Although working from home is not a relatively new concept, it certainly has become mainstream this year. In fact, according to research released in June by Roy Morgan, more than four million Australians are reportedly working from home to prevent the spread of the virus.
Are employees adapting well to this new version of the ‘nine ‘till five’, or are they and their employers now faced with a new set of challenges?
This idea was explored by Ranajit Dam, Managing Editor, Legal Media Group, Thomson Reuters, and four guest speakers in a recent Return to Better virtual conference session.
The four thought leaders were invited to share insights and opinions on how their organisations have fared in terms of efficiency, safety and company morale during COVID-19. Ranajit welcomed…
- Joe Al-Khayat, Co-Founder at Resolve Disputes Online
- Justine Woodford, Head of Knowledge at Allens
- Kevin Luo, Assistant General Counsel; GM, Asia-Pacific R&D Group Legal at Microsoft and
- Rebecca Roberts, Group Tax Manager at Cochlear.
The discussion addressed three key questions: how the panelists themselves have adjusted to working from home, what are the best practises for working virtually and how employers are supporting their employees during this time.
With the insights and ideas gained from the program, we’ve compiled the following article to arm you with tips and tricks to keep your organisation resilient (albeit from a distance).
First steps and remote working surprises
Rebecca Roberts is no stranger to working from home, as her previous work arrangement allowed her to do this one day out of the week. But once COVID-19 struck, it wasn’t long until she realised that her home office would become the place from where she’d lead her team.
In terms of how she adjusted to this new way of working, staying connected was essential.
“For me to adjust, I found one of the biggest things was to be able to call my team every day, almost to replicate what we did in the office. So even if it was just a brief chat just to check in to see how they’re going, that made me have that sense of connection still with work, even though we were remote,” she explained.
Kevin Luo shared this view, further adding that maintaining structure also played a big part in his organisation’s adjustment.
“Working from home full-time is an entirely different experience, particularly working from home for an extended period of time, which can be fairly stressful. We tried to set some limits in terms of timing and putting some structure in and also to keep the regular connection with the team virtually.”– Kevin Luo, Assistant General Counsel; GM, Asia-Pacific R&D Group Legal at Microsoft
On the other hand, although Justine Woodford described the adjustment as a “seamless transition” within her organisation, the novelty of being able to work within the comfort of home has since faded.
She mentioned that small hindrances, like poor internet connection and noise disturbances can often see employees not work to the best of their ability, compared to being in a physical office.
Nonetheless, Justine noted how surprised she was at how a range of organisations comfortably switched gears and maintained a positive outlook.
“I think people – not just in my team or at my firm – but across a range of organisations have really shown remarkable adaptability and looked at this as a challenge and approached it with a pretty positive mindset.”– Justine Woodford, Head of Knowledge at Allens
Tools bridging connectivity gaps
It can be argued that the technology that has been harnessed during this time has assisted in keeping feelings of loneliness and isolation at bay within organisations. However, it can also be a great source for promoting collaboration within teams.
For instance, Joe mentioned that virtual conferencing and project planner software play a massive role in upholding internal communication within his organisation.
“There’s literally a tool for everything now. If you want to find a very precise collaboration tool that suits your industry, you can find it,” he said.
But while these tools may have initially been designed for employers to regularly and seamlessly catch up with their employees, they can also be used in unconventional ways, like hosting Friday drinks or in Rebecca’s case, a farewell.
“We recently had a virtual farewell and luckily we are transitioning back into the office, so we were able to have a few people in the office and that person leaving didn’t feel like they were just shutting down their laptop and saying goodbye,” she explained.
“It was good to have a mix there, so we are using this technology for all sorts of things we’ve probably not encountered before.”
While video conferencing tools may also be putting an end to the old-fashioned email, they are also enabling employers to have important conversations ‘in person’.
“There are conversations that you really want to have face-to-face and so the best you can do is a video call. We make sure things like coaching conversations, setting goals, feedback, those types of things are put on a screen.”– Rebecca Roberts, Group Tax Manager at Cochlear
Other tech tools, such as document management and e-signing software were also recommended between the panelists.
Blurred lines between work and home
From working in your pyjamas to prepping lunches in your kitchen, it’s no secret that working from home comes with its perks. However, one hidden challenge organisations may encounter is understanding where to draw the line between work and home, or what Joe Al-Khayat calls, the ‘transition time’.
“That [previous] commute, whether it’s half an hour, 45 minutes or longer, we didn’t realise that can be a time where the brain can just process what’s happened during the day.”– Joe Al-Khayat, Co-Founder at Resolve Disputes Online
“Whereas what tends to happen now is the webcam gets turned off, you go into the living room and you’re expected to transition straightaway back into being a supportive partner, parent or whatever the circumstances are.”
To combat this, Kevin and Justine each offered their own tips and insights on how organisations can define these boundaries.
Kevin explained that his organisation had introduced a framework to limit the amount of time spent in front of a screen. This includes things like not having conference calls on Saturdays, during lunch hours or after 5:30pm, and reminding the team to physically and mentally ‘switch off’ from the day.
Rebecca added that she now makes the effort to physically store her work laptop away in her bag on a Friday afternoon to symbolise the end of the work week.
Supporting employees on an ongoing basis
Since the COVID-19 pandemic has shown no signs of slowing down, leaders have the responsibility to ensure their teams are provided with the ongoing support they need.
Justine, who is a member of the COVID-19 committee at Allens, says keeping up to date with the latest movements is one of the key ways they support team members. She detailed that having appropriate risk management documents at the ready gives the organisation a head-start with how they manage the business.
“Our key role has been to monitor the status of COVID-19, both in Australia and globally so that we can keep people in our organisation safe in the workplace,” she said.
“[We] provide them with support for work purposes as well as their well-being and also try and limit the negative impacts or the negative potential impact on our business.”
Supporting an employee’s mental health was another insight within Joe’s organisation, as employees have access to meditation apps to help them manage work related stress or any other feelings of anxiety.
As Joe pointed out, his organisation is also highly open to other voices and opinions to strengthen this support.
“If anyone else has any ideas, we’re always very receptive to them, and ultimately I think that’s the way it’s going to be. We’re constantly going to have to iterate and work out what will be the best way to build new relationships.”– Joe Al-Khayat, Co-Founder at Resolve Disputes Online
In Rebecca’s case, regular communication between leaders and employees and various care packages were some of the ways she felt supported within her organisation.
“We had links to LinkedIn learning and TED talks on building resilience, but also drawing on the skills that we already have. Our CEO now does what we call ‘Town Halls’, where people are getting more regular direct business updates and I think we feel a sense of connection that way,” she said.
Final tips and thoughts
With organisations across the globe adjusting to this new way of working, one concern that might not be at the forefront of an employee’s mind is taking precautions around cyber security.
“It’s important to protect your organisational data, customer data, and maintain privacy, so the most important thing if you’re in a large or medium organization, is to follow your internal guidance and compliance.”– Kevin Luo, Assistant General Counsel; GM, Asia-Pacific R&D Group Legal at Microsoft
“It’s also very important that you use a credible service provider in terms of providing your email service and your video conferencing.”
Kevin also briefly mentioned the importance of being aware of phishing emails or emails that feature a warning once you open them.
To conclude the conference, three of the panelists shared one thing they would be continuing to practise once the COVID-19 pandemic subsides.
“For me, it’s trying to keep that same level of inclusiveness and level of communication,” said Rebecca.
“Business etiquette – we found people are much better at being on time for meetings (virtually) than they usually are when they’re physically in the office, so we’d like that to continue,” Justine said.
“We’re not expecting people to go back to the office, if they want to work five days a week from home, that’s perfectly fine. As long as people are happy and productive, that’s ultimately the end goal,” Joe concluded.
To kick off the Return to Better virtual conference, Jackie Rhodes, Managing Director of Thomson Reuters – Asia and Emerging Markets, spoke with Steve Hasker, Thomson Reuters’ President and CEO on the road ahead for global and regional organisations. Catch up on their thought-provoking interview here.