Sleeping stations, coffee vouchers or happy hours – companies around the world are beginning to recognize the importance of offering workplace perks to improve their talent acquisition and retention. In fact, job seekers in 2019 ranked employee benefits as the 2nd most important factor when filtering which companies to apply for, trailing only to remuneration. 

Of the perks, the most popular by a significant margin is the ability to work remotely. Citing flexible schedules and time with family as the key components, applicants use websites such as Glassdoor to analyze which companies will offer them the flexible schedules that they desire. 

So, one thing is for sure – COVID-19 has advanced the inevitable: remote work is not a band-aid solution, it’s here to stay. 

Typically, you would’ve waited for larger companies to experiment with working from home to learn from their mistakes, allowing you to slowly enlarge your comfort zone rather than step out of it. 

But now you don’t have that choice, you have to get this right…immediately! 

In 2019, buffer.com published their annual report on the State of Remote Work, combining the opinions of almost 2,500 remote employees to learn about their routines, benefits and pain points. 

Albeit usually the optimists, working from home during the coronavirus is unlikely to yield the typical, regular benefits. Conversely, the pain points will remain vigilant, perhaps even exacerbated. 

Almost everyone flirts with the idea of working from home occasionally, staying in their pyjamas and doing the bare minimum with Netflix in the background. But obviously, this is neither sustainable nor effective – the struggles of working from home will appear through the cracks within a couple of days. As such, it is important to channel your efforts NOW into avoiding the strains, to keep your team productive during this uncertain time. 

Take a look at the results of the Buffer survey for most difficult of working remotely:

The #1 Problem – Unplugging After Work

For in-house workers, it is simple – when you’re at work, work; when you’re at home, rest.

The key struggle for remote workers is the ability to mentally switch off, given the lack of separation between home and the workplace. Every waking moment is an opportunity to be working, even if it is not expected. Employees infectiously fall into the tempting trap of working at 50% for 12 hours instead of 80% for 8 hours, or even 40% for 14 hours. This may seem like a similar output, but the absence of intensity in a business is the death of productivity.

Very few operators remain efficient without a strong routine, even if they get more done for the first week. This slippery slope can extend to a reduction in physical exercise, continuous snacking instead of meal-eating and most dramatically, an increase in stress levels as they lose

Flexibility through Structure

Avoiding this is simple, but you’ll need to do something counterintuitive – make rules to create flexibility. I know what you’re thinking, that’s an oxymoron. But with company-wide guidelines on login times, expected response rates and even mandated lunch breaks, you afford your employees the gift of routine. By establishing concrete structure in your business, you emulate the work-home split for your company that will act as an anchor during these times of ambiguity. 

Create a conversation around your employee’s daily schedule and encourage them to maintain a ‘regular’ life as much as possible. Here are some of the simple, practical ways we encourage the MultiplyMii team to maintain a balanced lifestyle while working from home:

  • Beware of everyone’s working hours and respect them religiously.
  • Morning video huddle – start the day together with momentum. 
  • Shared calendars with non-work related events updated too. This includes walking the dog, morning jogs, cooking dinner and social meet-ups (COVID-19 permitting).
  • Logout message – inform the team when you’re logging out for the day. 
  • Respect the weekend!

Beware the Overzealous Employee

Furthermore, protect your team from the over-motivated employee that works outside their prescribed hours. While initially, you may LOVE the determination, the subtle pressure that they accidentally create for their peers is detrimental to your business. First, employees will begin to respond to Slack messages during their ‘off’ hours…then it will be emails, finally calls. Before you know it, your company has abandoned a healthy workplace routine, employees aren’t managing to unplug and stress levels surge through the roof. Productivity will indeed spike, but very quickly the trend will reverse. 

You heard it here first – don’t be short-sighted!

Your role as a manager is to catch any falling stones that can trigger the avalanche. It may seem counterintuitive to call-out your most driven, loyal team-member, however, your role as a leader is to be holistic and see the bigger picture. A balanced lifestyle is always important, but even more so in the midst of COVID-19!

Practice What You Preach

This is two-fold: 

  1. Be an example for your team. Despite the surrounding chaos, champion the value of maintaining your existing work-life balance. If you start working 16-hour workdays, your employees may well follow suit. Conversely, if you pave the way to correctly operate remotely, your team will naturally reflect your best intentions. 
  2. Take care of yourself! Recognise that this period will be unpredictably challenging from a personal perspective and your leadership will be tested. If you’re feeling the weight of the world on your shoulders, you’re probably not wrong. Conscript daily concrete rules to essentially enforce work-life balance upon yourself while working from home. You have a responsibility to your team to remain level-headed, so employ necessary measures to ensure you can remain the vanguard in the fight against the coronavirus pandemonium. 
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