Work from home, remote worker

Ask Madison: Making Remote Work, Work

April 23, 2020
| ByDan Davenport

How to Support and recognize employees in the remote environment

Even prior to companies implementing work from home programs to combat the spread of COVID-19, remote work was fast becoming a new model.  This work model had grown by 44% in the last 5 years in the US and studies suggested that organizations experienced higher productivity from remote workers (35-40%) and “profitability increased $11,000 per year per part-time telecommuter.” 

Those could be reasons enough for companies to explore a remote work option moving forward. But for remote workers themselves, transitioning from a traditional work environment to a work from home scenario takes careful consideration. It’s not always cut and dry, and it might not be for everyone. However, if employee and employer can create a mutually beneficial relationship, it could be a great new way of life (or work-life).

This is not just a location change – it is a mindset change, a schedule change and a lifestyle change. And all parties – employer, employee and even family – need to be on board for success. Setting the expectations from an employer prospective is paramount, but setting boundaries by the employee is also essential. It boils down to trust and transparency - those characteristics we so frequently reference when it comes to companies that will thrive through a crisis. While the COVID-19 crisis was thrust upon us, not leaving much time for planning, we can always learn from the current situation to improve for the future.  Remote work may be a mandate for right now, but it’s likely to be a model of choice for many companies in the future.

In general, as remote work continues to grow, there is no shortage of advice on benefits and tips for successfully embracing and managing it, especially for employees. Below we explored some ideas that can be applied to both employees and managers, for separating work from home, virtually if not physically, and how employers can help them thrive.

Getting in the right frame of mind for work-from-home options

First, remember remote work is still WORK, and certainly requires an extraordinary amount of discipline and focus. It is this work, however, that has now infiltrated the home-front, so it’s equally important that there is a distinct separation from HOME life. Just as you would shut down your computer at the office and leave for the day, the same must occur at home, often easier said than done.

Second, working from home provides a greater level of autonomy and independence, so it’s important to dispel the misconception that remote workers are leisurely loafing half-the-day away because no one is watching.  As an employee for an organization or a freelancer with clients, you are still obligated to the stakeholder or project owner which means upping your communication game and being available when you are expected to be. The office “pop-in” may be a thing of the past, but technology affords plenty of check-in opportunities to stay connected.

Unique to today’s job environment with most companies implementing work-from-home guidelines if they can, these practices now apply to the boss as well, who may also be experiencing an adjustment period. It’s a great time to create meaningful connections between managers and team members on what each has learned about the remote work day and how each are managing the process, pivoting when they need to, while still supporting each other in the new environment.

Trust and recognize that everyone is working hard to do their job despite where they sit

Employers can focus on trusting employees to create and manage their own schedules that still support organizational needs, but also include personal elements that benefit home life.

Part of the appeal of working from home is some of the free time you may have at different hours of the day that might not necessarily be an option if you were in the office. Scheduling a doctor’s appointment, or dropping the car off for maintenance may be much more doable from the flexibility of the home office. These are great “pros” to the work-from-home model; however, the bottom line is you must still be available for the company you work for when they expect you to be. That doesn’t mean however that days can’t be adjusted according to workload. And with the time saved from avoiding a daily commute to work, for example, you have more possibilities for schedule adjustments.

Today’s remote work environment is not only about adjusting schedules for personal appointments, but also for unforeseen issues. With the COVID-19 crisis, employees unfortunately may have had their lives turned upside down. Dealing with illness, lack of childcare while the kids are out of school, caring for elders and more – are all issues that make “normal” remote work circumstances anything but. And this is where an organization that truly cares about its employees will shine.

At Madison, our programs are designed to strengthen the bond between managers and team members and employees and the company by instituting reward and recognition programs that create places where people love to work, learn, connect and succeed. What team members are facing today transcends any formal program that is in place, but the premise is the same: valuing employees, recognizing their efforts and rewarding them for what they do. That especially includes when they are trying their hardest to still produce for the organization with the weight of what’s going on around them on their shoulders. If that means providing more flexibility in the workday for a period of time while we all figure this out, a culture built on trust will be able to adjust accordingly.

Maximize new-found time for business and pleasure in a remote work environment

As a practical tip, consider using the normal commute time to do something for yourself or your health. If the offices usually opened at 8:30 AM and you would have left at 7:45 for your morning drive, squeeze in a workout or prepare dinner for the evening. You could even mow the lawn (provided there are no noise ordinances for that time). The same may apply for the “ride” home. The idea is to use this time to your advantage to free up “free” time for what you enjoy—and may be mowing the lawn on the “ride home” is a better idea anyway.

Set the time of day when you start work according to when you work best. Rising at 6AM and sitting down to work immediately might not be for everyone, but if you can reprioritize your task list, conduct some research for a report or write a quick blog, those actions may free up some time in the middle of the day for a quick appointment. On the flip side, you might harness your best brain power at the end of the day, so perhaps you shift your workday (again keeping the company schedule top of mind).

Whatever you choose, keep a clear set of hours that are dedicated to work vs. home that allows you to actually get work done. If the average work-day according is 8.8 hours, try to stick to 8.8 hours, no matter how it is broken up. Studies suggest working from home reduces the number of meetings and busy work – creating more minutes, or even hours, to focus uninterrupted on a task to completion in a timeframe that won’t spill over into personal time.

For employers, it is important to respect the boundaries set and give employees the space to adjust their schedule, just as you would in an on-site work setting. As employers wander into the remote working world, there are policies and procedures that can be implemented to set the groundwork and facilitate the transition with many experts that can be a guide. Preparation is key, like setting standard meeting times across the board for status and announcements, providing notice for an unanticipated meeting to give employees time to gather materials. It can be easy to lose track of protocol and scheduling when being at home can sometimes make us feel so off-schedule.  Creating a company routine that employees can build into their own routine will alleviate stress, miscommunication and pull everyone onto the same page.

Don’t work in a vacuum

There will still be conference calls, video chats and the occasional in-office meeting. But the ability to collaborate with a co-worker to bounce around ideas will be few and far between when you are not on-site. Don’t let that deter you from those impromptu brainstorming sessions, and don’t allow your single-person office set-up to lull you into plowing ahead on projects without seeking input. Having some solidarity at home is certainly a benefit to digging in and cranking out work without interruption. However, be sure to look up every once in a while, and reach out to someone to pick their brain. Your calendar will have regularly scheduled meetings on it for sure, but having the client chat or IM in plain sight is a good way to be able to easily check-in with a co-worker to see if they might have a minute to share some ideas.

Don’t forget about each other: connecting is that much more important in a remote world

It’s imperative that employers continue to support employees that are “out of sight” but should not be “out of mind.” Rewards and recognition programs will not be something “nice to have” but instead will be viewed as part of a company’s overall value proposition and differentiator by both employees and consumers. Especially during crises, and particularly the one we face today across the globe, all eyes are fixed on how employers are treating their employees in terms of safety, care, support, and livelihood. It’s become a litmus test for doing business with and promoting brand products and services of any particular organization. This will not go away when the crisis ends; in fact, it’s become more of an argument to invest in a program that embraces employees now and in the future.

As we have often suggested, maintaining an employee rewards and recognition program to thrive amidst the crisis is crucial; we must emphasize again the importance of shifting gears and adapting to your off-site workforce as well. It goes beyond simply making sure remote workers have the tools and access to the materials they need to do their jobs (that’s part of business regardless, although cool headphones might be a great reward). We are talking about the way that you make your employees feel valued beyond their paycheck. There are many ways to address this – and it doesn’t always have to be a grand gesture - even little ways just to reach out can make a world of difference.

  • Social recognition will be a defining element of your program – after all, it’s a proven way to reach employees far and wide.
  • Hosting virtual celebrations through video conference platforms will bring your workers “together.” And remembering and recognizing milestones, both personal and professional, fosters loyalty and work satisfaction.
  • Rewards geared towards working from home may become a more prominent category in the redemption catalog. And taking into account the location of your employees (especially from a global perspective) will go a long way in making each employee feel personally valued. Depending on the company arrangement and compensation/benefit packages for remote workers, employers may consider ways of saying “thank you” that benefit home life while working, including:
    • Physical & virtual gift cards towards making employees new work from home environment comfortable, safe, stress-free, and simple. 
    • Virtual gift cards to in-country retailers that can focus on making an employee's life easier like home food deliveries, access to vast offerings offered by global retailers like Amazon and others, fitness equipment retailers. 
  • Consider recognizing your contracted and freelance workers. While there is a significant difference between an employee who works remotely and a contractor who you’ve outsourced a portion of your business to, there are certain roles that have become so blended into an organization that it’s sometimes hard to distinguish the difference. While content writers working on your website, or the software specialists building your next application may not be on your weekly payroll, receive benefits or be eligible for bonuses, you may find that you so regularly interact with them that recognizing a good job is just simply a nice, human thing to do. As it stands with our current economic environment, companies may find that contractual hiring may become a realistic path they will pursue to manage costs – having a large base of your workforce as contractual could start to change recognition programs to be more inclusive moving forward.

As we inch closer and closer to this new model, it’s about time that we evolve our thought process that insinuates working from home as a perk in and of itself, or that it results in a reduced work effort. Time and again studies indicate the opposite. Working from home provides a chance to reset and allows individuals to prioritize schedules in a way that can suit them and meet the expectations of the job and employer. If employers commit to supporting this method full scale, complete with “perks” that some people think are no longer necessary, we may start to see a fresh awakening on the work-front. And with reports showing that 82% of workers were less stressed when they worked from home, that renewed energy can keep workers more focused and ready for the tasks at hand.

At Madison, it’s not business as usual, but instead, we are focused on support. Supporting our invaluable customers by maintaining business continuity, sharing advice about new working models and providing an opportunity to connect with others. 

While you adjust to your new working routine – whether it be at home or part of an essential service - please join the conversation. Ask Madison is an opportunity to share ideas, ask questions and help create our ‘new normal’, together. We believe that employee recognition is an essential business function and that, now more than ever, it is our responsibility to celebrate each other, recognize every milestone and collaborate together—even though we may be sitting apart.

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