Making home working work for everyone
With the recent surge in employees working from home, Microsoft has the supports and tips to thrive in the new paradigm
Working from home: employees can gain significantly from avoiding commutes and enjoying more quality time with family. photograph: istock/getty
Many people around the country are now working from home some, if not all, of the time. For most, this is a unique situation to be in, giving rise to an increased need for tailored supports for remote workers.
Employees can gain significantly from remote working, from avoiding commutes and enjoying more quality time with family, to a lower overall cost of living and better quality of life. There are, however, some challenges too including feelings of isolation, a sense of disadvantage in comparison to office-based colleagues, and a loss of that personal connection with co-workers and friends in the workplace.
Careful consideration has to be given to dealing with these challenges: it’s not just a question of giving people the software and hardware to carry out their work from home. Looking at the conduct of meetings is a good starting point, according to Microsoft Ireland enterprise director, John O’Doherty.
Being able to see people face to face means you are aware of their reactions and body language and it makes meetings much more inclusive
“Meetings are about people, not just the technology used to hold them,” he explains. “What we are seeing in meetings involving remote workers is that some will stay quiet and others will tend to dominate the conversation. Extra efforts have to be made to make remote employee meetings feel inclusive.”
As an example, he recommends using video instead of audio-only meeting software. “Being able to see people face to face means you are aware of their reactions and body language and it makes meetings much more inclusive.
“You’ve also got to be careful that people aren’t distracted by objects in the background behind you. I use a blurred background to avoid this,” he says.
Etiquette with the ‘mute all’ button is also important lest the meetings be interrupted by barking pets or noisy children.
More seriously, O’Doherty points out that the technology is more than just about meetings. “You need to be able to share frequently used documents easily. Everyone should be able to see all documents in real time so that they can work on them collaboratively at the same time, not sequentially. That’s how you get to the next productivity layer. The technology is replicating the way we work as people and people tend to work collaboratively.”
“Remote working has significant benefits for business continuity,” says Tracy Keogh, co-founder of Grow Remote, an organisation dedicated to promoting the concept of remote working. “Snow days and so on are much less disruptive with distributed workforces as they have no difficulty getting to and from work.”
You need leaders, executives, and managers who are open to remote working solutions
Given these compelling benefits the question must be asked why more organisations are not implementing remote working policies and strategies. Keogh believes it’s a question of attitudes as much as anything else.
“We met with an Irish company a little while ago and they said they looked at remote working but that it wouldn’t work, as people had to work in the office at least some of the time,” she says. “There is a cultural mindset that if you are not there, you can’t be working. You need leaders, executives, and managers who are open to remote working solutions to address this.”
Grow Remote’s main aim is to bring employment back into towns and villages around regional Ireland by increasing the number of remote workers in local communities. “It’s about giving people equal access to employment opportunities regardless of where they live,” says Keogh. “Well-paid workers living and contributing to local communities are the lifeblood of rural Ireland. We want to ‘open the rivers’ and let this life force flow.”
Technology on its own is not enough, however. “You need to have the right policy, culture, and technology,” says Keogh. “It won’t work without all three.”
Recent research by Microsoft showed how companies with innovative cultures, which supported new approaches to solving problems, embraced new ideas, and empowered employees to raise issues, are more than twice as likely to expect double-digit growth. In fact, 60 per cent of Irish employees who worked in companies with this culture said they found it easier to collaborate.
“It’s not just small companies that can benefit from remote working,” says O’Doherty. “PayPal recently implemented Microsoft Teams across its 34,000 employees globally and as a result, collaboration across its global offices has substantially improved and meetings are much more efficient.”
The potential of remote working extends beyond commercial organisations, according to O’Doherty.
“University Hospital Limerick has been piloting online physiotherapy consultations for patients with cystic fibrosis. Usually patients must travel in and out of hospital for therapy and that puts a physical strain on them and can be very debilitating. They are now using Microsoft Teams to carry out the therapy remotely which can be more convenient for the patient and the physiotherapist who is able to work more effectively and move from patient to patient much quicker.”
And Microsoft is making these benefits available to individuals and organisations around the country. “We are making Microsoft Teams available free to people and organisations moving to remote working as well as to schools moving to remote learning,” says O’Doherty. “We want to make the full benefits of remote working available to as many people as possible.”
Communication is key
When working from home, your daily rhythm may change. This is especially true for those of us balancing work and childcare. Clearly communicate your working hours with your team-mates so that they know when to reach you.
Maintain healthy boundaries
Remote workers sometimes find themselves working for long stretches without breaks for exercise, socialising, or a proper meal. Your health comes first. Make time for meals, drink plenty of water, and remind yourself to mentally clock out from remote work at the end of the day.
Embrace online meetings
Running virtual meetings can be a challenge. Where possible, all participants should use video. The face-to-face interaction goes a long way to help everyone feel connected. Consider changing your default meeting duration to end meetings five or 10 minutes early, giving attendees a short break between meetings.
Be mindful and inclusive
Online meeting organisers should pause frequently to invite questions and remind attendees that they can also use the meeting chat window to share their thoughts.
With the best will in the world, not everyone will be able to attend virtual meetings. Meetings should be recorded to allow co-workers catch up later.
The virtual watercooler
A lot of remote workers find the thing they miss the most about the office is casual conversations. Chats at the watercooler not only keep us connected, they often bring up important information or insights. Make it your business to have informal online chats with co-workers which aren’t about business.
Have a bit of fun
Use online channels for fun things like sharing photos, recipes, thoughts about movies and whatever else team-members might be interested in. It’s a great way of building and sustaining morale.
Discover more about the benefits of working with Microsoft Teams by visiting info.microsoft.com