Like a lot of you, I’m mostly working from home and my team is working from their homes. Fortunately, I have an in-house IT team (my three teen and twenty-something daughters), my feline “assistants” who, when they’re not sitting on my keyboard or eating my plants, are great company, and convenient access to cold brew and home-baked treats. I’m grateful that we can work from home (WFH) and even more grateful that we have work to do. Many can’t or don’t.
But remote work is not easy. Employees are pulled in opposite directions—working, caring for family, homeschooling kids, cooking, shopping, and cleaning (don’t forget the doorknobs and light switches) all from home, with help or not. The refrain I’ve heard is that we’re not so much working from home, but are at our homes, during a crisis, trying to work.
That’s true. And, as the business owner and boss of a WFH team, I’ve learned that supervising a remote team, making sure everyone is busy, productive, and well without the spontaneous check-ins and the in-person group culture and dynamic is also hard. I’m sure you’ve found things that work for you. If so, do tell. I’d love the help. Here are mine:
· Be flexible. WFH right now, with competing family time demands, is inherently inefficient. If you’re a night owl and like to catch up on work from 9 p.m. to midnight, don’t demand that your staff do the same. Starting work early before the kids are up may work better for certain team members. As long as some of your work hours overlap and the work is getting done well, make it work.
· Make expectations clear. Employees need to know the WFH expectations— for example, who’s eligible for WFH, total work hours, overtime policy, lunch and breaks times, and return to work protocol (if known).
· Communicate and collaborate. Team communication and collaboration is easier in person. When someone is stuck, she walks down the hall and asks for help. When someone is down, you know. But WFH communication and collaboration requires planning. My team meets virtually daily in the morning and afternoon for 15 minutes each. Our Monday meetings run longer. We often talk at other times too, one-on-one. Microsoft Office, including Teams and One Drive, is my team’s preferred tech solution, but there many.
· Address questions and problems promptly. If a question or issue arises in between check-in meetings, answer or discuss them ASAP. No need for you or your team member to wonder and worry, especially now. We’ve all got enough stress.
· Trust but verify. Make sure employees know that your company’s policies and procedures apply to WFH. Let your team do their thing and trust that tasks will be done, and deadlines met. And then spot check to be sure. Use a shared to do list. There’s one built into Outlook. Trello is a great option, too, and the free plan might be plenty for small businesses. There is software that monitors employees. (A reporter for The New York Times tested out Hubstaff and wrote about it.) Such software is wrong for my business, but I understand how it could work for yours. Word to the wise, monitor everyone or no one, get informed consent from employees, and monitor employer-owned devices only.
· Provide tools for success. If your assistant is accustomed to using two monitors, forcing her to make do with one will certainly decrease productivity. If she doesn’t have an extra monitor or printer available at home, let her borrow equipment from the office. While a separate scanner might be nice for some, using one of the many mobile phone scanner apps might suffice in the short term.
· Secure Company Information. Keep your company’s information secure. Use a password manager so everyone has just one hard password to remember. Use a virtual private network (VPN) particularly if any team member uses public Wi-Fi to access your company’s documents. Find secure cloud-based solutions (e.g., Microsoft One Drive, Dropbox, ShareFile) for document collaboration and sharing. If your employees are using their own computers to WFH, tread carefully and develop a written policy.
· Training is key. The weak link in security is often the user. Educate your team about what makes a password secure (yes, again) and how to manage sensitive documents. Don’t leave documents or a company thumb drive unattended on your kitchen table. From recent personal experience, use coffee cups and water bottles with covers because, as I learned the hard way last week, spilling coffee on your laptop could cost you. Another tip: Best Buy is doing one-hour curbside pickup.
Plans are in the works for businesses to reopen (e.g., Wisconsin General Guidance for All Businesses Best Practices to Reopen and Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19 for the Professional Services Industry). But social distancing, and therefore WFH, will be around for a while yet. Managing expectations, yours and your team’s and showing a little kindness will go a long way now and once COVID-19 is in the rearview.
Stephanie L. Melnick
Attorney, Melnick & Melnick, S.C.
Stephanie has been practicing law in the Milwaukee area for over 20 years and currently owns Melnick & Melnick, S.C. – a law firm that caters to small and medium-sized businesses. Stephanie also started She Stands Tall to help female entrepreneurs and business owners network, learn, and grow.