During the pandemic, companies worldwide learned valuable lessons about working from home. Individual experiences were varied but the discoveries were surprising for many.
Much of this new knowledge we’ve collectively made through working from home has been useful and can be transferred into the business going forward. Here’s some of the top lessons learned that can be incorporated in future.
Flexibility is Good for Work/Life Balance
A good work/life balance is vital to the health, wellbeing and productivity of your staff. By giving them flexibility and balance, your staff can fit their daily work and personal lives together in ways that suit them best.
Having to juggle the demands of home schooling or having small children alongside us in the home office revealed just how demanding our work and home lives could be. Employers had to be understanding and flexible in the initial throes of the pandemic.
This flexibility allowed companies to alleviate the difficult conditions, but also showed how eliminating the commute and being more accommodating about work start and end times was also good for staff morale and productivity.
Having flexible schedules allows the early birds to get up and get things done, so they can perhaps finish up early – while the later starters can continue enjoy a more leisurely start but carry on working a little later.
Initially, some leaders were worried that their employees would encounter more distractions working from home, which might make them less effective. But productivity doesn’t seem to have been impacted – in fact, many companies report that they have seen greater, more effective output since the pandemic.
In contrast, you may find that for some of your workers you have needed to set clearer boundaries so that work doesn’t just carry on and intrude into what should be their personal leisure time.
And this works both ways, too. As a leader or senior manager, you need to adhere to cut-off times so that your staff do not feel pressurised into always being available.
There’s a Need for Clearer Communication
Having a distributed workforce that doesn’t have the benefit of daily, face-to-face interactions has meant that internal communications have suffered.
Working from home makes it impossible to just gather everyone in the office if you have an important announcement to make.
Communication has always been key, but now with less time spent in the office, more rigorous processes and technological solutions are required so that the messages are fully received, understood and acted upon. Some companies have made more use of their intranet or have instituted apps like Slack so that they can stay connected and work better as teams.
What’s clear though is that companies need to have a central repository of some sort that allows information to be readily accessible by all. If staff are working from home, then you need to know who is off sick or taking annual leave, so that you don’t call them unnecessarily. Everyone needs to be clear about who is responsible for what, how they can contact them, and what is the status of ongoing company or departmental projects.
Staff Need the Right Environment and Adequate Equipment
Workers quickly learned that working from their cramped kitchen table or sat on the sofa with a laptop is not sustainable long term.
It worked well in the initial stages of the pandemic, during the “two weeks to flatten the curve.” And employees rose admirably to meet the sense of crisis and adapted as well as they could. But it was not viable for many in the longer term.
Businesses can help by providing adequate technology and funding necessary equipment like office chairs, tables, laptop stands and monitors.
The inescapable fact though is that many simply don’t have the space or the right environment to comfortably work from home. For these staff, it’s important that you allow them to return to the office for as much time as they want.
Hybrid Working Suits Most Companies
Plenty of organisations are still maintaining a work from home policy and this has suited their staff who have been able to adapt to it. But there are just as many employees who miss the office. Being able to turn to a colleague and clarify your thought processes or to get some immediate feedback on your work is a necessary part of business life for many.
Even the more spontaneous aspects can be the lifeblood of many companies – like having a quick chat with someone you bump into in the kitchen or ‘talking while walking’ through the office. So, for some, not having these opportunities has been hard.
Some companies have addressed this by introducing virtual coffee hours and Zoom lunch meetings, where staff can drop in and chat casually as they would ordinarily do at work.
But for most companies, it seems that a hybrid approach to working brings the best of everything. Those who don’t have the right environment or who positively thrive with face-to-face interaction can spend more time in the office. And those who like the flexibility and the lack of a commute can spend most of the time working from home.
Cloud Technology Makes Business Life Easier
However much your staff work from home, cloud technology has been a real boon in driving collaboration and efficiency. Staff don’t need to have their own versions of software but can instead access their applications via any device with an internet connection.
File sharing and project management tools aid collaboration, allowing several users to work on one up to date version of a document, for example, rather than emailing a copy around for users to make changes.
Cloud business systems like ERP also operate on a single database, which is updated in real time and gives users secure, remote access to a unified set of business data.
NetSuite cloud ERP can help your staff to work more productively from home. Staff from across your company – in finance and accounts, sales, purchasing, operations and marketing – can all effectively work from home, accessing the NetSuite system online and still being able to do everything that they would in the office.