In my coaching and consulting business, I hear leaders ask all the time how they can make sure that people are being productive while they’re at home. I especially hear this from those that work in a hybrid office, that is an office where some people work in the office and some people work from home.
Leaders are so focused on this productivity question that they ignore the other side of the equation. This other side of the equation is what is happening to people who are at home. Contrary to a common belief that people enjoy staying at home and that it’s almost a vacation, working from home can be very challenging. I have heard many stories of parents being forced to school and entertain their kids continually, all while trying to work with slow Wi Fi, a kitchen table for a desk, maybe a closet for an office and the inability to walk down a hall to somebody else’s office to get answers.
And the worst of it all is knowing that the people back in the office think they’re all just goofing off. This has an extremely negative and long-term impact on the stay at home workforce. It lowers productivity, increases anxiety and stress. And it causes turnover.
The current situation is unlikely to go away anytime soon. It’s most likely that we’ll be living with work from home and hybrid offices for some time to come. So, what do we do to improve this situation?
Start with being flexible. We often think of flexibility as simply allowing people to work from home. But this is far from the truth. Many companies, for example, will insist that employees are at their computers continually during the workday. Some of them even have high tech monitoring systems to make sure that their workers are always at their computer. While this may be necessary sometimes, leaders should really consider if it is essential to have all their employees sitting at their computer all the time in all situations. Allowing asynchronous communication, which is being able to respond in their own time frame, can really ease the burden on those working from home while giving competitive advantage to the organization. However, with the proliferation of text messaging and instant messaging, we have created an expectation of synchronous communication. We expect instantaneous feedback and instantaneous response. Maybe it’s time to revisit this. Allowing people to respond in their own timeframe really eases the stress.
Be respectful of time and breaks, especially if you’re leading a team that works across multiple time zones. Finding a time that is reasonable for each participant helps enormously, even if that means you must rotate your schedule, so that nobody gets stuck with that dreaded midnight Zoom meeting. Also, make sure you allow time for the work-from-home people to have breaks where they’re not expected to be on. This is nothing more than being consistent with how things work in the office. There are times when people go to lunch have a coffee break, etc.. Allow your work-at-home people to do the same.
Check in with your people. People working from home often feel invisible or disconnected especially if you’re in a hybrid office. Make sure that you are proactively reaching out. Many of the people who work at home aren’t going to feel comfortable just reaching out to you. They will continue to work invisibly unless you proactively reach out to them.
Work from home burnout is a very real danger to organizations today and going forward. Take proactive steps today to head this off and keep your at home employees in a good space.