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How’s WFH working out for you?

Skipping to your laptop each morning like a frisky spring lamb?

Or starting it up sheepishly cos you know your inbox will be peppered with virtual cow pats?

Granted, pretty much any type of work in these dystopian times is better than none.

But is there a danger that employers who are either not switched on or perhaps a little unscrupulous are using Covid-19 as license to let rip with woeful working practices?

Firms that have the luxury of working completely remotely without compromising on customer service are fortunate.

However, once remote working is standard across entire sectors, what separates enterprises that thrive from those that dive won’t be the necessary tech  ̶  that’s the easy bit.

Nope  ̶  long-term success will depend on having working cultures that support remote employees to be healthy, happy and productive.

The much-mooted digital transformation we’ve been talking about for decades has happened in less than a year, yet some management practices remain stubbornly rooted in the 19th Century.

So here are seven ways to stop WFH feeling like house arrest  ̶  hopefully they let you make the most of remote working!

1.  Stop the daily Zoom doom

Video calls can be useful. But insisting on a call first thing every day, when there’s no genuine operational need for it, is draining for everyone.

The funny filters aren’t funny anymore. The banter is dire. It’s mind-warping looking at your own face and it annoys people if you blank your screen. But apart from all that, it’s essentially the same call, repeated, for eternity. Time wasted when people could be, you know, working?

Zoom fatigue is a real thing and having to itemise what you’re doing each day for the sake of it and then listen to others do the same is like eating a big greasy depression burger for breakfast that bungs you up for the rest of the day. It’s no replacement for straightforward communication between teammates who actually need to talk about work they’re collaborating on. Pick up the phone instead. Send a clear email. Use your chat system to keep in touch. But stop the daily Zoom doom. Stop. Stop. Stop.

2.  Banish micromanagement

Unless you’ve got some kind of deep-seated paranoia, when a candidate goes through your recruitment process and you hire them, you automatically trust them to do the job.

And as they prove their worth down the line by performing well and delivering on your expectations, you don’t remove that trust. You don’t stop trusting them unless they do something that proves your confidence in them is misplaced.

So why would you suddenly mistrust that same worker now that they’re working from home?

If you’re constantly checking in on workers, implementing systems that verge on surveillance, making time recording mandatory, emailing them out of hours and other types of BS, it says more about you than them. This causes real stress and makes good workers feel totally undervalued. Stop.

3.  Make work as flexible as possible

Your business is still operating and you’re saving money on overheads because you’re running huge swathes of it from people’s homes. It isn’t a privilege that you’re granting them  ̶  it has been foisted on them by awful circumstances that mean that their domestic lives are busier and more stressful than ever.

So, within reason, please be as flexible as possible when it comes to non-urgent meetings and hours of work. Provided customer service isn’t compromised and deadlines are met, allow staff to work when it’s most convenient for them. They’ll be happier and this means they’ll produce better results.

Maybe you can agree that staff can be contactable during regular hours but can work when it suits? Some businesses can be more flexible with working hours than others, true  ̶  but if yours is supple, make the most of this strength and agility.

4.  Manage with emotional intelligence

If there ever was a time to ask yourself honestly whether you prefer power and control over effectiveness and efficiency, it is right now.

Becoming a servant leader and using emotional intelligence to manage your own emotions and those of your team are qualities that define the best leaders in any circumstances, but they’re particularly powerful when leading remote teams.

This might involve things like checking in more regularly on how your team members are coping in and outwith work, setting up support networks for staff coping with certain challenges like childcare, and using tech like Zoom more often for virtual celebrations and team bonding, rather than doom calls.

And last but not least, if you’ve got managers with no formal training in leading people, it’s high time they got it. Being a skilled technician in any sector doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve got a Scooby Doo about being an effective leader.

We all need jobs and money and economies to survive, sure. But Covid-19 has been a painful but powerful reminder that it all stops without people. People will remember how leaders behaved during this time. Make sure you’re leading with empathy and integrity.

5.  Get a proper WFH setup from your employer

Are you WFH while balancing your laptop on your knees and squeezing your bahookie into a tiny child’s chair?

Or trying to take a call on your settee while your toddler throws paint, food and other detritus at your face?

We don’t all have the luxury of discrete home offices, but we’re still entitled to working conditions that don’t eventually make us ill and employers have the same health and safety responsibilities for remote workers as for those who are in an office.

That means that you should really have a workstation setup that mitigates against the risks of using display screen equipment long-term  ̶  although no one can physically assess your situation right now, getting you set up properly is something your firm needs to work out how to do if they haven’t already. So remind them.

6.  Escape for breaks

First off, take your breaks. You’re probably more productive at home than in the office and if you’ve got a good, solid work ethic, you might even subconsciously be overworking to compensate for the fact that your boss can’t physically see you. This leads to burnout, which is bad for you and the business.

Don’t just take your breaks though  ̶  (restrictions permitting) get outside for them if you can. Getting fresh air and a change of scenery can really combat claustrophobia and improve your mood, meaning you’ll be firing on all cylinders when you open the laptop again. Or at least you’ll feel less like throwing it out the window.

7.  Set boundaries and say no

If you’ve got the space, doing as much work as you can in a different room means that your work, relationship and domestic duties are less likely to end up like clothes tossed on a table at a jumble sale.

And it might also help your household harmony because having more time for focused work could mean you complete tasks faster and are available to pitch in with household duties once you’re finished.

But chances are you’ll have to set boundaries with your employer too. Being grateful to have your job doesn’t mean you need to put up with unrealistic demands, micromanaging and all the other symptoms of an organisation which has slipped as quickly into cultural entropy as it has switched to home working. So politely but firmly, learn to say no to anything that feels disrespectful or unreasonable.

So there you have ‘em : 7 magnificent ways to stop WFH feeling like house arrest.

Done right, remote work could mean millions of us have much happier working lives.

But that will only happen if businesses remember that their greatest resources are human.

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