During 2023 many employees transitioned from working in an office to working at home. Some people loved the freedom that working from home gave them while others missed the action and companionship of the shared workspace.
Regardless of whether you like the new work-from-home model or not, one thing is for sure….. many employees who once worked in an office will be fulfilling their tasks from a home computer for quite some time to come. The percentage of work-from-home employees will forever be higher than it was before 2023.
That doesn’t mean, however, that nothing will change. Employers and employees have both learned a lot from the sudden shift to at-home work. It may not have been expected but many people have become accustomed to the new model. Yet there are still plenty of changes and adjustments that need to be made to make working at home a profitable enterprise for workers and for their employers.
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Working as a Team
People who are working from home struggle to maintain good relationships with people that they already know. How can they develop good communication and a good working relationship with new colleagues that they haven’t even met? Video conferencing sessions may not be enough.
One technique that’s been adapted to the online environment is known as “trail guide.” It involves a staff member is assigned to stay in touch with a new hire during their first months of work.
A trail guide is an older system that once twinned new hires with older staff members in the same location.
Now, to adapt to such meetings with people who work remotely, the process is more focused on partnering people who have similar roles in the organization instead of those who are in close physical proximity. New employees are encouraged to use internal messaging and collaboration systems so that they can easily ask questions and communicate with each other and with their “trail guide.”
Human resources staffers note that, even after in-person meetings are re-instated, they plan to keep these strategies so that the workers can develop a connection to the company, bond with each other and easily share information.
Consultants suggest that, in the same way that providing a worker a comfortable physical space is important at their place of work, it’s no less important for the person working from home. That means taking the budget that would otherwise go to create a pleasant workspace in the office should be invested in the worker’s home office.
The worker should have a comfortable desk and chair, a good, fast computer with a solid Internet connection and a quality monitor. With the increase in video conferencing, workers should have computers with good cameras and quality headsets so that they can hear easily and speak in a way that allows others to hear them clearly.
Companies should invest in a strong IT department that is prepared to assist at-home workers, both through remote assistance and, when necessary, through home visits.
Regardless of the amount of time that a team has been working together, team building sessions are essential. Some employees leave and others are hired, people take on different responsibilities within the team and questions and issues always crop up.
Not every on-site team building activity can be adapted for a team of workers who are working together virtually but some old activities can be modified to fit a remote environment and other online team building activities can be added. Team building activities, whether conducted remotely or on-site, can:
- Inspire creativity and individual innovation.
- Teach staff members to reframe negative situations into learning experiences.
- Encourage people to work with a different group of co-workers other than those with whom they normally interact.
- Improve meeting productivity and facilitate introspection about how to contribute.
Clarifying expectations is as important for employees working from home as it is for workers who are in the office. Employers should set guidelines and expectations in advance to avoid misunderstandings.
When working in physical proximity, it’s easier to understand co-worker and management working patterns but these types of intangible clues are missing when the employees are working remotely. Subjects such as communication policies and time-tracking are especially important when managing a group of remote workers.
It’s advised to set a time, at least once every few days if not more, for management to check in with employees who are working remotely. They can use those “visits” to see how things are going, clarify issues, answer questions and create a team spirit.
Professional development isn’t only an in-office activity. By continuing to offer professional development, the employer is sending a message to the employee – “you are a valued member of our staff and we want to see you grow.” There’s no better way to motivate a worker than to give him/her that message.
There are certification and training programs available online as well as many trainers who can offer in-service trainings virtually. By covering fees and even giving the employee time off to attend these sessions, the employer creates an atmosphere in which the work-at-home employee emerges as a more capable, more motivated and more loyal worker for the company.
Analysts project that the move towards work-from-home will increase over time. If employers invest in creating a good home-work environment for their employees, they’ll reap the rewards.