With the rolling impact of the coronavirus, more businesses are considering working from home as an option for at least some of their employees.
Many employers may hesitate and the issue is not simple. However, with the likelihood of more closures, businesses should plan now to overcome hurdles to at least keep their business doing business.
One Size Doesn’t Fit All
For some, this will be impossible. Restaurants and other services only function with employees at “the shop.” Some, however, are finding creative solutions by creating and promoting curbside pickup and delivery. Other industries may find options by similarly creative solutions.
But for many who commute to an office where they use a computer and/or other equipment, working at home is an option. They stay home but obviously need that equipment or the equivalent in order to make a home office.
Around this simple outline are many questions that must be answered. For small business owners, one obvious question is, how do you ensure your employees will actually work rather than watch Netflix and snack? Others may wonder how an effective team can function if they are scattered across the city. Social distancing for work doesn’t work if no one works effectively.
Look for Answers
There is an immense amount of information on the web addressing these and related questions. We’ve provided a few links below, but a good idea is to simply write specific questions relating to your business and use the internet to see how others have dealt with these questions. But quick answers usually contain these points:
• Establish specific work goals with deadlines. If “Bob” or “Barbara” has to produce 5,000 words of copy, or 5,000 lines of code, or whatever, by day’s end, or week’s end, as is appropriate, it doesn’t matter if they spend 30 minutes watching I Love Lucy reruns in the middle of the afternoon. If you’ve set a realistic goal and deadline, you’ll get your money’s worth. If project/deadline are part of a longer project, you might consider daily reports to ensure they don’t procrastinate and produce a mess on deadline day. More sophisticated methods of employee tracking are available, but they can involve software with a cost in time and money, and perhaps some lost trust in the employee.
• Make sure the employee has what he or she needs at home. Just any computer may not work for, say, a graphic artist or someone else who needs a more powerful workstation with specific software. Determine if the employee’s home internet is adequate for the job and, if not, formalize work-arounds as much as possible, or consider paying for an upgrade to their system, at least temporarily.
• Working from home is not like working in the office. Employees WILL be distracted occasionally by children, pets or whatever goes on at home. That’s an unavoidable reality that all of you should expect. However, the employee should also understand that work (the goals and deadlines) must be met and be prepared to work before 8 a.m., after 5 p.m. and perhaps on weekends, in order to make this work. Employees should understand that they are accountable for results. Many home office veterans believe this freedom actually allows them to be MORE PRODUCTIVE because they can, to some degree, set their hours for their most effective time spans, even if it’s before 7 a.m. or after midnight.
• A small number of employees may be ill suited to working at home. They may need the more rigid structure of an office to work effectively. Occasional phone calls or even video conferencing may help if they must go home. Another tactic might be giving them smaller “chunks” of assignments and more frequent reporting requirements.
• Many employees may miss the camaraderie and creative atmosphere of the office. Don’t underestimate this. Even just the ability to “step around the corner and ask a question” is absent when workers are scattered across town. You may help by sharing a daily update, sharing news that workers need and usually get just by being in the office.
• Many models that you might learn from are not new virtual organizations have existed since the dawn of the internet and the solutions they’ve proven include much of the above. A little research into their history is a good idea.
Here are a few links that might help: