CO - HR Innovation

Insights for Making Working at Home Work!

Insights for Making Working at Home Work!

How can business and HR leaders manage challenges and find opportunities in the new realities of working at home?

 

(Note: join us on a webcast on how to work better work at home on Wednesday March 25 at ???  by registering at ???)

 

The global coronavirus has jolted the entire world.  At a personal level, we are most concerned about health and safety, and we mourn with those who mourn for lost or isolated loved ones.   

 

From this pandemic, new realities shape work:  social distancing, on line (virtual) work, self- isolation, lockdowns, shutdowns, quarantine, shelter-in-place, essential businesses, etc.  These concepts reinvent where and how work is done by exploring and requiring working remotely (called working at home, working virtually, telecommuting, etc.).  The new world of work is not being “at work” or going “to and from work”, but working in place (generally at home).  A few years ago, the SOHO (single office, home office) was emerging as a novel place to work. Now, it is a dominant reality for nearly every organization.   

 

So, how can business and HR leaders manage this new work reality of working at home?

 

Many have offered helpful administrative and logistics tips for working at home (e.g., >using technology, >finding a space for work, and >managing distractions).  In the last few weeks, we have examined the telecommuting literature, interviewed business and HR executives, and adapted insights from future of work literature.  We want to supplement administrative logistics tips and offer guidance on how to overcome four challenges and to pay attention to three key success factors for working at home.  By so doing, we demonstrate that working at home can prepare and strengthen talent, leadership, and organization to respond to today’s crisis.  

 

Four challenges and solutions to working at home

 

Based on our research, we identified four challenges (we know there are others) to working at home that leaders should pay attention to with remote workers.

 
  1. Finding the right work/life balance.  Working at home removes traditional boundaries of going to and from work, creates pressures of doing work while managing children (especially when children are required to be home school with school closings), and requires discipline to avoid other distractions (e.g., television, internet, food, and family matters).  Leaders encourage working at home employees to set work norms (e.g., respond to calls within a time frame, find private space to work) and to prioritize tasks that have to be done.

  2. Overcoming workplace isolation.   >Social isolation is a leading cause of mortality and working at home often distances employees from each other.  Leaders can promote interactions among team members with frequent contacts (email, video calls), provide coaching and mentoring by personal “check-ins” on how employees are doing, and encourage employees to connect with each other.

  3. Compensating for the lack of face to face communication.  Cognitive and emotional trust are critical for relationships to flourish.  These trusting relationships often come from face to face interactions which are more difficult when working at home.  To compensate, leaders can do video contacts where employees can show their personalities by wearing hats, setting backgrounds, or sharing personal moments.  

  4. Compensating for lack of visibility.  Employees want to know how they are doing and to have their contributions recognized.  These celebration moments often occur though simple comments in the office. Leaders can be conscious of celebrating success in remote settings by sharing stories of success, offering personal comments to remote employees, sharing best practices, and giving credit to employees who deliver results. Positive performance conversations can occur remotely and frequently to help employees feel visible.

 

When leaders recognize and deal with these four challenges, remote workers feel less isolated and experience more connection, productivity, and well being.

 

Three key success factors for finding opportunity in working at home

 

When we looked at companies who have managed telecommuting for some time (e.g., Best Buy, Yahoo, Automattic, Adobe, Red Hat, and others), we found three key success factors.  These three success factors ensure that employees are >receiving what they most value from work, what we have called believe (meaning), become (learning and growing), and belong (feeling part of a community). 

 
  1. Coordination.  Coordination focuses more on specific tasks that need to be done by an individual working remotely, then making sure that that specific task is integrated into a solution.  By breaking down an overall project into specific tasks, a remote worker can focus on a unique task, then combine that task into the overall project. We have called this >worktask planning that evolves workforce planning.  When a remote worker recognizes how their specific work fits into an overall solution, they feel more connected.  Coordination also comes when sub-teams are assigned a task and work together to report out to a larger group. Leaders can consistently probe, “how are we doing at making sure we work together as a team?”

 
  1. Communication.  Without doubt, leaders need pay even more attention to communication.  This means developing protocols to stay in touch with remote employees, to have virtual meetings at times that work for remote employees, to share even more information, and to engage in both formal and informal communications.   Leaders can continually ask remote employees, “how are you feeling about knowing what is happening to the organization and how you fit in with it?” 

  2. Culture.  We have defined the >“right” culture as the identify of the firm in the mind of key customers.  This means that culture starts by defining an organization’s brand, identity, or reputation with key customers.  For remote workers, this means making sure that customer promises (e.g., for innovation, service, relationships) are showing up in how remote workers are treated.  Leaders can monitor how the external promises are show up in internal working relationships by asking “how well are we doing what we promise our customers?”

 

Through coordination, communication, and culture, employees can find more belief (meaning and purpose), becoming (learning and growing), and belonging (feeling part of community).

 

Implications of remote work for talent, leadership, and organization

 

Talent, leadership, and organization issues are central to responding to the present Corona crisis.  We believe that remote working can be a new channel for improvement. At RBL (>www.rbl.net), we have now done HR and leadership academies to improve skills through virtual training with those working at home.  We have also done consulting projects where we can collect data and solve problems virtually. We hope we can share how we can improve talent, leadership, and organization even for those working remotely.  

 

The Corona pandemic will eventually abate, but the insights about working at home will endure.  By facing the challenges and recognizing the opportunities, we envision a new normal for where and how work is done.

  • Dave Ulrich
    Dave Ulrich
    Professor, Ross School of Business, University of Michigan

    Dave Ulrich is the Rensis Likert Professor at the Ross School of Business, University of Michigan and a partner at The RBL Group, a consulting firm focused on helping organizations and leaders deliver value. He studies how organizations build capabilities of leadership, speed, learning, accountability, and talent through leveraging human resources. He has helped generate award winning data bases that assess alignment between strategies, organization capabilities, HR practices, HR competencies, and customer and investor results. Dave has published over 200 articles and book chapters and over 25 books. He edited Human Resource Management 1990-1999, served on editorial board of 4 Journals, on the Board of Directors for Herman Miller, and Board of Trustees at Southern Virginia University, and is a Fellow in the National Academy of Human Resources.

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