A Virtual Office
Working from home is an isolating experience and can be a drastic transition for those who are used to commuting to an office building 5 days a week. Ensuring that employees do not fully lose the social aspect of an office environment is key in keeping your staff engaged. Investing in the best video conferencing and collaboration tools will give you the foundation that you need to facilitate a virtual office.
Using video conferencing, so that everyone can still interact “face-to-face” (even through a screen) will help combat the variety of distractions that come with working from home. It may also give employees the motivation to maintain their morning routines, which include getting dressed and ready for work. Putting on business appropriate attire and getting out of PJs is a mental step into work mode.
Create Opportunities to Socialize
Humans are social creatures and interaction with one another, even virtually, will help to ease the isolating experience of working from home. Once you have established a virtual office environment, you can start to outline some strategies and formats for both teamwork projects and non-work socializing.
Grouping employees together in work pods can be an effective way to facilitate a feeling of teamwork. This also helps to create an internal system of accountability, as members of the same work pod can keep each other on track with completing tasks and keeping the flow of productivity moving forward. You can choose to keep the same pods together or do a monthly rotation to create new pods. As this strategy is meant to relieve the stress of isolation, it would be best to make decisions based on the satisfaction (or lack thereof) of your employees. Try sending out surveys for feedback, which will help you determine if your staff enjoys rotating work pods, keeping the same pod or even if they find the teamwork aspect to be adding more stress and would prefer to work alone.
Encouraging and facilitating opportunity for non-work socializing will also help to ease the pains of isolation. Launching daily video conference “social hangouts” would give employees the opportunity to chat with one another about non-work topics. Think virtual coffee breaks, virtual lunch breaks or virtual post-work happy hours. Every employee can be sent an invitation to join and choose to accept or decline. Mixing in some activities can also add a little excitement. Perhaps you have an employee who would love to lead a lunch time yoga session. There may be a group who is interested in playing virtual games or someone who would love to host virtual karaoke. This would be another great opportunity to survey the office! Having a forum where employees can all post and talk to one another, will allow ideas to flow and help to keep everyone engaged with one another.
Employee of the month might be a little overdone (or not?) but the concept has a strong foundation. A little friendly competition can keep things exciting and positive recognition for the winners acts as a morale booster. I mean, who doesn’t love games??
If you have chosen to group employees into work pods, you can create a pod verses pod monthly challenge. The winners get some sort of prize or incentive. This is a page taken straight from psychological analysis and the “Incentive Theory of Motivation”, which suggests that behavior is best motivated through reinforcement or incentives, in this case positive incentives. The game or challenge can be work related, or non-work related. You can also do an every man for himself challenge, or allow employees to choose teams or a teammate.
Most work from home employees, experiencing loneliness and isolation, suffer from the sheer monotony of living the same day over and over. Ultimately, engaging their brains and peaking the interest of your staff, will increase their energy and focus when it’s time to get back to work. Giving them this variation will help to keep them from falling into a slump of low-energy, which decreases productivity.
Due to the fact that every home situation is different, it is crucial to ensure that your staff has the freedom to speak up to a manager, should they feel the need. Whether its personal or professional, it is in your best interest to support your employees during this unexpected shift in work/life balance. HR is of the utmost importance.
This support system should also include technological support. Not all staff members will have the same home set up, WIFI capabilities or proper equipment to carry on with their expected quality of work. If this home set up is to fall solely on the shoulders of each employee, they may not have the financial means to acquire the necessary tools. It would be wise to take direct interest in the home office of each employee, whether that means sending them equipment, fully compensating them or partially compensating them, it could mean the difference in overall productivity.
The fact of the matter is that we have been thrown into an unexpected challenge, forced to adjust the way we conduct business and have been given no timeline for return to normalcy. The experience of working from home is a new experience for many people who have been shifted over from office buildings. Many people may not have chosen office jobs, if they previously knew it would mean working from home every day. This puts pressure on employers and organizations to step up and make it more enjoyable, for the sake of employee retention and overall happiness of staff members.
Keep your employees engaged through an increased focus on internal socializing, some friendly competition and an open doors policy on managerial support.