The Work from Home concept (WFH) is not new. Up until now, WFH was a result of a personal emergency or need to stay home, or a way to avoid the busy office commute, allowing ourselves a reprieve from the routine. But suddenly, WFH has become the new way of life. Covid-19 has made this an overnight, unescapable reality, bringing with it many fundamental changes.
Visa was among the early adopters of WFH, well before lockdown 1.0 was imposed. During the initial days, when people had some support systems in place, remote working seemed like a good proposition to focus on things one otherwise did not have time for. But as the lockdown prolonged, a new reality struck us. Working remotely under never-seen-before circumstances meant adapting to a new environment, skirting many distractions as well as experiencing a melee of work and personal life.
To continue working efficiently and creating value for customers in these new circumstances, organizations need to understand, accept and support their employees’ specific situations and needs. Here are a few takeaways that have helped make the transition smoother for me.
Getting the basics right
One of the challenges that many faced during the initial phase of WFH was to create a balance between household chores, business as usual and meeting deadlines. Communicating clearly with stakeholders at work and at home and setting expectations right is a good starting point. To avoid confusion, mark your schedule on a calendar in advance and assign duties among family members accordingly. After settling into the rhythm of WFH, we have learnt to be more understanding of the fact that most of us are constantly juggling work and personal commitments.
Creating an office-like environment at home
Among the teething problems born out of the WFH culture was the lack of a structure to one’s day and space. It manifested in many ways: lack of commute which meant no distinct start and end time, furniture that was ergonomic to lounge on but not suited for work, and the resultant physical and mental stress. Considering WFH is here to stay, what really helps is investing in good office-like furniture including a reliable, high speed internet connection, setting up a dedicated workspace and last but not the least, establishing clear boundaries.
To help employees create their home office, we made provisions for them to pick up what they need from the office premises, from chairs to keyboards to monitors. We have also ensured that certain periods of the day are kept aside as ‘silent hours’ in which meetings are not scheduled, giving employees flexibility in managing multiple demands at home.
Communicating frequently and consistently
Getting acquainted with the new normal hasn’t been the same for everyone. Few of us are still coming to terms with an extended WFH, an especially new challenge for new employees who would have, under normal circumstances, spent time with other colleagues and absorbed the organisation and its culture.
Now, consistent communication must assume precedence over everything else. Making the best use of virtual collaboration tools to engage with colleagues and setting aside time for non-work-related catchups are helpful in bonding as a team.
However, overcommunication is a recognized flipside to this. Meeting fatigue has become a reality since remote working set in. We at Visa have tried to work around this by asking simple questions like, “Can a 30 minute meeting be done in 15 minutes, or can it become an email instead?”, “Can reading material be sent in advance to save discussion time?” etc. In addition, our colleagues hear more frequently from the leadership team by way of All Staff Calls, 1*1 skip level meetings and email communication.
Taking out time to unwind from work
With the ongoing pandemic, the lines between official and personal time have significantly blurred. Many of us are straddling different time zones and multi-geographical teams, due to which the concept of a defined work time has changed. Given this fluidity, taking short breaks through the day helps us recharge and stay focused. Therefore, it is more important than ever that we carve out ‘me-time’ for exercise, a brisk walk or meditation. We encourage this with a two-hour silent zone during the day and wellbeing hours on Fridays so employees can breathe easy, realign priorities and do what suits them.
Focussing on the softer aspects, like being empathetic, matters
This crisis has put the world in a situation no one was prepared for. Everyone has a different situation at home – some live on their own, others need to take care of kids, pets and family, while some are caregivers to people with special needs. No matter what our reality, it helps to be sensitive to the impact this pandemic is having on people’s lives and not have unrealistic expectations. Creating an atmosphere where employees know that they are being cared for goes a long way in maintaining a positive and motivated environment. We call it the Circle of Trust and encourage open sharing of suggestions from across the board to make life for everyone easier.
Lastly it’s important to focus on what makes you happy by indulging in hobbies. At times when things do feel overwhelming, don’t shy away from seeking help. Quoting Jim Rohn - “As a leader, you should always start with where people are, before you try to take them where you want them to go.” After all, when your employees know that they are valued, they will always do their best. These are tough times but leading with empathy & trust help us make the most of it.
- Rachita Marwaha, HR Leader, India & South Asia