Enforced home working: supporting the human

Microsoft office
(Image: Microsoft)

When whole organisations need to work from home, tech is only part of the equation

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10 March 2020 | 0

Everybody is talking about the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Despite the level of uncertainty that prevails, the one thing that is certain is that we will be living with the impact of the virus for quite some time.

Social interaction must be limited, mass gatherings should be avoided and self-isolation if any symptoms emerge are all pretty much accepted now as minimum actions, ss well as washing your hands, of course, often to the tune of Happy Birthday, though that is wearing thin for many.

 

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People like social interaction, whether it is over the water cooler, around the kettle or across the lunch table. In virus lockdown, that may be missing, with all the usual effects. Added to this the isolation of not being able to have those many, minor interactions for points of clarification, consultation or advice and this can soon build into isolation and despondency.

In fact, some publicly minded individuals have published research to reveal a raft of other popular tunes with 20 second a chorus, to alleviate Happy Birthday fatigue. Among the leading contenders are Lizzo’s Good as Hell, Beyonce’s Love on Top, or The Proclaimer’s 500 Miles. However, as a child of the eighties, my personal favourites will be Toto’s Africa.

But there are other issues that deserve attention. Working from home has been encouraged by many and tested by others, to ensure that should a public order be made to stay at home, that people can maintain their livelihoods and the economic impact can be at least mitigated.

Thanks to Sophos, we have an advisory on how to securely work from home, but there are some additional things worth considering too.

From a smaller business perspective in particular, there are some challenges to be faced.

Firstly, should a national public order be made, there may well be members of your staff having to work from home who have never done so before. Aside from questions of presenteeism or productivity, the likes of accounts or reception or customer support, may simply never have had a business case to work from home before.

The technical measures necessary to facilitate such working may actually be the easy part. Ensuring that workers can be safe, well and productive in this new environment can be more difficult.

Firstly, some instruction may be necessary. A small set of helpful tips would be in order, just as pointers for those who have not had to work alone before. Simple things such as try to stick to your normal routine. Be disciplined about taking breaks, both to start and end them, as you normally would.

There is also the issue of distractions, but time management too. Try to start and finish at the same time as normal. Too often, people might be tempted to start earlier, such as when they might have embarked on their normal commute, or to work late, such as finishing when they would normally get home. While this may initially seem like more productivity through extra hours worked, over a long period, and particularly when working alone, this can actually lessen productivity and build resentment.

Another issue is that when people work alone, and are not necessarily used to it, they can sometimes let their guard down.

The casual inquiry of “does that look a bit odd to you?” over a desk or partition is no longer available, as a worker contemplates a phishing email, CEO demand or bogus invoice. Again, some instruction as to maintaining good practice to spot such issues are in order. In fact, this should be a distinct priority as scammers and black hats will use the mass change to exploit such weakness.

Another issue that may be revealed is that road warriors, now untethered from the office, may find difficulties with completing all of their tasks.

Workers used to being out and about still often schedule some hours in a week or a month where they are at their desk to complete certain tasks. These could be in relation to record keeping, time accounting or other administrative activities. If they are no longer able to do these in the office, they made need to consider whether and how they might do this remotely.

Another issue is morale. People like social interaction, whether it is over the water cooler, around the kettle or across the lunch table. In virus lockdown, that may be missing, with all the usual effects. Added to this the isolation of not being able to have those many, minor interactions for points of clarification, consultation or advice and this can soon build into isolation and despondency.

Email circulars or shared resource updates can help in these situations. Conference calls or virtual meetings and video calls can help too in ensuring that people still feel they are part of a team making extraordinary efforts to carry on. Regular updates of information help to reassure people that their efforts are making a difference and contributing not just to the organisation’s but to the greater good.

There is no doubt that our national character of resilience, community and doggedness emerge in times of crisis, but when the sense of community is tested by the nature of the crisis, we must make extra efforts to support people.

While everyone needs to do what they can to ensure that jobs, companies and services can continue, we need to remember that it is people who will accomplish this under difficult circumstances. While the technology can undoubtedly cope, some small measures will also contribute to helping people be calm, be sane and carry on.

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