Working from home in lockdown
- How leaders/managers can help

I posted this on LinkedIn during the first lockdown – and now we are here again so I felt it would be well worth a re-share.

There has been a lot of information and guidance given around how to work productively from home. From how to structure your day to organising your physical office space – all immensely valuable and great if your teams can utilise all the hints and tips suggested.

Lately though, now we are now into our third lockdown (some people have not been shielding and not out for almost a year), I’m hearing more and more about the things that are not working. The things that are unnecessarily causing stress, overwhelm, overworking, resentment and much more. Sadly, these things seem to largely fall under the responsibility of leaders and managers so I wanted to share some helpful key points that all business owners, leaders and managers should be considering:

Whilst working from home is not a new concept, working from home during lockdown is very different for a number of reasons:

a.    Children – having children 24/7 is hard work at the best of times but when you also factor in you can’t take them out to entertain them, you can’t let them go to the park to tire them out and you can’t let them see their friends… this can result in very demanding, unhappy, argumentative children. Tantrums, emotional outbursts, constant interruptions, always hungry and many more behaviours that are really not conducive to working from home.

b.   Home schooling – generally, most children attend school or nursery for a dedicated number of hours a week to be educated. Schools have been asked to still provide work so their education doesn’t suffer, but as parents are quickly realising – teachers do so much more than ‘set work’. A huge part of teaching is about helping our children to understand what lesson is being taught, keeping them focused, answering any questions, encouraging them and so on. This in itself can feel like a full-time job – and one that many of us have no training for. 

c.    Anxiety – I’m not for one second suggesting that everyone is now struggling with anxiety but the reality is many more people are. There are a high proportion of people who are worried for either their own health or that of their nearest and dearest.  They may also have financial concerns that causes anxiety.  This causes distraction, panic, inability to concentrate, memory loss, reduction in confidence and so many more ‘mental’ barriers that can limit their capacity to be as productive as they normally would be.

d.   Home environment – not everyone is in a situation that allows comfortable, productive working from home. Maybe they live in a shared house, a small house, no available desk or space to work, uncomfortable seating options, noisy neighbours, poor internet, other people in the house not working…. the list goes on. Environment is a huge motivating factor when it comes to working, and for some working from home may be a blessing, for others – not so much.

e.    Reduced access to de-stressors – whether we are actively aware of it or not, we all generally have habits and behaviours that help us manage our stress levels: From going to the gym to sharing a few beers with friends; A trip to the cinema or a holiday; A monthly massage and facial or a shopping trip for new clothes. Many of our usual de-stressing habits have been taken away from us so it’s no real surprise that more people are struggling to manage their stress levels as effectively as before. This turn impacts their ability to work as effectively as before.

So, what can be done to help alleviate these problems as much as possible? Here are just a few suggestions:

1.     Be as flexible as possible – this is not ‘work as normal’. If someone needs to home school or fix lunch for the kids etc then having that flexible approach to when they work will help them and ultimately help ensure they are only working when they can concentrate on the job in hand. This might mean a change in working hours, or even a reduction if your employee requests it. Be mindful of individual circumstances and as understanding as you and the business can manage.

2.    Allocate a maximum number of meetings/video calls per day. People are getting swamped with video/zoom/skype/team calls at the moment – resulting in them not being able to actually get on with their job. By setting a formal company-wide ‘rule’, this helps people who are struggling to set boundaries and say no to meetings.

3.    Limit the length of time of video calls. Video fatigue is real. It is much harder to stay engaged in a meeting online – particularly if it’s a long meeting. Try and limit meetings to an hour or less. If you need more time, introduce a break and some away time from the computer.

4.    Allocated ‘quiet’ times – in a similar vein to the earlier points, set regular slots each day (think maybe lunchtimes or break times) where non-emergency contact is banned. To allow for people either to get on with their work undisturbed, or to perhaps focus on children etc…whatever is needed (flexible approach).

5.    Ban out-of-hours emails – Now more than ever we need to be encouraging people to switch off and not work late. The temptation is strong, when you are home, to just do more and more work.  This can then lead to us losing our work/life balance and our ability to switch off, which can negatively impact our mental health. If, due to flexible hours, you are making up for time during the day then yes write the emails… and then use a scheduling system or work offline so the emails don’t arrive in someone else’s inbox until the start of the next day.

6.   And finally… Communicate – this may seem obvious but constant, consistent and honest communication with your employees is vital right now. We are being subjected to a constant barrage of what might happen, what could happen and worse case scenario’s all the time largely led by the media. Make sure they know how this affects the business, themselves and the future. Be as honest as you can and even if you have nothing further to report – tell them that. Keep them in the loop. Make sure that communication is two-way. Create an open dialogue with them so they can share their concerns immediately rather than letting them build.  Ask how they are and show them you care.