: New remote workers are often surprised by the added time and effort needed to locate information from co-workers.  Even getting answers to what seem like simple questions can become an obstacle to a remote (RW) worker.  Moreover, ability to access hard copies of documents is inhibited.

This phenomenon extends beyond task-related work to interpersonal challenges that can emerge among remote co-workers.  In some instances lack of “mutual knowledge” among translates to a lower willingness to give co-workers the benefit of the doubt in difficult situations.  For example, if you know that your officemate is having a rough day, you will view a brusque email from them as a natural product of their stress.  However, if you receive this email from a remote coworker, with no understanding of their current circumstances, you are more likely to take offense, or at a minimum to think poorly of your co-worker’s professionalism.

Social isolation and or seclusion:  Loneliness is one of the most common complaints about RW, with employees missing the informal social interaction of an office setting.  Unfortunately one of the solutions to the pandemic is social distance.  It is thought that extroverts may suffer from isolation more in the short run, particularly if they do not have opportunities to connect with others in their RW environment.  However, over a longer period of time, isolation can cause any employee to feel less “belonging” to their organization, and can even result in increased intention to leave the company.

Disturbances and or Distractions:  When and where video imaging are used to inter face with the an office you often see photos representing RW which portray a parent holding a child and typing on a laptop, often sitting on a sofa or living-room floor.  In fact this is a terrible representation of effective virtual environment.  Typically, companies and or organisations should encourage employers to ensure that their RW have both dedicated workspace and adequate childcare before allowing them to work remotely.  However, in the case of a sudden transition to virtual work as it is currently with us, there is a much greater chance that employees will be contending with sub-optimal workspaces and unexpected parenting responsibilities particularly when and where schools and nursery/daycare closures.  Even in normal circumstances family and home demands can affect negatively on RW; managers should expect these distractions to be greater during this unplanned WRH transition.  In our case as a nation, most organisations are witnessing this for the first time albeit abruptly.

How Managers Can Support Remote Employees

Clearly RW can be fraught with challenges, but there are also relatively quick and inexpensive things that managers can do to ease the situation.  steps that one can take to manage and or reduce the effects are numerous.  Some of these steps and or actions include:

Develop structured daily check-ins: Quite a number of successful remote managers establish a daily call with their remote employees.  This could take the form of a series of one-on-one calls, if your employees work more independently from each other, or a team call if their work is highly collaborative.  The important feature is that the calls are frequent and predictable and that they are a forum in which employees know that they can consult with their superior and that their concerns and questions will be heard and attended to promptly.

Organise/Arrange different communication technology options: A singly line of communication may be insufficient and in adequate e.g email.  Staff working offsite benefit from having a “richer” technology, such as video conferencing, that gives participants many of the visual cues that they would have if they were face-to-face.  Video conferencing has many advantages, especially for smaller groups.  Visual cues allow for increased “mutual knowledge” about coworkers and also help reduce the sense of isolation or seclusion among teams.  Video is also particularly useful for complex or sensitive conversations as it feels more personal than written or audio-only communication.  This is however possible in an environment where there is strong data/network.

There are other circumstances when quick collaboration is more important than visual detail.  For these situations, an organisation should provide mobile-enabled individual messaging functionality (such as Go-Meeting, Slack, Zoom, Microsoft Teams etc.) which can be used for simpler, less formal conversations, as well as time-sensitive communication.  Whatsapp, IM and or Yahoo Messenger may also be used as these apps also allow for conference calls.

If a company doesn’t have technology tools already in place, there are inexpensive ways to obtain simple versions of these tools for a team, as a short-term fix and at short time.  The organisation IT department can ensure that there is an appropriate level of date security before using any of these tools so as to reduce the risks associated with hackers and intruders.

God willing by next week we would complete the third and possibly final part of this very important discussion hoping that value has been added in knowledge.

“The more you feed your mind with positive thoughts, the more you can attract great things into your life.  Let the good vibes flow freely” ‘Unknown’

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