Tag: work from home

Hybrid work is harder than it sounds

Workers in South Africa are at a crossroads as some people return to the office and while others choose to stay home making for a complex new working model that can be difficult to get right.

Linda Trim, director at Giant Leap, says: “The new hybrid workplace creates a host of challenges -one the biggest is that people working in offices will have a much richer exposure to people’s behaviours and knowledge at work than the remote people. They will have a shared experience that simply isn’t available to people outside the office.”

Trim notes that at the start of the pandemic, many office workers were all in a similar position. “But now as hybrid work becomes the norm, there is a growing communications divide between the in-office and remote people. During meetings for example, we’ve noticed a tendency for office people to direct their comments to each other instead of to their screens. They would tell inside jokes and forget to call on the remote people.”

What are the top 5 solutions to these challenges?

1.Fewer screens

During remote meetings it is difficult to assess eye contact and to follow the usual back and forth between people as they communicate, often using non verbal cues. It is very difficult to gauge one-to-one communication between people during remote meetings.

Says Trim: “Our temptation when holding hybrid meetings is to have the in-person people get together in a room and each open their laptops. Instead, try to set up one camera that captures everyone in the room—their faces and bodies. This way, everyone gets access to the same nonverbal exchanges between the people in the room.”

2. Create turn-taking rules

When people first try hybrid meetings, the people present got into a quick flow of bouncing ideas off each other and drifted towards ignoring the remote participants. “People felt left out and unheard,” Trim notes.

Formal rules about turn-taking and calling on people are often now needed until everyone has had a chance to share. “Remote people are already at a disadvantage, so small behaviours that give them a voice are critical,” Trim advised.

3. Kill the chat box

The chat box on collaboration tools like Teams has the potential to create more than one narrative, as in-person and remote workers start to have separate sidebar conversations during meetings.

“When people have different understandings of who contributed and how others responded, you have fertile ground for conflict,” Trim warned.

For hybrid meetings, consider disabling the chat box. Encourage people to say what they think and ensure remote and in-person people follows the same guidelines for speaking up.

4. Prioritise in-person time for newcomers & independent workers

The two groups who may see the least value in coming to the office—newcomers without work friends and people who work independently—are ironically the most at risk for losing out by staying home. “Not only are these employees not as naturally integrated in social networks, but they also have fewer opportunities to showcase their ‘unseen’ work.

Encourage newcomers and independent workers to spend time at the office. And when they get there, don’t have them sit alone in a cubicle working.

5. When people come to work, give priority to social networking over just business

When bringing everyone together, the temptation is to do the work that feels a bit more difficult to handle remotely. Focusing purely on work, though, does little to close the communications and knowledge gap between remote and in-office people. “If you want to get the most bang for your buck, have people spend that precious in-person time networking.

Have one day a month where everyone comes to the office for an informal “happy hour” get-together. The goal is for the most isolated people to make small connections across their networks. Over time, they will build their network and learn how to better navigate the office,” Trim concludes.

 

As many South African workers continue to work from home, many feel increasingly tired, stressed and uncertain about the future which is leading to rise in mental health concerns.

Linda Trim, director at Giant Leap, says: “Coronavirus and the imposition of lockdowns year has significantly raised mental health challenges.

“These are some of the major factors that have contributed to the stress and anxiety during this time:

  • Disrupted work-life balance: Balancing the work and personal life has become a major issue during this period. Extended hours of work just to finish off the task has led to the severe disruption of work-life balance.
  • Uncertain future: “Uncertainty about one’s career prospects for the future can be frustrating and worrying,” Trim said. “And it’s especially challenging for younger workers trying to learn from more experienced workers and trying to get ahead in their careers.”
  • Financial uncertainty: The economic impact of lockdowns has proved ruinous for many economies. “Many people live in fear of losing their jobs,” said Trim.

But there are ways to push back against the anxiety. This is how you can preserve the mental health while working from home:

Have separate areas for work and play: It is recommended to have a dedicated workspace to help you stay focused when working remotely.
“Having separate areas for work and play also makes it easier to mentally move from work mode to home mode,” says Trim.

Don’t use your work computer in your free time: Just like having different locations for work and private life, it’s important to separate your work tools from your play tools. The most obvious example is your laptop. “If you can afford it, make sure you don’t use the laptop where you are drafting your best selling novel for any other activity,” Trim advises.

Go for a walk after the workday is over: “If it’s safe and you can observe covid rules, go put for a walk or bike ride as soon as the workday is over. This will help you mentally switch to ‘home mode’ by getting you focused on a different activity, thereby relaxing your mind,” says Trim.

Do exercise to keep both your body and mind healthy: If you cannot or are worried about going out, do some exercises or stretches at home. Not only will physical activity help you divert your mind from work, but it will help you stay in shape and help you relax.

Plan your after-work time: When everyone is locked in and there isn’t much life outside your home, it’s difficult to break yourself away from work. Says Trim:” It’s essential to keep a check on what you are doing after work. Make plans beforehand so that it makes you look forward to finishing off the work.”

“It’s also really important to stay in touch, keep connecting and talking to each other, particularly friends and family,” Trim concludes.

Without open-plan offices and rush-hour crowds to contend with, the shift to remote work during a pandemic seemed to suggest we are more in control of our environment and particularly our health – but our work from home habits are probably really gross.

“The home office has a lot more bacteria than work offices do,” says Linda Trim, Director at Giant Leap, one of South Africa’s largest workplace design consultancies.

“In the office, companies hire cleaners to clean floors and desks and all other work surfaces, often at the end of every day.

“But at home, many of us have developed habits that are, at best, not the healthiest, and at worst simply gross. We make phone calls from the bathroom. We let clutter pile up on our desks. We work from bed while balancing our coffee mug and muffin.”

While some of these habits are fairly benign, but not all.

Dust mites and other allergens can accumulate in a messy home, triggering coughs and a runny nose. Contaminated surfaces can transmit pathogens. Working from bed can cause sleep disruptions as well as aches and pains and other woes.

Certain habits also can act like super-spreaders of microbes.

Cellphones are one of the worst offenders. And when you consider where your phone goes in a typical day, that’s no surprise. A survey by American telecommunications giant Verizon Communications Inc found that 90% of users admit to carrying their smartphones into the bathroom.

“Even in a meticulously clean bathroom, if you’re picking up and putting down your phone before washing your hands, nasty bugs can attach to the screen and cover,” Trim notes.

So can you prevent your space at home from becoming the proverbial petri dish? Here’s Giant Leap’s top tips:

Keep pets away from your computer

Given how much time you’re spending at home, it’s only natural that your pets will want to take up residence on or near where you are working. But allowing your cat to crawl over your keyboard, for example, can lead to buildup of fur, or even traces of Kitty Litter.

Ensure adequate ventilation

Opening a window to let in fresh air is ideal. Also consider getting an air purifier than can screen out most microbes. Trim adds. “Better ventilation leads to a 60% improvement in cognitive performance.”

Removing shoes when entering a home makes sense for those working from home, too – especially since we track in a lot of pesticides and chemicals from the street.

Use the right cleaning products

Cleaning surfaces with soap and water first, then use a disinfectant. Alcohol-based wipes might be better for electronics. Use paper towels when cleaning. The worst object in the home is a sponge or dish cloth; things grow in it.

Avoid eating at your desk

Having food on your desk can breed bacteria.And there is another, less obvious risk posed by deskside meals. “You’re sitting in the same position as when you’re working and that increases the chance you’ll develop repetitive strain injuries,” Trim warned.

Deep clean
Thoroughly clean your computer, desk and other equipment once or twice a week. Give extra attention to your mouse, keyboard and other objects that are touched frequently. You also can upgrade to a washable keyboard with added antimicrobial protection.

Don’t let papers or other detritus pile up

It’s really important to put things away at the end of the day. “Not only can the clutter harbour bacteria, but it can increase our stress levels without our even realising it,” Trim concludes.

Why the office still matters

After working from home and collaborating from afar, the importance of the workplace and all that it offers has become clear: an office is more than just a place to work and while some people have adapted to WFH, many people miss the office, perhaps even surprising themselves.

“The workplace drives innovation and growth and fosters culture and sense of community, while providing the tools and resources people need to be truly productive,” says Linda Trim, director at Giant Leap.

There are countless benefits to having a physical place that brings an organisation’s people together. Here are just 5 reasons why the workplace matters – and will continue to matter.

Personal and corporate growth: The post-COVID economy has ushered in a season of survival mode for companies. “But the pivot back to growth mode for people and businesses will be here soon. Growth depends on innovation, and that’s driven by people coming together to collaborate and think,” Trim said. “And dare we say it: Make sure we are better prepared for another even that disrupts business continuity.”

Further digital transformation: If companies weren’t thinking about digital transformation before COVID-19, they certainly are now. Organisations have been forced to compete and manage a range of disruptions — internal and external, domestic and global.

Says Trim:”They’re launching new business models and equipping teams to be ready for anything; digital transpiration will evolve for years to come.”

  • Attract and retain talent – the workplace is a key tool to help organisations attract, retain and engage talent. Not only is space an expression of the company, it sends important cultural signals about what new talent can expect in your organisation. Is there choice and control? Are there social spaces to meet with teammates?
    “While technology can help with some elements, like onboarding, it’s hard to build community and nurture the kinds of relationships needed to engage talent and strengthen teams over Zoom,” Trim notes.
  • Innovation – research shows that successful innovation is typically ‘place-based’. Workplaces foster these connections and promote innovative activities like building models, sharing content, testing prototypes, iterating in real time, collecting annotations and ideas and building on the collective efforts of the team. Two-dimensional technology simply cannot move the needle like three-dimensional interactions can.
  • Collaboration and connection – collaboration is a key, place-based business behaviour with demonstrable links to growth and innovation. Sharing ideas, brainstorming and bringing others along through discussion creates new concepts. Body language and other unspoken behaviours provide social cues that can be easily missed when not in person. When every meeting starts and ends on time, there is no room for the magic of serendipity. At the same time, people who don’t interact with others or participate in the workplace risk becoming irrelevant, undervalued or overlooked. “These factors don’t just impact individuals’ career paths, they impact a company’s ability to fill the talent pipeline. Having a place to create meaningful connections is more important than ever,” Trim concludes.

Remote working is the way of the future

By Mark van Dijk for JSE Magazine

Unless you’re a front-line health worker or provided an essential service, you will have joined millions of employees around the world in working from home during the COVID-19 lockdown. You’ll know the feeling of ‘Zoom fatigue’. You may have met up with friends or colleagues (virtually, of course) for ‘locktails’ and ‘quarantinis’. And you’ll certainly have enjoyed the short ‘commute’ from your bed to your desk. Chances are, despite the disruptions of the working from home – WFH – revolution, you’re as productive as you’ve ever been, even though you’re not in the office.

Apart from a handful of people who continued to go into the building as an essential service, the vast majority of the JSE’s staff worked from home through the lockdown, as JSE Group CEO Leila Fourie told the Daily Maverick. ‘I find people are working much harder,’ she said. ‘[Physical workplace] presence does not translate into productivity. Leaders [used to] have a false sense of security in employees showing up at the office.’

Fourie adds that the crisis (and, make no mistake, this was an unprecedented crisis) has unlocked a level of solidarity and unity in the team. “We’ve built a new level of trust.”

When asked if he thinks SA businesses will go back to ‘normal’ after the lockdown, media analyst Arthur Goldstuck says yes, and no. ‘One of the things that we’ll find across the different aspects of the way we live our lives – working, shopping and so on – is that part of the shift that we’ve all experienced will become permanent. But that doesn’t mean that we’re going to transition into this new way in totality.’

For Goldstuck, it’s a question of digital transformation – and here he draws parallels with the move towards e-commerce. ‘A large proportion of South Africans discovered online shopping during the lockdown, and many will continue shopping online, while many will go back to traditional shopping,’ he says. ‘Those who find online shopping comfortable, convenient and quick will carry on doing it; those who found it didn’t quite work for them will go back to the old way.

‘And even within that there are nuances. Some will become regular online shoppers, while some will now be willing to shop online on occasion. It’s going to be a varied approach, depending on the person’s experience and on their openness to the technology.’

This, he explains, can be extrapolated into the working environment as well. ‘Businesses that have found it difficult to have staff working remotely will go back to the old way,’ he says. ‘But again, you’ll find that even in the businesses that do go back to the old way of working, remote will be allowed far more regularly.’

Yet many employees don’t want to make a permanent move to WFH. A nationwide survey by workplace consultancy Giant Leap found that 86% of South Africans want to go back to working in an office. Giant Leap director Linda Trim says that while remote work was very popular at first, as time wore on people realised that it came with loneliness and a lack of work-life balance.

‘The survey showed 70% of people missed the general social interactions of the office, while 85% said they missed the “colleague interaction” while working at home,’ she says. To that point, about 81% of survey respondents said that working remotely made work communication harder, while more than half said they missed meeting, socialising and having ‘impromptu face time’ with their colleagues.

The erosion of company culture, then, is the biggest concern about – and the last great hurdle before – a complete move to remote working. Virtually every team that gathered together on Zoom meetings during the lockdown already knew each other and already had established relationships. Those bonds can erode over time and can be hugely difficult for new hires to build.

If – as many are predicting – the old model of Monday-to-Friday, 9-to-5 does indeed change to something more fluid and flexible, offices will have to change to meet those new requirements. Looking ahead, there’s the realisation that while the work may stay the same, and the workforce may adapt, some of the most interesting changes will happen in and to the workplace. Wherever that happens to be.

Source: TGS

“It takes a lifetime to build a good reputation, but you can lose it in a minute” (Will Rogers)

Whilst many employees enjoy working from home, this is a time of uncertainty for them. They read of people being retrenched or furloughed and wonder if they are next. The isolation of working from home can fuel this uncertainty.

Yet it is these employees who daily interact with customers and other stakeholders. If staff have negative feelings about the company, this can be quickly picked up by customers. Social media can spread this quickly and suddenly management have to start undertaking damage control. Recently, an English business decided to not pay staff until the government’s wage subsidy kicked in. Following an outcry, management swiftly reversed this and paid the staff.

Contrast this with Quickbooks who kept their cleaning staff on full pay despite empty offices. L’Oreal have made a point of paying small suppliers quicker than usual.

Don’t think short term

The decisions you make send out signals to your staff and they are much more likely to view you favourably if you are showing fairness to your stakeholders.

Think also of your investors – they tend to support businesses where carefully considered long-term decisions are made by management. Don’t forget having a holistic outlook and making the environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria part of your strategies.

Communicate effectively

In a recent case, staff supported management putting them on furlough after they were persuaded by management that this was the best long-term strategy to preserve jobs in the business.

Staff are more motivated if they know they have commitment and active support from their bosses.

IBM have started a program of supporting employees who need to take out time to educate their children or look after family members. They have also encouraged their staff to raise any individual difficulties they have with their managers. Introducing this type of flexibility makes managers’ jobs harder to do and IBM have created separate online chat channels for managers to network with their peers and find solutions to employees’ problems.

Other companies with diversity in the workplace have openly supported Black Lives Matter and have made sure that when there are pay cuts or retrenchments, there is no discrimination against minorities.

The world has changed and become more uncertain and more flexible. You need to plan carefully and act to ensure you stay on top of the situation and keep the support of your staff.

 

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