Leadership Simplified: Doug Van Dyke


The Leader’s Guide to a Work-From-Home Workforce

Volume: March 2020: Special Edition

Studies have shown that people who can effectively work from home are 15% more productive than their onsite peers. There are a variety of factors leading to this including, less interruptions and office politics, as well as a stress-free commute. The challenge is, fewer than 25% of team members CAN effectively work from home. This is not surprising considering that less than 5% of the U.S. workforce are full-time, work-from-homers.
Currently, however, we are faced with a crisis that demands that ALL or at least a portion of our people work from home. Leaders, there is no playbook for this. We are improvising. And, we must do so strategically. Here is a guide for you to consider as you and your team “Do The Right Thing” and maximize results while doing so.    

  1. Sense of Place. Everyone wants to start the work-from-home conversation by discussing technology. How are people going to connect? What access do they need? What about cybersecurity? These questions are important. However, one of the biggest challenges work-from-home team members face is the psychological hurdle of suddenly not having a work destination. In other words, not having a sense of place. As a result, many team members feel lost and even lonely. In fact, loneliness ranks very high when remote workers are asked to identify productivity killers while working from home.  It is easy to feel lost. And team members who feel lost are painfully unproductive. Regarding the creation of a workspace at home, consider the following:
    1. Have a set room, table, or cordoned off space that is strictly used for work. Note: Their bed does not count. Believe it or not, more than 10% of people think that working from their bed is totally acceptable. It’s not! (See Expectations for more details about this one).   
    2. Boundaries. The opposite of the loneliness-effect for the stay-at-home worker is the “I think I am going to kill my family” effect. Many work-from-homers are experiencing the chaotic fray of children running around, disturbing random noise, and the relentlessness of being asked mommy/daddy questions. After all, you are mom, or dad, or the adult in the house. Plus, it’s difficult to flip a switch in kids (or adults for that matter) and suddenly have them turn off being a kid.  Duct tape is not the answer, although admittedly my wife has threatened our children with it multiple times. She is joking. I think. (I hope.) Establishing boundaries, however, IS the answer. And one thing that parents are pretty good at is establishing boundaries with their children. Let kids know that certain spaces or places or times are “off limits” with regard to interruptions. Also, share rewards with kids and family members who respect the boundaries that are established. Positive reinforcement goes a lot farther here than negative consequences when boundaries are broken.  
    3. Ergonomic needs. It is much easier to meet the ergonomic needs of onsite workers. Makeshift workspaces at home are often ergonomic nightmares. Seek to provide guidance on how to ergonomicify (official consulting word) a work-from-home space. If people dare and are open to suggestions, they can also send photos of their workspace.  
  2. Technology & Paving the Way for Success. Okay, now that we have created a sense of workplace within our home, we can address the necessary technology and connectivity tools. In the process, we can seek to minimize hurdles to productivity, and ease the burden of working from home.
    1. Determine the necessary technology tools. Your IT department or solution provider will nail this one.
    2. Recommit to cybersecurity. Regarding cybercrime, this is a dangerous time. Be vigilant and encourage your home workforce to do the same.
  3. Reach Out, Reach Out And …… This is an old AT&T tag line, but at its heart it’s all about connection. And let’s face it, if someone is out of sight they can easily become out of mind. As leaders we need to bridge the distance gap by using connectivity tools to ensure smart communication. In other words, Get Visual! Use tools such as Zoom, Skype, WebEx, et cetera for 10 minutes of social chat in the morning and 10 minutes of social chat in the afternoon to maintain social connectivity. Yes, even your workplace curmudgeons must participate. They can suck it up for 10 minutes of social fun, twice per day.

    Make virtual workplace socializations fun and creative. Bonus, if people know they are going to be on video at least twice per day, they will tend to embrace their normal “get ready in the morning” routine. The reason many work-from-home team members are unproductive is because their regular “routine” has been disrupted. Many people may feel their morning get-ready routine is a grind, but that ritual is part of work winning formula. Regarding sociability, determine the method(s) and frequency by which individuals, small groups or the entire team will be connecting.
  4. Stretch It Out. Many of us have home gyms. I know my home gym has been getting quite the workout. The vast number of people, however, do not have exercise alternatives readily lying about. What everybody has though is a little bit of open space. Perfect for stretching. Forward work-stretch exercises to your people and institute regular/required (i.e., every 2-hours) stretch breaks. Several of our clients have actually made this activity part of their morning and afternoon videoconferences. Whatever you decide, realize that a little exercise in the morning leads to greater energy during the workday and less fatigue from sitting for prolonged periods. Encourage or demand that work-from-home team members exercise in the morning to whatever level they believe is possible. 
  5. Time Management Systems. Procrastination is a productivity killer. And there are hundreds of shiny objects at home that can lead to procrastination. Nothing reduces procrastination quite like a well-honed time management system. As many of you know, I am a big Day Plan fan. This structured approach can deliver maximum focus and productivity, while minimizing day-dreaming and procrastination. One client actually has his team members send him their day plans for the next day. He is very skilled and requests the Day Plans in a collaborative manner that his people support. Plus, they see the positive results that a structured day delivers. Nice!
  6. Sleep & Hydration. We live in a sleep-deprived society. On top of that, workers in the United States do not value sleep. Someone who only gets five hours of sleep and shows up to work is treated like a hero, while someone who got eight hours of sleep is viewed as a wimp. Huh? Sleep is how our bodies engage in renewal. It is also how our brains organize memory. Who wants to cut short activities like that? Encourage people working from home to get extra sleep since they will have no commute and have a shorter get-ready time.

    Regarding hydration, keeping our brains properly hydrated allows for maximum thinking capacity. We tend to be a bit on the dehydrated side. Encourage people to have water handy while they are working from home. Afterall, they won’t have a line at the bathroom if they over-hydrate.
  7. Humor. Goodness do we need humor now. It is pretty easy to get sullen. Yes, we are dealing with a crisis. But you know what, we ALL like to laugh. Leaders, find a way to help your work-from-home team members laugh a little bit each day. This is, of course, work-appropriate humor and does NOT involve turning on a Netflix comedy special and getting sucked into another dimension of procrastination.
  8. Share Best Practices. Your organization is a learning organization. During this work-from-home, crisis situation, we are going to learn a lot. Catalog that. Have team members share what is working for them regarding working from home. Also catalog what is not working well. Here are a couple of best practices to consider:
    • Hold succinct teleconferences or Skype meetings. Ensure they are crisp and well-planned. Use an agenda that is distributed in advance. And make certain they begin and end on time. 
    • Virtual teambuilding. Often times, leaders think of teambuilding only when people are actually onsite. Realize that it is even more important to conduct workplace teambuilding with distance teams.
  9. Expectations. Studies reveal that 25% of the workforce are unclear about workplace expectations. And the vast majority of those workers have onsite jobs. Just imagine how fuzzy workplace expectations get when people are not connecting with their boss each day. There is an opportunity for leaders to be very clear about their expectations of team members. Also, leaders should strive to know what remote workers expect of them. Note: In order to effectively lead a remote worker it takes 50% more time investment than with an onsite team member (Dyer, Dyer, & Dyer). Leaders, help yourself and help your team members gain clarity on the following:
    • Expectations on creating a designated workspace while working from home.
    • Expect that people will NOT work from bed.
    • Expectations on boundaries with family members while working from home.
    • Expectations about technology needs, usage or ergonomically correct equipment.
    • Expectations on the methodology, timing, and frequency of communication.
    • Expectations to manage time well.
    • Expectations regarding regular work hours and maintaining professional behavior.
    • Expectations about being engaged during virtual meetings.
    • Expectations regarding sleep, stretching, hydration and taking care of themselves.
    • Expectations of sharing best practices (and worst practices).
    • Expectations about sharing their expectations of their leader!     

Bottom Line: No one is an island, even though many of us are by ourselves right now. We are still united. Frankly, more so than ever since we are all sacrificing for the same cause: each other. We have wonderful technology. And more means than ever to communicate. What we need is leadership. Luckily, we have you. Be strong and focused leaders. Help your people to organize their home workspace. Help them to control what they can control. Help them to deliver the results that are needed right now. I am sending positive energy your way, my friends.
Until next time, be well.
Doug Van Dyke, MBA, CSP has helped thousands of professionals find their way and skyrocket their skills. Take advantage of his Virtual Coaching services today!  

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